Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim may be the only true summer blockbuster of 2013.

Man of Steel was stylish but disappointing; Star Trek: Into Darkness was better than the 2009 entry in the franchise, but had a weak third act. And Iron Man 3 was just a mess.  I didn’t have high hopes that I would see any big-budget extravaganza with great performances and a great story any time in the near future, let alone this year.

I was so wrong.  Pacific Rim is a huge film.  It is a feat of special effects.  It has endless action and breathtaking set pieces. It’s also a thoughtful, well-constructed homage to Godzilla and 50’s monster movies.  Director Guillermo Del Toro has created a colorful, complex world in this film.  The effects are remarkable, but the film is also funny and charming.

The film takes place in the near future.  The human race is battling the kaiju, a race of trans-dimensional reptilian monsters, with giant armed robots.  The pilots of the giant robots are regarded as celebrities for a time, but soon fall out of favor. When we meet Raleigh, he is retired from fighting… but obviously things are going to change.

This is all explained in an opening voiceover that is relatively brief.  We are dropped in the middle of the action.  There is very little exposition.  Even lines of dialogue that are a bit anvilicious or cheesy are delivered with such earnestness, I still ate it all up.

And while much of the action consists of giant masses of pixels crashing into each other, it’s designed and choreographed well enough to follow. Some computer generated battle scenes are about as coherent as watching nuts and bolts in a washing machine. Pacific Rim manages to convey real force and presence, and I might even have fallen for a jump scare or two.

The biggest selling point of the movie for me is the cast.  Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) plays Raleigh Becket, a hero from the wars humanity has waged against the kaiju.  Becket’s superior officer is played by Idris Elba, of The Wire and Luther.  Neither actor is particularly well-known; they are both best known for their TV work.

In fact, this is a film with no huge stars.  The most recognizable face in the movie is that of frequent Del Toro collaborator Ron Perlman (also of Sons of Anarchy). The cast is full of ‘Those Guys’ — people who are in movies and TV all the time, in small roles. But I was a fan of most of them, and wasn’t disappointed.

Elba, in particular, excels at walking the perfect line between regal and ridiculous, commanding respect even as we chuckle at some of his lines. Perlman and Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses) provide a lot of laughs as well, as do some of Del Toro’s visual tricks.  Perlman’s role isn’t particularly big, but it’s impressive.

Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) is the sole female castmember.  Her character arc is predictable, as are the arcs of many of the supporting cast.  The story sometimes falls into monster-movie cliche, but the ride is so much fun that it doesn’t matter.

I was skeptical going into the movie. I was confident that Elba and Hunnam would elevate the material, but I was afraid of seeing another iteration of Transformers.  Instead, I was delighted, occasionally jolted, and thoroughly entertained.

Ryan came out of the film declaring it “spectacularly preposterous,” and for better or worse, that works. And if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed.