Monsters mash, titans clash and humans are behind the eight ball in “Pacific Rim,”a loud, action-packed extravaganza that’s both a numbing and pretty entertaining example of its movie species.
It’s “Godzilla” multiplied by 10 and as thunderous as any “Transformers” movie. But it also really moves, has an attractive cast to compliment the humanity-threatening beasts and, in Guillermo del Toro, a director with a lively appreciation of the genre. Still, almost nothing has proven a sure thing at the box office this summer, so while massive success internationally looks likely, most of all in Asian markets, U.S. acceptance will depend partly upon finicky fan boys but most of all upon general audiences who could decide they’ve seen it all before.
In most ways, this imaginative sci-fi epic is everything every monster movie since the beginning of time might have wished it could be.
In no way pinched budget-wise, it’s got first-class special effects, a smart director who injects a sense of fun and surprise whenever he can, a fair percentage of characters you don’t mind watching and a few decent plot twists. In this genre, that’s saying something. On the other hand, this is a formula in which cinematic niceties take a back seat to certain expectations that can only be met in fully anticipated ways, inviting a familiarity that will encounter various degrees of audience fatigue and/or resistance.
Some viewers like seeing the same narrative, in this case human resourcefulness prevailing over terrifying brute force and its accompanying satisfaction repeated again and again, while others will consider the story predictable, old hat and unworthy of attention.
In fact, one of the biggest gimme-a-break aspects of Travis Beacham and del Toro’s screenplay lies in its bedrock. It’s been seven years since the first Kaiju, an enormous amphibious dragon, rose from beneath the seas, Godzilla-style, to decimate San Francisco.
Mankind’s answer to continued attacks has been to build 25-story-high Jaegers, fighting metal robots controlled by two pilots positioned inside them. But its been a losing battle, so the Jaeger program is being dropped in favor of building giant walls to protect seaside cities from the onslaught. If the international defense coalition here had only seen “World War Z,” they’d know high fortifications just aren’t going to work.
But after so many years and with the knowledge that Kaiju come up from the ocean, wouldn’t it have made sense to first evacuate obvious coastal targets such as Hong Kong and Sydney, which get stomped on during the course of the action here, thus forcing the Kaiju to march inland and be exposed? Have Paris, Moscow and Mexico City been assaulted? Nope.
That said, the initial Kaiju/Jaeger showdown, along the Alaska coast during a hurricane as hotshot pilot Raleigh Beckett and his older brother Yancy, take on an aggressive beast with a stabbing snout and enormous jaws capable of biting through metal.
The film’s title only appears onscreen after this 18-minute action prologue has tragically concluded with Yancy’s death and Raleigh dropping out.
Desperation stirs Jaeger force commander Stacker Pentecost to dredge Raleigh out of anonymity to co-pilot one of the four remaining Jaegers in a last-ditch effort to vindicate the program and save the world from smart dinosaur descendants.
There’s some cliché macho competitiveness worked in involving a father-son Aussie pilot team versus Raleigh. To kill time between action set pieces, del Toro has done an above-average job of avoiding tedium via some flavorsome casting including Ron Perlman and my friend Clifton Collins, Jr. and by maintaining strong forward momentum. The combat is almost always coherent and dramatically pointed rather than just splashed on the screen for its own sake.