“Pacific Rim” might be the best looking Saturday morning cartoon I’ve ever seen. In fact, everything about the new Guillermo del Toro monsters vs. robots flick is so animated and giant-sized that movie theaters should serve up big bowls of sugary cereal to view it with.
Written by del Toro and Travis Beacham ("Clash of the Titans" 2007), the movie is set in the near future where giant monsters, or kaiju, emerge from an interdimensional rift on the ocean floor and begin snacking on civilization much like E.T. did with Reese’s Pieces. To combat the threat, Earth's governments unite and create giant human-piloted -- between psychically-linked jockeys -- mech suits, or jaegers.
And for a while, the defense measure works and the humans manage to win. Things go so well for a time that the robots and monsters each become celebrities in their own way. But when matters change and the humans begin to lose ground, again, politicians lose faith in the mechs and plan on mothballing the jaeger program to focus on building a big monster-proof wall. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with jaeger-meister Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), who assembles a team of an ace, newb and washed-up vet – along with a bumbling pair of scientists -- to go on the offensive for one last mission.
The kaiju vs. jaeger battles of “Pacific Rim” are huge and cities are laid to waste with even more destructive efficiency than a standard fist fight between Superman and Zod. Buildings are crumpled, ships used as bats, appendages ripped off, rockets launched, nuclear breath exhaled and all manner of epic cartoonish, colorful violence occurs.
The creature and robot designs are so unique and engaging that watching them lay waste to each other and their surroundings reminds me of when I used to affix fireworks to my best models –- sometimes you just feel like destroying something beautiful.
And all the while, the humans that jockey the mechs are also jockeying with their own emotional baggage and relationships. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, "Sons of Anarchy") is the war-weary veteran who develops a fondness for Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), an aspiring pilot who seeks vengeance against the kaiju. She and the stern, but beloved, leader Pentecost have their own special relationship. Then there are the scientists Newton (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) with competing theories about kaijus; Newt eventually gets to test his theory after teaming with a black market kaiju-organ dealer, Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman). Lest we forget, there is also the humble father (Max Martini) and cocky son (Robert Kazinsky) jockey team – who even have a bulldog mascot.
If this all sounds silly, it delightfully is. The characters are suited for the two-dimensionality of an old sci-fi serial or the aforementioned Saturday ’toon; they don’t engage in too much hand-wringing, their motivations are not all that complex, and the dialogue is never deep but often grandiose. Even the character names sound like Flash Gordon's drinking buddies.
This works entirely for “Pacific Rim.” In fact, one gets the feeling that this is del Toro’s live-action anime executed precisely in the way he wanted to (and frame-for-frame, it really could have been adapted from, or to, an anime film). Actually, while directors sometimes churn out movies that seem counter to what you expect from them, this is one that perfectly fits Guillermo del Toro.
From my perspective, “Pacific Rim” is a blockbuster from a kid who played “Rampage” and devoured monster movies and cartoons much like Lizzie the giant dino used to devour little people in that same video game. It is from the kid who had an afternoon to kill with an entire sandbox (or backyard or tree fort or construction site) as his universe filled with a hodgepodge of G.I. Joes, Transformers, Godzilla toys and everything else that littered his bedroom at home. (Except, in this case, the toys del Toro had to play with cost a couple hundred million bucks.)
All this is to say that “Pacific Rim” is fun. To quote Nicholson's Joker, "I don't know if it's art, but I like it." Similar to that bowl of sugary cereal, it may lack nutritional value but it fills you up nonetheless and is comfort food to big kids.