I’m thinking of a movie that takes place in the near future, just shortly after humans discover they aren’t alone in the universe. Far from friendly, these previously mythical neighbors intend to attack Earth, eliminate mankind, and take over the planet. Consequently, the humans are left to fend off the otherworldly foes as their only means of survival, using whatever methods possible.
What movie is it?
It’s a trick question, of course, since that that is the general plot of what seems like every monster/alien film released in the past twenty years. Directors and writers know alien invasions sell and they capitalize on what they know, which is why so often these movies are indistinguishable from one another.
In that sense, “Pacific Rim” is cast from an all-too familiar mold, but its sculptor is writer-director Guillermo del Toro, who creates an exciting, thrill-packed, and (dare I say?) original monster movie.
Twenty years in the future, the world is at war with the Kaiju: colossal, alien monsters whose attacks level entire cities in minutes. Mankind’s only defense is an army of equally huge robot fighters called Jaegers. In a creative twist, two pilots are needed to operate a Jaeger—each controlling half of the robot’s brain—and must complete a “neural handshake” before fighting, wherein the two “drift” into each other’s minds and share their memories to improve their fighting strategies.
While they have been effective in battle, the government plans to shut down the Jaeger program and replace it with concrete barriers lining the coasts. Yet as Kaiju attacks increase in frequency and intensity, Jaeger commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) calls on Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) – a retired pilot still mourning the loss of his brother – to co-pilot a Jaeger with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and quite literally save the world.
Del Toro is obviously in his element, but “Pacific Rim” is far from his finest work. The opening scenes move so fast that they appear visually jarring, and the special effects early on detract from the construction of the narrative. The dialogue is often cheesy (at one point, a Jaeger pilot convinces his co-pilot to confront a Kaiju with “We can sit here or do something really stupid”). Comedic duo Newt (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) manage to earn a few laughs, but their presence feels tacked on.
What ultimately matters most for the monster genre, though, is the action, and “Pacific Rim” doesn’t disappoint. A cross between “Godzilla” and “Transformers” on steroids, with special effects that would make Michael Bay jealous, del Toro’s film doesn’t sacrifice action for quality. He avoids Bay’s trap of including random explosions for the sake of random explosions. Instead, the combat action sequences are focused and exciting, especially in the slow motion sequences in which Jaegers wield gigantic swords. This adrenaline rush, along with the original concept of drifting, is enough to excite any action film fan.
“Pacific Rim” may belong to a genre infamous for recycling plots, but del Toro’s expert craftsmanship makes it stand out.
*** out of five