Summer’s here, so we need a film that spends several hundred million recreating a childhood wish-fulfillment fantasy about a brave band of misfits who overcome personal differences, physics, and plot logic in order to save the world by fighting back the invaders and closing the portal between the alien world and ours. The filmmakers, recognizing the inherent silliness of the premise, cast strong actors but balance the dramatic elements with knowing humor. Look for videogames, action figures, and an amusing bonus during the final credits.

I preferred last summer’s Avengers, but this one’s pretty good.

Title: Pacific Rim

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket
Idris Elba as Stacker Penetcost
Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori
Diego Klattenhoff as Yancy Beckett
Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler
Burn Gorman as Gottlieb
Max Martini as Herk Hansen
Robert Kazinksy as Chuck Hasne
Clifton Collins Jr. as Tendo Choi
Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau
Brad William Henke as Construction Foreman
Man Ashida as Young Mako
Joe Pingue as Captain Merrit
Milton Barnes as McTighe
Robert Maillet as Lt. S. Kaidanovsky
Heather Doerksen as Lt. A. Kaidanovsky
The Luu Triplets as the Wei Tang Triplets
David Richmond-Peck as Canadian UN Representative

Full cast and crew at the imdb

Premise:

What do you do when massive Kaiju invade the world? Kick it Gundam style, with huge pilot-controlled robots called Jägers. But first, you have to deal with conflicts within and among the Jäger meisters.

High Point:

GIANT FREAKIN’ MONSTERS INVADE EARTH AND SO WE BUILD GIANT MECHA-ROBO-THINGIES AND DUKE IT OUT WITH THEM! Someone has taken the fever dream of every ten-year-old nerd and turned it into a big budget movie that a broad audience can enjoy.

Themes concerning the value of the human element don’t even feel forced.

Low Point:

I’ll put aside sloppy physics and some dubious plot elements that make the story possible. If you don’t expect these in a movie where giant monsters fight giant robots, don’t go to see a film where giant monsters fight giant robots.

It’s that curse of Star Wars: no, not Jar Jar, but the opening crawl. It made sense in ’77, because Star Wars was supposed to feel like Chapter IV (say) of an old-time serial. It has since insinuated itself in all kinds of genre films where it doesn’t belong. Instead of text this time, we have a narration with montage. It’s still a crawl of infodump and it’s not needed. Nope. We figure out pretty quickly what’s going on in this world. Big-ass alien monsters have been invading our world through a portal, so we built big-ass mechas to fight them. Really. Even the ten-year-olds can figure this out. Ten minutes of backstory just slows the beginning, giving us an unnecessary opening sequence before the opening sequence.

Every time I see or read unnecessary infodump, especially front-loaded infodump, I assume an executive with limited imagination forced the decision on someone. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think enough of del Toro to pretend that must’ve happened.

If they really found this information necessary, they should have filmed the story the voiceover drags us through, because that would have been fun, too. This movie could have been the sequel.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 This film gets some points for not being a direct re-envisioning of, remake of, reinvention of, or sequel to some other franchise, film, or forgotten cartoon. It does reconceptualize some well-established genres, however, with shout-outs (even in the score) to daikaiju, mecha, and even China Miéville. You could base a drinking game on references and influences, but not if you have work the next day.

Effects: 6/6 I could complain that so much happens so fast and in so much detail that half the time I didn’t know what I was looking at, but, dang, the effects impressed me. And, while IMAX 3-D remains a gimmick, that gimmick suits a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters.

If anything, this film needed fewer effects sequences, and just a little bit more time with the human characters.

Production: 6/6 The film creates an awe-inspiring sense of what kaiju attacks and mecha mayhem would look like.

Acting: 5/6 The characterization, while simplified, works. They’ve hired impressive actors to carry this movie, and they give us people we can like. Rugged and rockstar though the pilots may be, the really memorable performances come from our resident nerds, played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, and our obligatory self-serving but likable criminal, enacted wonderfully by Ron Perlman. Get this guy a gig in the next Marvel movie. He understands how to play a ridiculous character in a film with a ridiculous premise without turning it into farce.

Story: 4/6 Yeah, well, look. The plot enables us to see a movie where big robots fight big monsters while wrecking cities. Let’s not get started on all things that don’t quite make sense. It’s Pacific Rim‘s job to lick the cracks of doubt that appear if we consider the premise too deeply, and there’s enough here to accomplish the task.

Emotional Response: 5/6 Like all movies made possible by contemporary technology, Pacific Rim carries a message that we mustn’t forget the human element. This one almost seemed sincere and, unlike most Big Summer Action Movies, Americans—though they play their part—don’t stand in for the whole human race, and a marquee star doesn’t save the day. Our heroes come from all nations, and no one character stands alone.

Overall: 5/6. The film has action, comparatively interesting characters, action, high production values, and action. It has self-aware humor; it needs a bit more.

In total, Pacific Rim receives 34/42.

Other Thoughts

I know I’m not the first person to recognize that part of the appeal of the old daikaiju films is that the monster is a guy in a rubber suit, destroying meticulously-crafted model cities—and that guy has a job the ten-year-old in us all envies.

I liked this movie—but I would love to see someone do its basic premise on a low-budget. That would be freakin’ sweet.