Review

Review: 'Pacific Rim' Makes Up for Its Plot and Character Holes with Sensory Brilliance and Nonstop Fun

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Jul 10, 2013 | 3:44pm EDT

Credit: Warner Bros.

It's 2020, and we're already knee deep in kaiju chaos. Pacific Rim picks up en media res, with the interdimensional monsters' initial invasion of Earth having taken place a decade and change back and a super-powered international military of robot warship (a.k.a. Jaeger) pilots newly deemed unfit to protect the Earth from increasing threats. Beyond a quick, straightforward piece of introductory exposition, we don't spend too much time learning about the history of the species' reign on Earth — they came, we ran, we fought, they kept coming, people kind of got into it, and now we're prepping for the biggest attack yet. That's all we know.

And that's all we need to know. In what should tout itself as the biggest, flashiest movie of the summer, the "less is more" philosophy seems to have been stamped at the top of each page of the screenplay. Guillermo del Toro, a master of imagination, lets his world speak for itself — in the two hours we spend inside the filmmaker's mind, we widen our eyes over and over at engrossing fantasy lands: the futuristic home base for the Jaeger militia, the seedy underworld of kaiju organ dealers, the nightmare flashbacks of each tragedy-afflicted soldier (called upon to fuse his thoughts with his robot and co-pilot in order to fight the nefarious beasts). All stellar, engaging, and even at their darkest, wholly fun. To reiterate, the sensory charms of this movie do all of its talking, allowing our excess admiration to fill in the gaps left by... you know, plot and character.

This movie runs on the basics and makes no claims to do anything otherwise. Its plot is so simple, you can sum it up as "robots vs. monsters." Its characters are thin enough as to fit the stock catalogue almost perfectly: Charlie Hunnam plays a PTSD-stricken returning fighter, Rinko Kikuchi an aspiring soldier who wishes to avenge her family, Idris Elba (offering the best dramatic performance in the movie) the no-nonsense commanding officer with a secret soft spot, and Robert Kazinsky the hot-shot who doesn't take too kindly to Raleigh's (Hunnam) return to action. But he has a dog, so we know we're supposed to like him eventually. And a good husk of the dialogue will have you checking your phone to make sure it is not, in fact, 1996. But in embracing this identity, in cherishing these age-old tropes and traditions rather than aiming to pass them off as something altogether new, Pacific Rim wins us over. You won't groan at hokey lines or predictable character turns, you'll howl with celebratory laughter.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Humor and fun are in no short supply in Pacific Rim, better recalling Hellboy than any of the director's more severe turns. Immersive underworlds, exhilarating scenescapes, and look-how-cool-this-is battles never lose their juice. And to top the lot is the comic relief: the misfits. Charlie Day leads the pack as a character who is no far cry from his It's Always Sunny incarnation — an excitable, emotional scientist who considers his quest to understand the kaiju brain as the key to sending the wretched beasts back from whence they came.

Day's screen-time accomplices are Burn Gorman, a didactic mathematician who counters his partner's outlandish theories at every opportunity, and del Toro regular Ron Perlman as a black market top banana who gets roped into Newton's (Day... yes, his name is Newton, as it should be) harebrained scheme to obtain a living kaiju brain. Matching any one of the huge scale battle scenes in thrill factor, Day's high-stakes bickering with Gorman or his fish-out-of-water immigration into Hannibal Chau's (Perlman... yes, his name is Hannibal Chau, and the joke behind it is surreally hilarious) criminal kingdom offer a handful of Pacific Rim's high points. The shrimpy scientist has a larger role than you might anticipate, but he never overstays his welcome — this movie, with keen awareness, belongs to the soldiers, their robots, and the monsters they are dying to kill.

But the film falls short in a few of its later turns, when the self-aware goof troop is abadonend and the film falters into some decidedly unimaginative character storylines. It might sound a little backward to expect anything otherwise from a movie so deliberately delivered on the modus operandi of monster movie yore, but sweeping conclusions seem to lose sense of the tongue-in-cheek nature of the practice and succumb to a closed-eyed grab for the obvious. With as much fun as Guillermo del Toro has with his movie, and as much excitement as he stocks into every nook and cranny, you'd think he could stuff his ending up with a bit more of that fun, that excitement, and the imagination that bursts from every seam.

Even if your mind drifts here and there, called upon to reflect on old Godzilla features, Power Rangers adventures, or Always Sunny gags that you can't help but remember, you're always in the movie — it's as much of a ride as it is a story. The sights and sounds are just as important as the plot itself. So from beginning to end, you won't find yourself wanting — you'll be astonished by the big, amused by the small, and find every sense in your body nourished to completion. pacific Rim might not dazzle you too far beyond your expectations, but it'll meet them for sure. The kaiju? They're monstrous. The Jaegers? Supercharged. Del Toro's world? Breathtaking. His stars? Up to the task — some (notably Elba and Day) firing on all cylinders. Sure, you can poke fun at the dialogue, root up a plothole or two, but the film doesn't let you focus on its flaws, no matter how many there may be. It's too busy jazzing up your energy with what monster movies were built on in the first place: unadulterated fun.

3.5/5

Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter | Follow hollywood.com on Twitter @hollywood_com

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