“Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!”
That line quickly emerged as a fan favorite from the trailers leading up to “Pacific Rim,” Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi monster movie about giant robots fighting giant creatures. It’s a fun, over-the-top bit of dialogue, and perfectly captures the spirit of del Toro’s new film.
Del Toro has already developed a devoted following for his darkly imaginative films, but “Pacific Rim” is his first foray into the summer tent-pole season. While the script for “Pacific Rim” isn’t as deep as perhaps it could have been, it’s impossible to resist the giant robots-versus-giant monsters premise. It’s a fun summer film, blending elements of “Godzilla,” “Transformers” and Japanese anime, that’s worth catching on the big screen.
Years after giant monsters known as “Kaiju” first began emerging from a rift deep beneath the waters of the Pacific Ocean, the future of humanity looks very grim. Robots called “Jaegers,” which are controlled by two mind-melded humans, were initially able to drive back the monsters, but the Kaiju have been coming through the rift with increasing frequency, and have learned how to successfully combat the seemingly indestructible Jaegers. As a last-ditch effort, world leaders have decided to terminate the Jaeger program and construct protective walls along the coastlines of Earth’s continents. Yet when that fails, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), commander of the Jaeger forces, is left with a crippled fleet of robots and is forced to make a final, desperate stand against the monsters.
Pentecost has a ragtag crew of fighters to help him. Former Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) hasn’t stepped inside one of the robots since a mission off the coast of Alaska with his brother Yancy went bad, and Yancy was killed by a Kaiju. His new co-pilot, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), is a skilled fighter, but trauma in her past floods her with flashbacks that impact her ability to mind-meld with Raleigh. Chuck Hansen is a too cocky pilot who doesn’t respect his father and co-pilot, Herc Hansen, or anyone else. The crew will have to overcome their personal demons as they struggle to defend Hong Kong and pull off a risky plan to close the rift the Kaiju are using as a passageway to invade the Earth.
Del Toro is known for putting great care into each of his film projects, and his passion for his work is certainly visible in “Pacific Rim.” I do think del Toro, who served as one of the writers on the film, could have punched up the quality of the dialogue (“Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!” remains the most-quotable line) and devoted a little more time to character development. I wanted to see him delve a little more deeply into the relationship between Raleigh and Mako, and explore with more detail how their pasts have defined them.
However, “Pacific Rim” is certainly a big level up from the “Transformers” franchise. Michael Bay’s “Transformers” franchise is often criticized for neglecting characters in favor of special effects, and I never really quite connected with any of the main characters in the three “Transformers” films. I did like all the characters in “Pacific Rim,” though, and del Toro makes good use of his ensemble of actors, including Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, and the always-excellent Idris Elba. Ron Perlman also has a fun, brief role as a black market dealer.
And it’s hard not to smile during del Toro’s over-the-top action sequences. My favorite is the battle in Hong Kong in the middle of the film. Several Jaegers are dropped into the ocean in order to fight the Kaiju, then the battle progresses to the streets of Hong Kong. At one point, a Jaeger picks up a cargo ship — an actual, full-size cargo ship — and uses it as a weapon against the Kaiju. It’s tough to get more awesome than that. While some reviewers have taken issue with the fact many of the battles occur at night in the rain, I didn’t have much trouble following the action, and I thought having the battles in the dark in the midst of a thunderstorm, with rain and lightning, was actually a neat effect and fit in well with the tone of the film. The score by Ramin Djawadi also nicely complements the action.
“Pacific Rim” is an enjoyable film for those who love sci-fi and monster movies, and I’m hoping to see it do well at the box office. Early revenue estimates indicate “Grown Ups 2” will outperform “Pacific Rim” here in the U.S. this weekend, which makes me sad. I’d like to see del Toro’s first big budget blockbuster succeed so he’ll be given budgets like this in the future, and it would be great to have him as a regular during the summer movie season. Go see “Pacific Rim” this weekend, and let’s help del Toro cancel the apocalypse.