PACIFIC RIM [Review]: Finally, that ‘Smart’ Summer Blockbuster.

Only when the massive monsters and giant mechs do all the talking, of course.

Pacific Rim is the most interesting movie of the year, if only because the premise reads like a dumb b-movie idea from a state college C+ film student (read: me), but lays behind one of Hollywood’s brightest minds in Guillermo del Toro.

Yes, after pleasing both critics and fangirls/boys alike with Pan’s Labyrinth (and more of the hardcore with a pair of terrific Hellboy flicks and The Devil’s Backbone), it was del Toro’s time to make his dream movie. But maybe that “dream” is the forthcoming Crimson Peak. Or Justice League Dark. Pinnochio. Or, hell, even a third Incredible Hulk. For now, however, even the angriest of sci-fi blockbuster pundits can see the 12-year old boy’s brightest wish in this forever-dreaming director’s Pacific Rim.

It’s large. It’s loud. It’s unpredictably smart.

Oh yeah. You’ll see some techie things not even the brightest minds at Google could conjure up. Surprisingly enough, the Kaiju damn near steal the show. These monsters are not your great-granny’s Godzilla, certainly. Some of the things these aquatic beasts do in this flick are damn near amazing.

But I’ll let you be the witness to all of the majestic wanton (or is it wonton?) destruction, preferably in IMAX 3D (though I’m a bit tired of the dirty glasses these theaters keep giving me every time I attend a 3D movie. Least I’m smart enough to put my contacts in, now…).

Should have never given this guy that new aqua flavored Hi-C.

Not to be entirely outdone, the Jaegers give America a chance.. with gigantic robot skills so elite, they make The Many Armors of Iron Man jealous. At least their presence in the flick was far more on display than that of Tony Stark’s latest genius. There’s an opening montage where the Jaegers rise to patriotic fame during initial Kaiju attacks, but the scene is so fast and furiously loud (the rock music cranked up during Charlie Hunnam‘s opening narrative proved bothersome) that it was hard to care. Even with all of the historic trials and tribulations of this likeable band of Becket brothers (Homeland‘s Diego Klattenhoff plays the Hunnam’s bro, Yancy), I still wasn’t hooked on our would-be heroes.

You see, unlike the family ties that drew so many into the care of the couple-weeks-ago’s Clark Kent, the sentimental tie is broken off way too early in Pac Rim for any personal interest in this “Jax in a spacesuit”.

Uh-huh. Chuck’s Jaeger-[co]pilot Raleigh Becket still talks, walks, and stalks like everyone’s favorite motorcycle-riding rebel. Hunnam couldn’t even help himself from strutting thumbs-in-the-belt-buckle for the movie’s first hour. Thankfully, he only gets better as the movie does. When the world series of titantic poker stakes gets raised, so does Hunnam’s range. He should go on to have a fine film-acting career whenever Kurt Sutter decides to send Charming on a highway to heaven.

As far as detail, perhaps del Toro is only rivaled by his fellow Hobbit-producing pal, Peter Jackson. The barbaric Cherno Alpha, the shifty 3-armed/piloted Crimson Typhoon, war-scarred stars-and-striped Gipsy Danger, and the fresh-fastie Striker Eureka all pack significantly different builds and skill-sets that make their initial arrivals and brutal confrontations with the Kaiju so exciting. Their overwhelming presence and non-stop resilience make every second of the smashing screentime worth sweating out, as some of these epic skyscraper-toppling battles are among the coolest events ever witnessed at the cinema. The same people who hated the 42-minute war between General Zod and Superman are already raving about these fights, despite the fact that nearly half as many people survived (without being mourned either) as the Man of Steel‘s end-game insanity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6_TkUTHOwg

But I’ll save all that bitching for the podcast.

Obv.

Luckily, if some form of the sentiment is missing, the humor isn’t. Ron Pearlman steals every scene he’s in, even from the Always Sunny, though not always funny Charlie Day. As black market Kaiju organ and part pirate, Hannibal Chau (the explanation for the already hilarious name does wonders), Pearlman adds as much levity to the universal stakes as all of the constant, in-house domestic-political drama built upon Raleigh, Idris Elba‘s domineering Stacker Pentecost, and a frustratingly cutesy Mako Mori (Rinko Kuikuchi). Her story, again, as a curious underdog cutie pie in a mecha anime world makes a ton of sense — as to why she needs to prove herself — but left my heart in Michael Bay territory. Only Elba’s defense corp commander struck a give-a-shit chord with me, and that came far (too) late in the flick.

Why oh why aren’t these monsters Coming to America anyway? Done giving up daps to the dogpound with Arsenio Hall? We sure hope so!

Even if the plot and the pilots themselves aren’t exactly brilliant, the script centers around a neural bridge called “The Drift”. This conjoining of pilots’ inner thoughts (and demons) is thankfully enough intelligence to overcome any one-note personality or romantic bluffs that come along our way. The Legacy team has no choice in the matter, but to have enough rigor in those upper-hemispheres in order to handle the control of the Jaeger; and, hey, if their partner’s mental state proves too nightmarish to bare, then spelling out “certain doom” is only putting it nice, precisely.

Don’t tell me you lost your portable zipper again.

Although many of the circumstances come off predictable, del Toro pulls the rug from right under our cynical brains and whips up even more monster than we could ever bargain for.

In other words, Pacific Rim is advertised as Giant CGI Monsters Versus Giant CGI Robots and that’s exactly what the movie executes so wondrously. del Toro’s tech team nails everything down from the organic realism of natural size and scaled physics (not too fast for 250 feet tall!) to superbly imaginative weapons (retractably rigid swords!) to cool interior cockpit graphics (LED lights!) to beautifully illuminated battlegrounds (uh.. Tokyo!). As far into the future these battles appear, there’s nothing too far-fucking-fetched.

It’s sci-fi that isn’t Star Trek.

There’s also no doubt del Toro intended Pac Rim to come off as a modernized “gothic” version of a b-movie with the use of a RED EPIC, but that doesn’t necessarily justify the often sappy script. However, despite all its faults, this Rev does feel that the majority of audiences are going to love the mesh of Rim‘s smart cinematic sequences and dumb dialog. It’s Transformers with a little more humor, a lot more heart, and a far superior level of detail.

If that sounds like a winner to you, then Pacific Rim may just be the smartest moviegoing choice you make all summer.

3.5 (out of 5) Bibles. The highest compliment I can possibly pay is that anyone can enjoy this film. I’d even recommend this over my 5-Bible Man of Steel only because it plays more accessible. Some acting ups and downs, some great CGI, and many brilliant, memorable Jaeger/Kaiju battles. Also, shout out to the local homie Clifton Collins Jr. for getting a shit-ton of screentime as Ops Tendo Choi. You go, BOI!
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