Pacific Rim -2013-

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Directed by Guillermo del Toro. 131 mins.

 Worth my time? YES. (Seen on IMAX at Edwards Stadium 26, Long Beach)

 Holy smokes, I had a wonderful time watching del Toro’s return to directing after a five-year hiatus. Pacific Rim is the best summer blockbuster I’ve seen since The Dark Knight, and it’s entertainment of the same caliber as Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. My biggest complaint about the film is that I wasn’t able to see it back when I was ten years old.

 The film’s simple premise – big-ass monsters attack, and big-ass robots fight them – could have easily fallen into Michael Bay territory if not for the sharp direction and wondrous imagination of del Toro. The locales of Pacific Rim are more than stages for battles; they’re all woven into a fleshed out world with a rich, detailed history. Suspension of disbelief is easy: the monstrous kaiju wrecking the Earth seem less like a plot device and more like a grim fact of life.

Del Toro understands that a big movie (and Pacific Rim is fuckin’ epic) still needs smaller-scale elements that collectively reinforce the plot. Luckily, the film is teeming with such moments. In a world where the Jaeger (the big-ass robots) are saviors, their pilots are celebrities who endorse products and make the rounds on late-night talk shows. Demand for dead kaiju bones and organs creates a black market controlled by gangsters like Hannibal Chow (del Toro regular Ron Perlman, perfect as always). And, just like in our world, leaders still exploit defense budgets and strategies as political footballs.

The film has a great cast, all of whom treat their roles with enough gravitas to be taken seriously but with enough levity to suit the awesome, joyful viewing experience.

 Yes, this is the most joyful apocalyptic movie I’ve ever seen. Sorry, KABOOM.

 Charlie Hunnam isn’t the most spectacular leading man, but he’s worth a thousand Armie Hammers. Rinko Kikuchi (the lady from Babel who was nominated for an Oscar and then receded into relative obscurity) is refreshing as a powerful woman protagonist who grabs the viewer’s attention without a hint of sexual objectification. Idris Elba is super-cool as usual – man, do I hope he becomes the next James Bond. Even Charlie Day (who plays, big shocker, a neurotic scientist), is funny, and keeps his voice at a reasonable pitch.

 While Pacific Rim is CGI-intensive, it never gets tiresome. Del Toro and his animators only show the action in grounded ways, as if everything were shot with real camera rigs. No shaky-cam, no ridiculously long tracking shots, no bullshit. Rango is the only recent film I can recall that shared similar success with its animation.

 And the fights, man. The fuckin’ fights. Prepare to squeal with childish delight.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-07-10)