Sheer madness. That’s what this is, this movie that Guillermo del Toro just had to make, and for which he abandoned “The Hobbit.” He wanted to make a “Godzilla” movie, married to a “Tranformers” picture with a little “Starship Troopers,” “Independence Day” and “Hellboy” mixed in.
It’s the future of cinema – or the present: a movie cunningly calculated to lure Hollywood’s biggest growth market with just its title, “Pacific Rim.” That’s where this sci-fi war is fought and that’s where the audience lies: American fanboys – and Asian and Australian ones, too.
In this film, set in the very near future, enormous alien beasts are sneaking into the ocean through a dimensional crack in the ocean floor along the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire.” The Japanese named them “kaiju,” because “Godzilla” was taken. After realizing that battling these monsters is a toxic disaster, the world’s governments have teamed up to build gigantic, human-controlled robots called jaegers, after the German word for “hunter.” The pairs of rangers who drive them wear armor that lets them maneuver them — one ranger controls the left side and left brain, the other the right side — through a neural mind-meld process called “drifting.”
In a prologue, we meet a pair of mind-melded brothers (Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff) who drive the jaeger Gipsy Danger into harm’s way. Things go wrong and one sibling is killed. That heralds the end of the jaeger program. The world will wall off the coast along the Pacific Rim, with the rich and powerful getting primo interior real estate and the rest of the populace stuck building the walls and living on the coasts.
Cut to years later and the jaeger program is winding down, the wall is being completed but “our best scientists” (shrieking Charlie Day of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” daft Brit Burn Gorman of “Game of Thrones”) don’t think the wall will work. The monsters keep coming.
Rebellious returning ranger Raleigh (Hunnam of TV’s “Sons of Anarchy) angles to get martial arts gal Mako (Rinko Kikuchi of “Babel”) as his partner. Program director Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) says “That’s not going to happen.”
Any movie that recycles the line “Don’t get cocky, kid,” for starters and progresses to “Fortune favors the brave, dude” isn’t meant to be taken seriously. The leads are bland, and the cast doesn’t so much perform as show up and give us tastes of patented shtick that we expect — Elba has his “Henry V” speech, the Bobcat-voiced Day kvetches, the grumpy Ron (“Hellboy”) Perlman (as an underworld purveyor of kaiju body parts) growls.
Dumb movies like this don’t invite much analysis. What’s the point of the “mind melding” if the teams are still yelling commands and punching buttons as they fight? Mind-melding should cause an instantaneous effect.
None of which subtracts anything from the over-the-top popcorn-picture fun of it all.
Del Toro’s robots have weight and mass, and their epic, Hong Kong-smashing fights with the four- and six-legged, clawed and horned monsters are visually coherent. There’s a light, humorous feel to “Pacific Rim” because the science is silly and logic takes a flying leap.
In a cinema season where the laws of physics take a vacation (“Fast & Furious 6”), where everyone’s mad for the apocalypse – from the biblical to the zombie-induced – “Pacific Rim” is the maddest of all.
H H 1/2 I I
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Running time: 2:10
Rated: PG-13; sequences of intense sci-fi action, violence, language