Monster mash

“I feel the need … the need for speed!”

“I feel the need … the need for speed!”

Rated 3.0

Gigantic alien beasts get their asses handed to them by robots that don’t turn into trucks or cars in Guillermo del Toro’s alternately exhilarating and stale Pacific Rim.

This movie is full-on crazy in the head in an often very good, very fun way. This is del Toro’s first directorial project after abandoning The Hobbit, and I’m going on record as saying del Toro made a good call. I had a hard time staying awake during the first Hobbit movie. Such was not the case with this bad boy when the big fights were going on.

It’s the near future, and some freaky beasts called kaiju are rising from the ocean depths and tearing cities to shreds. Do we nuke them? No. That would be too easy. Instead, we spend kazillions to build a bunch of hardcore robots that are driven by pilots melding their minds together. It makes absolutely no sense, and I don’t care because it’s fun.

Nearly all of these battles take place in the dark, in the rain or in the ocean. Normally, I would scream “cop-out!” because this is a technique used by directors to cheat a bit on the CGI. It’s a lot harder to create computer-generated monsters for broad daylight than the dark. Even if this is del Toro cheating, it works. Having the battles go down in the dark makes them scarier.

As for the people inside the robots, watching them throw their fists and move their legs as a means of controlling the robots results in something immersive. I felt like I was throwing punches and wielding swords watching them do it. Del Toro puts you in the battles.

Some of those same people throwing punches at monsters via big robots are a little dull outside of their massive steel shells. Charlie Hunnam, who plays the main protagonist, Raleigh, has one of those movie trailer voices. Every time he spoke, I thought he was going to say something like “In a world where robots beat monsters …” as if delivering a commercial line. He fails to really distinguish himself in this film. Rinko Kikuchi is fine as Mako Mori, a wannabe pilot with a secret past keeping her from her robot dreams.

Speaking of Mako Mori’s past, it provides perhaps the film’s greatest moment. Del Toro takes us into Mako Mori’s memory as she is running away from a monster in a city street. Experiencing the horror of one of the monsters from the vantage point of a child is powerful stuff, and del Toro makes it an amazing sequence.

For comic relief, there’s Charlie Day as a hyperactive scientist who collects kaiju tattoos. The bespectacled Day is 2013’s answer to Rick Moranis, with his presence here being much like the nerdy Louis in Ghostbusters.

Ron Perlman gets perhaps the film’s biggest laughs as Hannibal Chau, a monster collector who sells their crap for fertilizer. Idris Elba lends his formidable presence as Stacker, leader of the robot guys and deliverer of huge, rousing “Cancel the Apocalypse!” speeches.

Admittedly, when the movie isn’t dealing with robot-on-monster smackdowns, it’s a little boring, perhaps even tedious. For those of you looking for a summer blockbuster that delivers the action goods, you won’t mind sifting through the sleepy passages to get to the good stuff.

The kaiju make for great movie monsters because they come in many incarnations. They look like everything ranging from a rhino to the devil, they spit some sort of plasma lasers that act like acid, and the bastards even fly on occasion.

Pacific Rim isn’t the all-time classic I was hoping for, but it’s good, and in a summer where many blockbusters have faltered, I’m glad to get one that is at least good. If you can catch it in 3-D, do yourself a favor and spend the couple extra bucks. Del Toro shot in 3-D, and it looks great.