The latest summer blockbuster is “Pacific Rim,” a movie about giant monsters and giant robots.
I’ve long bemoaned what I call the “Transformers”-ization of summer blockbusters – big noisy movies that don’t bother much with story or character because they put all their energies into gigantic action sequences, usually climactic special-effects battle scenes between superheroes and supervillains. This summer’s “Man of Steel” suffered from just such mind-numbing excess.
And even a strong character-driven blockbuster like Robert Downey Junior’s “Iron Man 3” succumbed – in the end – to this clattering trend of overly long CGI battles.
It’s enough to make me want to banish all blockbusters for the summer.
Then a movie like “Pacific Rim” comes along and up-ends all my prejudices against the genre. Yes, its characters are all too broadly drawn, and yes the story is a crock. I mean, c’mon, it’s Monsters versus Robots. But oh, what monsters and oh, what robots! It turns out if you do a great special effects job creating those monsters and robots, just watching them fight over and over CAN be entertaining.
The basic plot of “Pacific Rim” is that there is some breach at the bottom of the ocean that allows monsters (or Kaiju) to break into our dimension and wreak havoc on Earth. To combat them, mankind has devised giant robots (or Jaegers) that are so big and complex it takes two human beings strapped inside each robot’s head to control its movements. And when I say giant, I mean giant. They are 250 feet tall, the same size as the Kaiju, and when two of them mix it up, you really feel it.
Director Guillermo del Toro has given his robots and monsters such texture and weight that they don’t feel like special effects toys but rather like crusading sentient beings.
Each Kaiju and each Jaeger is distinct and individualized.
One monster has a massive shark-like head, another can fly like an eagle, still another emits an electromagnetic pulse that can shut down circuits. The Jaegers are also one-of-a-kind: the Chernoalpha is a Russian robot with a power-plant for a head, the Crimson Typhoon looks like a medieval Chinese warrior, and Gipsy Danger is a retro cowboy robot with a John Wayne swagger and an Art Deco design. All these robots also have hidden weapons on them, everything from machine guns to swords.
These fantastical visions of both robots and monsters make each of their many fights feel unique and not repetitive. The fact that most of them take place in water also give them a look distinctive from most other Hollywood CGI fare.
“Pacific Rim,” mind you, is full of cliches – storylines and characters – but the somewhat mindless action is so good that in this rare case, the action alone is enough to justify the movie.