Pacific Rim: Impressive Monster Movie

First come first: “Pacific Rim” is one of the more satisfying and impressive spectacles this summer, offering a feast to the eyes, largely due to the idiosyncratic vision of the brilliant director Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”).

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The movie might have been called “They Came from Beneath,” to paraphrase the title of the popular sci-fi, “They Came from Outer Space.”

As is clear by now, De Toro, unlike Michael Bay and other heck craftsmen who make expensive, effects-driven spectacles, is a visionary director who knows that you cannot construct a whole movie, not even one that’s rated PG-13, on magnificent creatures and glorious CGI, which are both truly extraordinary by the current standards.

Thus, “Pacific Rim” does not just unfold as a series of thrilling set-pieces, but also manages (to a large degree of success) to lend some humanity to the tale and thus make it more involving on an emotional level.

If the technical execution is ultra-sophisticated, the narrative is not. In fact, the premise is rather simple: Huge scary beasts known as kaiju have wreaked havoc on earth, and as a result, Mankind reacted by creating their own beasts, the Jaegers, giant warrior robots, which are manipulated by telepathically-connected navigators.

The protagonist is a navigator, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who has lost his brother during the film’s prelude, which is narrated and represents one of the weakest segments of the film.

But Del Toro is a shrewd filmmaker who knows that verbose voice-overs and length expositions get in the way of such sci-fi epics, and the movie is epic in scale and scope.

Fortunately, the more engaging plot concerns Becket, who is now a disgraced and humiliated loner, siting and waiting. But for what? Well, the Jaeger program seems to be on its last legs, and kaiju extinction of the human race is looming large on the horizon.

Well-versed in the genre of monster flicks (good and bad), which was popular in the 1950s and then brought back to life with the “Alien” series, De Toro populates his saga with familiar types—-and some of his favorite actors, such as Ron Perlamn.

There are nerdy scientists (Charlie Day, Burn Gorman), hard-stare leaders (Idris Elba) with a penchant inspirational speeches.

The former Stringer Bell bellowed rendition of “canceling the apocalypse!” is a giddy moment of pleasure, which evoked huge applause from the teenagers I was surrounded with while watching the movie.

Ultimately, what will sell “Pacific Rim” to its primary target audience is the large number of exhilarating battle scenes, some of which never before seen.

Inspired by the gorgeous-looking anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion” of the 1990s, “Pacific Rim” gives “The Transformers” franchise a run for it money. It’s a peculiar picture, numbing and involving, derivative and inventive in equal measures, but certainly worth seeing.

The initial Kaiju-Jaeger showdown along the Alaska coast during a nocturnal hurricane, which takes almost a reel, depicts hotshot pilot Beckett and his older brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) battle an aggressive beast, with enormous jaws that can even break metal. It turns out that it takes two to control a Jaeger, sort of a mental exchange between two brains. The Kaiju has the capability to change his nature and transform his shape, which leads Beckett to believe that a higher, rational intelligence is behind the seemingly random assaults.

As is the norm with such stories, the disillusionment and dropping out of Beckett are temporary. Jaeger force commander Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba) pulls Beckett out of desperation and passivity to co-pilot one of the four remaining Jaegers in a last effort to vindicate the program and save the world from dinosaur descendants. At first, hesitant and reluctant to share his knowledge with others, Beckett eventually is mobilized and rallies for the cause.

After a martial arts contest, Beckett with beautiful Japanese candidate Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, who was Oscar nominated for Innaritu’s “Babel”), who has a secret that must be exorcised before she can fly.

Freudian psychology in the plot appears in the father-son pilot team (Max Martini and Rob Kazinsky) versus Raleigh, while the Russian and Chinese Jaeger units get very short shrift.

By contrast, the two scientists who are, of course, in disagreement over the source of the Kaiju and how to defeat them, offer comic relief, especially as they are played by a manic Charlie Day and an eccentric Burn Gorman. Adding to wayward weirdness is del Toro regular Ron Perlman, member of the Hong Kong underground.

As you may have seen in one of the promo trailers, there are inspirational speeches and declarations, such as Pentecost’s macho bravado claim: “Today we are canceling the apocalypse!” After which you wanna say, Really? No more post-apocalyptic dystopian sci-fi sagas from Hollywood?

Credits
Warner Bros. Release
Production: Legendary Pictures, DDY
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Clifton Collins Jr., Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenwriters: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro, story by Travis Beacham
Producers: Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Guillermo del Toro, Mary Parent
Executive producer: Callum Greene
Director of photography: Guillermo Navarro
Production designers: Andrew Neskoromny, Carol Spier
Costume designer: Kate Hawley
Editors: John Gilroy, Peter Amundson
Music: Ramin Djawadi
Visual effects supervisors: John Knoll, James E. Price
PG-13 rating, 131 minutes