Sci-fi “Pacific Rim” shows deep human context

Film Review Pacific R_admi

Warner Bros.

Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori star in "Pacific Rim."

Alex Williams

Judging from his previous films, Guillermo del Toro’s creative engine seems to run on boundless enthusiasm for the fantastical. “Pacific Rim,” the new film from the Spanish director, is pure del Toro, blending massive spectacle and dense concepts with a distinctly human edge, and could easily emerge as the most purely entertaining film of the summer.

As we learn via an opening voiceover info dump, the world is thrown into chaos when giant monsters, termed kaijus, emerge from beneath the sea and wreak havoc on cities around the world. Humanity fights back by crafting jaegars, robots the size of skyscrapers that are so enormous they require two pilots to operate them. One such pilot is Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who quits the jaegar program after the death of his co-pilot and brother in a fight with a kaiju. Five years later, Becket is plucked out of retirement by Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) for a final stand against the kaiju threat.
While the obvious attraction of “Pacific Rim” is giant robots vs. giant monsters, del Toro carefully builds a weathered, engaging world around the chaos. From a black market of kaiju remains to an ineffective wall built around the coast, the film captures a world just a few degrees off from our own, pushed to the brink by fear and desperation, but still recognizable thanks to the elegant simplicity of the screenplay from del Toro and Travis Beacham. It helps that both writers have a knack for contrasting the outlandish situations that prevail throughout “Pacific Rim” with some familiar but inconsistent emotional material.

No one can accuse “Pacific Rim” of being a soulless summer blockbuster, and it makes sure to put every character through an emotional journey of some sort, some more cliched than others. The film’s smartest move is making the jaegars so powerful that they require two pilots, who have to be compatible enough to share a mental headspace called The Drift while they’re working. The thought that the only way for humanity to prevail is to attain a deep and complete understanding of each other is an inspiring one, wrapping a rather ridiculous sci-fi concept in a relatable human context.

The highlights of “Pacific Rim” come once Becket has found another co-pilot he can share the Drift with, and they get to the business of dispatching the ever-increasing kaiju threat. A sequence midway through the film where Becket and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), his co-pilot, go up against a pair of kajius in Hong Kong is some of the best pure storytelling of the year, combining seamless special effects with a stunningly enormous scope. Guillermo del Toro is barely able to contain his infectious glee at getting to stage such massive, imaginative battle sequences, and “Pacific Rim” shines when del Toro is free to unleash his most insane ideas on the audience.

Del Toro assembles a solid, colorful ensemble for the film, although his weakest link is also his leading man, Charlie Hunnam. While Hunnam has demonstrated great depth and ability on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and elsewhere, he’s something of a bland leading man here, his mere competence outshined by the rest of the ensemble. Ron Perlman, a del Toro mainstay, is hilariously sleazy as a black market salesman, and Rinko Kikuchi gives a solid, hugely charming performance as an aspiring jaegar pilot handed the chance of a lifetime.

Charlie Day is uncharacteristically restrained as a scientist who stumbles onto the secret to defeating the kaijus, and his trademark bug-eyed comedic ramble sounds a lot better when there’s some intelligence behind it. The MVP of the cast is easily Idris Elba, who brings a steely gravitas to the awesomely named Stacker Pentecost. Elba’s effortless command over every line of dialogue is impressive, and many of the film’s most striking emotional crescendos work thanks to his authoritative but empathetic performance.

One of the best things about going to a movie is the promise of being whisked away to a world where imagination translates into reality, and the impossible can unfold before our eyes. “Pacific Rim” isn’t the most realistic movie of the summer, nor is it the best, but it’s one of the most engaging and satisfying, and the enthusiastic moments where it delivers on its premise cement it as a towering achievement of sheer entertainment.

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Genre: Science Fiction
Runtime: 130 minutes