By ALISSA HIRAGA
Special to The Rafu
Sometimes our inner child – not the mere biological age, but rather the untainted spirit, the stuff of barefoot fun and plucky imagination – needs release. In some cases, all that’s required to accomplish this are giant robots and monsters spun up in a wildly entertaining, visually mind-blowing movie. “Pacific Rim” may be this summer’s epic movie.
The plot reads like any promising comic book and requires a certain suspension of belief. The giant monsters, termed “kaiju,” enter Earth through a breach from the hellish depths of the sea. We discover the kaiju are adaptive and that their actions are growing in diabolical intent.
To battle the resource-hungry beasts, humans have designed and built equally giant robots called Jaegers. A pair of pilots, connected in a mind meld (also called a “drift” or “neural handshake”), operates a Jaeger.
With humankind very close to being forever expunged from its home planet, Commander Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba) leads the Jaeger teams and soon finds his program in jeopardy. Enter the film’s protagonists: embattled ex-Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who earlier in the film suffers a catastrophic loss, and Commander Stacker Pentecost’s quietly fierce protégé, Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi). The two are soul mates of sorts and enter the drift to pilot a resurrected Jaeger nicknamed Gipsy Danger.
In the world of “Pacific Rim,” the kaiju attacks have rendered beachfront property worthless and once-beloved coastal cities are reduced to Bone Slums, riddled with black-market sellers (their leader is Hannibal Chau, played by Hell Boy himself Ron Perlman). But here is a world where diversity of thought transcends perceived race or gender boundaries; where countries unite; and where self-sacrifice, ingenuity and leadership are virtues that keep humankind from extinction. It provides a commentary on the human condition and one will easily draw the connections in the film and our challenges in the real world.
“Pacific Rim” doesn’t try to be the über sci-fi flick. The film is clearly a labor of love for Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Cronos,” “Mimic”) and also marks his directorial return since 2008, where he left off with “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” Del Toro, speaking at the Los Angeles Times Hero Complex IMAX screening series on Wednesday evening, described “Pacific Rim” as his most joyful film.
“I tried to keep the emotion and the adventure simple, not simplistic, but just simple…very earnest and pure of heart,” he said.
The film is loud and fast-moving from the start, with a throbbing, steadfast soundtrack, thanks to Del Toro’s collaboration with composer Ramin Djawadi (“Game of Thrones,” “Iron Man”). While the non-stop action drowns out much of the character development and renders it borderline superficial, “Pacific Rim” is testimony to Del Toro’s visual storytelling prowess (a keen observer will instantly catch these morsels throughout the film (such as the I Ching design inside the Chinese Jaeger), devotion to special effects (supplied by Industrial Light & Magic), and love of classic Japanese monster movies and pop culture. “Pacific Rim’s” saturated colors help create a fantasy-like effect, which was evident in a heart-pounding Hong Kong battle sequence.
This is a boldly fun film that alternatively numbs the senses while conjuring Godzilla nostalgia (Del Toro said a rule he and his team set is the man-in-the-suit proportion, to honor the kaiju eiga).
If some movies of late seem to be a collective dark sign of the times, then “Pacific Rim” is a bolt of lightning. And if you find your inner child needs another jolt, don’t worry: Del Toro is already playing at a sequel.
Notes: Flying robot and kaiju appendages aside, the film is not awash with unbearable violence (there are scenes with some human blood and blue kaiju blood). Del Toro stated he wanted to make a film he would be comfortable with his kids watching. If you stick around for the end credits, you’ll catch a nifty homage. See the film in IMAX 3D if you can.