When I was a kid our local UHF station would fill its Saturday afternoon timeslot with old Japanese monster movies and I loved them dearly.
An endless supply of creatures (mostly dudes in clunky rubbers suits) with names like Gamera, Mechagodzilla (technically a giant robot), Rodan, and Mothra would crawl out of the ocean and settle scores in the middle of downtown Tokyo.
These were not “good” movies by any classical definition. They were badly dubbed, the special effects were cheesy at best and the vast amount of the movie which focused on human characters was often dull, devoid of subtlety, and more than a little weird.
But once those monsters started fighting all was forgiven and my imagination was decidedly captured.
This is all to say that I’ve been very quietly excited about “Pacific Rim,” a movie that takes this formula and injects spectacular 21st Century special effects and lovingly delivers on all the tropes (warts and all) that made those old movies such a giddy thrill to watch.
Directed and co-written by geek-auteur Guillermo del Toro (the other writing credit goes to Travis Beacham) “Pacific Rim” gives us sky-scraper-sized monsters called Kaijus that rise from the sea and terrorize humanity via an intergalactic wormhole in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
To combat the creatures humans build equally huge robots called Jaegers driven by two mentally linked pilots. Super cool, I know.
Humanity holds its own for a while, but as Kaijus arrive larger and more frequently the world’s only hope revolves around permanently sealing the wormhole.
There are some fun flesh-and-blood performances in “Pacific Rim.” Idris Elba effectively shouts his way through the movie as badass Jaeger commander Stacker Pentecost. His “Today we are canceling the apocalypse!” speech should be played before every football game. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman do some fine work as a pair of competitive, nutso scientists and then Ron Perlman shows up at his slimy best as a black market Kaiju body-parts salesman.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast are kind of duds. Our hero is retired Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket played by Charlie Hunnam of “Sons of Anarchy” fame. Hunnam just isn’t up to carrying a movie like this as the British actor’s greatest foe isn’t massive monsters, but instead an elusive American accent.
He is matched in blandness by his rookie co-pilot, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), and Jaeger pilot rival Chuck Hansen (as played by Robert Kazinsky, who spends the whole movie channeling Val Kilmer in “Top Gun.”)
But whatever, this movie has giant robots fighting giant monsters! Bam! Pow! When the chips are down, del Toro delivers the goods as he holds literally nothing back in this all-out sensory assault.
The monsters look like they’ve arrived direct from a Ray Harryhausen fever dream and the robots have such a slick Asian-pop vibe with their own unique names and fighting abilities they feel like they should come with their own playing card. “Gypsy Danger, I choose you!”
There’s probably something psychologically profound going on here echoing a child’s perception of heroic archetypes and primal fears, but who cares. Giant robots! Giant monsters! Fighting! Come on!
All I can really say is this, “Pacific Rim” is the finest giant robot vs. giant monster movie ever produced. Somewhere Godzilla screeches approvingly.
“Pacific Rim” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language.