Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim is a fun filled, lighthearted action romp that was obviously a labor of love from a director who loves to play with gigantic toys- it's robots vs. monsters on a massive scale, and a neat tribute to the old Godzilla and monster movies too.
Set in a very near future where monsters known as the Kaiju have risen up from the ocean through a portal to start wiping out our biggest cities, humans have fought back by creating a robot weapon called the "Jaeger"- a massive machine they can control by two people powering its moves from the inside; slightly reminiscent of the old Power Rangers actually. Both the Kaiju and the Jaegers are spectacular CG creations through some pretty flawless special effects, which may be reason enough to go and see the film. The battles between them are epic, and I can't imagine anyone who loved seeing robots smash each other in the Transformers movies, wouldn't enjoy the action in this as well. But thanks to Guillermo del Toro's inspired vision, the action is framed by creative and inspired set design- future Hong Kong where the movie is set, glows in bright oranges and reds, recalling similar sci-fi futures in films such as Blade Runner.
In a movie like this it's clear that the passion was inserted into the action and special effects- the Kaiju and the Jaegers are what the audience wants to see and del Toro along with them. But surprisingly, there is enough quirkiness and originality fused into the characters to carry them along as well. The premise that the world had to come together to defeat these monsters leads to a human cast made up of people from different countries, and most of the actors acquit themselves well by giving energetic performances. Idris Elba is great as the marshal who runs the Jaeger program, Charlie Day is really funny as the scientist who figures out how they can defeat the Kaiju, and del Toro favorite Ron Perlman shows up in a scene-stealing role as a black marketeer dealing in Kaiju organs. But my favorite was Rinko Kikuchi as a girl who wants to be a co-pilot in the Jaeger to avenge her family that was lost in an attack on her childhood city. The flashbacks to her experience and her talent as a fighter made the tributes to Godzilla feel even stronger. In fact, it felt as thought she should have been the sole lead of the film, ala Ripley in Alien, because less effective in that role is Sons of Anarchy vet Charlie Hunnam, who spends most the movie clearly struggling with an American accent and whose part is decidedly bland next to hers. Almost as if they felt obligated to have a generic white guy in the lead since the film was set in Hong Kong with such an ethnically diverse cast giving it an international flavor otherwise. Too bad.
But Pacific Rim is undoubtedly a fun, action-packed time at the movies, and while some may wish del Toro would have been even more inventive and original with the premise, you can't deny the simplistic joy that comes from watching humans pilot a gigantic robot through stormy waters and cities to beat up a monster and defend the human race. He wants to make you feel like a kid again, and to that end it's a smashing success.
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