Humans control robots, which battle monsters, in over-the-top ‘Pacific Rim’
BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST July 10, 2013 10:42AM
Charlie Hunnam (front, from left) as Raleigh Becket and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori in a scene from "Pacific Rim." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Kerry Hayes)
‘PACIFIC RIM’ ★★★
Raleigh Becket Charlie Hunnam
Stacker Pentecost Idris Elba
Mako Mori Rinko Kikuchi
Hannibal Chau Ron Perlman
Dr. Geiszler Charlie Day
Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Guillermo del Toro. Written by del Toro and Travis Beacham. Running time: 131 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language). Opening Friday at local theaters.
Updated: August 13, 2013 6:05AM
“I saw a pre-screening of ‘Pacific Rim’ yesterday, and it’s easily one of my favorite movies of all time.” — Kanye West via Twitter
Raise your hand if you’d like to see a list of Kanye’s OTHER favorite movies of all time. Wouldn’t it be great if it included “Singin’ in the Rain,” the first three “Police Academy” movies and anything with Audrey Hepburn in it? You never know!
I wouldn’t call “Pacific Rim” one of my favorite movies of all time, or even one of my favorite movies of the first half of 2013, but it is a ridiculously entertaining (and often just plain ridiculous) monster-robot movie that plays like a gigantic version of that “Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em Robots” game from the 1960s, combined with the cheesy wonderfulness (or should it be wonderful cheesiness?) of black-and-white Japanese monster movies from the 1950s.
Oddly enough, this is the second movie in the last few years about robots that mimic the fighting actions of the relatively puny humans working the controls. Remember “Real Steel” with Hugh Jackman?
The stakes are much higher and the human-robot interaction is infinitely more complex in “Pacific Rim,” set in a near future in which increasingly larger and more lethal monsters known as Kaiju are surfacing from a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. All the advanced nations of the world have joined forces and have poured their resources into creating Jaegers, robotic creatures capable of wading into the ocean and waging battle with the Kaiju, who look like Godzilla and Mothra on performance-enhancing drugs.
But here’s the thing. The humans are INSIDE the robots, and it’s too physically taxing for just one person to work the controls — so you need a two-person team connected by something called a “neural bridge” that enables them to act as one. For some reason that neural bridge thingy allows one pilot to see the innermost thoughts and memories of the other pilot, which could be embarrassing in some cases but also makes for a more lethal Jaeger, and I know that all sounds insanely complicated, but hey, look at those giant robots fighting insanely huge monsters on the big screen. Cool!
Charlie Hunnam (Jax on “Sons of Anarchy”) plays Raleigh Becket, the obligatory rogue pilot with unprecedented skills but who also has tendency to disobey direct orders. Raleigh’s narration takes us through an exhilarating and quite goofy extended prologue about the early stages of the Kaiju-Jaeger wars, including a brief period of peace during which Kaijus become museum exhibits and the basis of children’s toys and Japanese comedy show skits.
Then the Kaijus come back, bigger and stronger and more hellbent on destroying the world. (Put the toys away, children.) Meanwhile, the Jaeger program has been shut down by an international board of complete idiots who apparently think building a big wall is a better way of keeping the Kaijus at bay. Fortunately, the great commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) has taken it upon himself to unite the best Jaeger pilots of the world for one last assault on the Kaiju.
“Today we are canceling the apocalypse!” proclaims Pentecost, who may or may not be aware of the religious implications of his name. (Idris Elba gives the kind of bad performance here that only a great actor can deliver. When he’s not summoning up a profoundly measured life lesson, he’s ROARING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS.)
Director Guillermo del Toro has a weirdly beautiful visual style, whether he’s delivering a unique horror fantasy such as “Pan’s Labyrinth” or trafficking in more mainstream fare such as “Hellboy.” There’s rarely an uninteresting shot in “Pacific Rim,” whether we’re watching the monsters and robots thrashing about in the water or marveling at the details of the costumes, the sets and the CGI mixing with a cast that does a fine job of selling this madness, even as the talk of neural bridges and closing that porthole at the bottom of the ocean grows increasingly dense and meaningless.
Thanks to the film’s running time of 131 minutes, several archetypal supporting characters have their day, including a couple of constantly squabbling super-nerd scientists, a father-and-son team of pilots, and Pentecost’s protege, played by Rinko Kikuchi. (Her character is actually most interesting in a beautiful and heartbreaking flashback scene about the early days of the war.). We’re also treated to a fantastically entertaining if hardly germane subplot with the great Ron Perlman as a pimped-out black market dealer who sells nearly every surviving part of a Kaiju corpse for big profit.
Mostly, though, we’re here for the Jaegers vs. the Kaiju. I’m thinking either team could take down the Transformers.