Smash the multiplex

Finally, a summer blockbuster worth the price of a tub of popcorn

I am craving subway … and Amtrak.

I am craving subway … and Amtrak.

Pacific Rim
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi and Charlie Day. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

It’s a pretty rare event when I forget that I’m reviewing a movie as I watch it. Rare, as in almost never. Pacific Rim is that rarity, a summer blockbuster that lives up to the hype.

The film grabbed my full attention and held it all the way to the end, from the opening montage detailing the onset and repercussions of the Kaiju War to the bonus feature a few minutes into the final credits. Considering I’ve never been much for the giant-robots shtick, that’s saying something. But give me giant flesh-and-blood monsters stomping their way through a major metropolitan area as mankind’s erections collapse and the residents run shrieking “Aiiiiiiiiiieeeeee!” and I’m in popcorn heaven. When it comes to popcorn bait, I’m all for urban renewal in an apocalyptic sort of way.

And in this film, mankind is having a very apocalyptic case of existential erectile dysfunction, as a tunnel has opened up from the Earth’s core and is spitting out all sorts of giant Kaiju that have nothing better to do than pull the spitting high-tension wires down, with a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound, before wading through the buildings toward the center of the city.

“Kaiju”—Japanese for “strange creature”—has, since the birth of Godzilla, come to mean: “men in rubber monster suits stomping through miniatures of Tokyo.” But here the critters are pretty well-designed and -realized CGI creations.

Personally, I would have been happy with just that, but the movie isn’t just for me. So writer/director and all-around genre junkie Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) throws in the Jaeger Program, humankind’s first line of defense. The Jaegers are giant robots, each manned by a pair of co-pilots holding hands with their minds, or something like that. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that once things get rolling—and they get rolling fast—we have giant robots beating up on giant monsters, and vice versa.

There’s a story in there, too, which in itself is getting to be a rarity in the summer-blockbuster template that emphasizes CGI spectacle over narrative, or even visual coherency, for that matter. Not that Pacific Rim is completely blameless in that regard. Once metal fists start pounding on gooey skulls, del Toro defaults to the contemporary pixel stew and acoustic bombast, which for traditionalists like me is a little like sitting too close to the TV.

But while it’s loud and noisy, it’s also clever, as a blockbuster ideally should be. It also has more than a few satirical touches, such as setting the world’s prime black market for the giant monsters’ organs in Hong Kong. (I wonder if the Chinese censors are going to catch that one.)

It’s also that rare bird where the 3-D, while not exactly justified, is at least composed with an affinity for the possibilities of the technology. In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s the best-looking 3-D film I’ve encountered.