In some ways, movies are about our childhood: about the dreams, fantasies, fears and hopes we saw reflected from our own lives on a big screen when we were at an impressionable age.
So how much you enjoy Guillermo del Toro’s sprawling, exciting and exceptionally imaginative “Pacific Rim” may have to do with how much of a sucker you still are for those movies that make you feel like a little kid, watching them with giddy excitement. These movies are strictly meant to entertain, to transport and excite. So they aren’t particularly deep, beyond the basic tenets of good and evil, honor (but not glory) and the need for good people to sacrifice themselves for the good of everyone else.
There is probably plenty to mock about “Pacific Rim”: its adherence to a code of honor and duty that might be seen as corny by some; its sometime comic-book-flat dialogue; its very earnestness. I find it all kind of refreshing, in a time where sarcasm and meta are the ruling attitudes.
There’s not a drop of irony in del Toro’s film, nothing cynical, and nothing calculated to, say, spin off ancillary enterprises and brand extension. And, sure, that kind of sincerity can get a little rich at times.
But the imaginative grandeur of del Toro’s action is of a piece with what Zack Snyder does at the end of “Man of Steel,” except in reverse: Instead of tiny human specks wreaking havoc on an entire skyline of buildings, “Pacific Rim” pits huge robots against giant monsters, trampling cities underfoot. Inevitably, “Godzilla” comes to mind – but del Toro’s creations dwarf that monumental and monumentally dull monster classic.
The plot really is that simple. Gigantic monsters from another dimension are invading Earth through a dimensional rift at the bottom of the ocean that humans are so far helpless to close. The only thing the humans have come up with to battle the monsters, referred to as Kaiju, are equally mammoth robots called Jaegers, controlled by cerebral connection to a team of pilots (because trying to run a Jaeger with the power of only one man’s brain leads to, well, nosebleeds and much worse).
The Jaegers, however, have proven ineffective because the Kaiju keep adapting, in order to battle them. Humanity is down to its last handful of Jaegers, with scientists predicting that the Kaiju are going to start coming through the rift in greater numbers until they conquer the world. The only hope for winning this war is finding a way to send a nuclear weapon into the monsters’ dimension.
As someone who openly disdained Michael Bay’s muscle-headed “Transformers” movies, the idea of a giant machine fighting an equally outlandish and large monster seems like a big ho-hum. But instead of special effects that speak, which the Transformers really were, del Toro has found a way to let you invest emotionally in the fate of the Jaegers.
This review continues on my website.