Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots

Guillermo del Toro does the big action flick perfectly

If you know that “kaiju” means “strange beast” in Japanese, and that “jaeger” means “hunter” in German, consider yourself primed for what Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s got in store for you with Pacific Rim.

The huge Kaijus that rise from the ocean’s depths in this big, loud, exciting, often breathtaking movie are of the Godzilla, Mothra, Ghidorah variety. They’re fierce and destructive, and in the film’s first few minutes, one of them arrives from another universe, makes it through an underwater breach, and wreaks havoc. But it’s immediately met and matched by an equally huge man-made Jaeger, a “brutal war machine” of a robot piloted by two mind-melded humans within. There’s whamming and bamming, all rock ’em, sock ’em-style, accompanied by a soundtrack as loud as the visuals are immense.

Del Toro has visited similar areas before, with the soulful but creepy and creature-filled world of Pan’s Labyrinth and the much lighter but more kick-ass stories told in his two Hellboy movies. But in Pacific Rim, the human race is in danger of extinction. The monsters aren’t just mindless behemoths who knock down buildings and stomp on people. Turns out they have a plan.

We join the story seven years after the Kaiju Wars have begun, and things are going badly for us. They certainly go wrong for the Jaeger team of brothers Raleigh and Yancy Becket (Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff). They were put together as copilots in one of these robots because as has been proven among Jaeger designers, “the deeper the bond, the better you fight.”

Five years later, Jaeger teams around the world are losing the battle, and government officials are dropping the Jaeger program in favor of building coastal walls to keep the sea monsters out.

Though the film’s mayhem meter almost always points to “high,” and there’s very little downtime, del Toro and co-screenwriter Travis Beacham (Clash of the Titans) manage to work in plenty of personal stories. Our hero Raleigh Becket has to do something about his penchant for taking too many risks. Two scientist partners, one a math-nerd square (Burn Gorman), one an excitable Kaiju expert (Charlie Day), try to calculate and save the future of mankind. A military leader (Idris Elba) goes rogue but is keen on keeping order among those who remain loyal to him. A young woman (Rinko Kikuchi) who dreams of being a Jaeger pilot must overcome emotional scars, then face the slightly clichéd challenge of being a small woman in a big man’s game. Some of the film’s dark comic relief comes courtesy of del Toro regular — Hellboy himself — Ron Perlman, who plays an amoral, knife-wielding, black-market profiteer who wears 24-carat-gold shoes.

The physical scale of the film is amazing, whether it’s dealing with the busyness of streets filled with people fleeing from the monsters (yes, del Toro is a big Japanese monster movie fan) or just seeing these gigantic monsters and robots right next to people and buildings — or in one case nonchalantly carrying an oil tanker.

It all builds to an air of finality. The surviving few Jaegers (most have been destroyed) must confront the ever-attacking, now even bigger and meaner Kaijus. And the sea-bottom breach must be destroyed. The machines-versus-monsters battles get more spectacular, and there’s even a nifty human fistfight. Things become a little numbing, but it’s absolutely the movie every 8-year-old boy (there are a lot of us out here, no matter what our age) wants to see, and definitely the film del Toro has long wanted to make. 

Hollywood of the North: North Idaho and the Film Industry @ Museum of North Idaho

Through Sept. 5, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Oct. 30
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