By Michael S. Goldberger
July 25th, 2013
The amazing thing about director Guillermo del Toro’s highly imaginative “Pacific Rim” is that either I think I understood it, or, for sheer mental preservation, I’ve deluded myself into believing I understood it. In any case, despite oodles of complexity strewn through this non-stop buffet of color, action and comic-book heroism set in the 2020s, there’s no mistaking the derivation and genre.
Good gracious, man, though they never say so, it’s “Godzilla,” the old boy rethought, refurbished, polished and delivered with everything expected of the well equipped monster movie, circa 21st Century.
But, just in case you’re not a fourteen-year-old boy anxious to gulp down wholesale all the techno jargon your demography demands, there’s something here for the kid in all of us. The grand scale popcorn muncher provides ideal rationalization and cacophonous accompaniment for devouring a butter drenched bucket of the movie maize, a box of Goobers™, some of those chocolate nonpareils, yessiree, and a good sized diet Coke (gotta watch that film critic figure, y’know).
Gadzooks, there is reason aplenty for anxiety-induced gorging. Apparently, tectonic plates or some such thing, have shifted, unleashing through the resultant portal to our so-called civilized world an endless supply of giant, lizard/dragon-like colossi called Kaiju. And, wouldn’t you know it: because our greedy politicians lacked foresight and a moral commitment to the future, we have but conventional weaponry to combat the scourge.
But then again, remember, we’re humans, determined not to go the way of the dinosaur, the dodo bird or a live voice at the other end of a customer service line. Therefore, our scientists have, hopefully just in the nick of time, developed the Jaeger program, which, doubtlessly, would have been impossible to conceive of had an earlier generation not embraced Transformers™ and their various robotic permutations as the toy of choice.
Now get this. The average Jaeger (there are different generations and models) is twenty-five stories high and humanoid in appearance. They are armed with all manner of destructive capability, nuclear and otherwise. Furthermore, it takes two people, the future’s equivalent of Top Guns, to operate a Jaeger.
But here’s the coolest part. It’s not enough that the two pilots must be of sound mind and body…and pretty good looking, too. In order to competently wield the gigantic weapon, the duo must form a mental bond known as a neural bridge. Or, as we might have described in Greenwich Village during the late 1960s, they have to get into each other’s head, man.
Yet, for all the gosh gee wiz gizmos that bedazzle in a kaleidoscopic light show that has you worried you’re going to beam through to an alternate dimension, the basic plot structure encasing this piñata of futurism is straight out of the 1950s. Although fancified, it’s the same old tale of us against them, augmented with a dash of Homer and a splash of Freud. And, just to keep it cleverly reminiscent of its hokey but pioneering antecedent, not to mention the cost savings realized, all the principals are relative unknowns.
Headlining this latest foray into the world-saving business is Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, Jaeger commando extraordinaire, delivered to us with a psychiatrist’s couch full of baggage. You see, Raleigh’s last co-pilot was his brother, Yancey, who, we can only hope, has gone to that great Kaiju fighting battleground in the stratosphere. Our man took it hard, forewent all past glory, and hired on as an anonymous day worker.
Of course, our favorite tales of heroism inevitably contain a redemption component. So, when the war starts to tilt in the favor of Godzilla’s progeny, Raleigh’s old commander, Stacker Pentecost, starchily played by Idris Elba, comes looking for him. It turns out the beasts have tapped into our digitalism, and Raleigh is one of the few aces who can pilot the older, analog juggernauts.
Naturally, he’ll need a complement…one that can not only help him put those sad memories of his bro in the vault, but now pair with him to best advantage. Well, that’s easy: Marshall Pentecost just so happens to have a Jaeger pilot prodigy…Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), a pretty Asian lass, albeit with some emotional problems of her own. The thinking is, maybe two psychoses can synergize into a good, healthy ability to kill the Kaijus. Boy, wouldn’t it be just perfect if they also decided to exchange phone numbers?
Adding quirky wadding to the desperate derring-do, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as dueling brainiacs formulate a good sense of comedy relief. And, lest we forget to mention that opportunism is alive and well in the proposed future, Ron Perlman is a satiric hoot as Hannibal Chau, a black market harvester of Kaiju body parts. Hence, while effectively arousing all sorts of trepidation, “Pacific Rim” entertainingly reminds in its cutting-edged way that dramatic predicaments and their resolutions inevitably come full circle.
“Pacific Rim,” rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Guillermo del Toro and stars Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba. Running time: 131 minutes