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July 12, 2013
'Pacific Rim' is a Big, Exuberant Blast

When you think of summer, if you picture yourself sitting in a dark theater on a hot day, watching an exciting movie with a cold soda and a comically-large bucket of popcorn...  If you imagine being swept up in the big-budget magic of Hollywood...  If you yearn to be blown away by eye-popping 3D action... then 'Pacific Rim' was made for you.

Directed by famous Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro ('Hellboy,' 'Pan's Labyrinth'), 'Pacific Rim' tells the story of a future Earth invaded by giant monsters called kaiju, who infiltrate our world through a portal in the Pacific.  Humans have created giant robots called jaegers to combat the interdimensional threat, which are controlled by two pilots who are neurally linked through a process called "the Drift."  Those who are previously unfamiliar with Del Toro's creative storytelling may perceive the film as just a 'Transformers' wannabe based on the previews, but I can without a doubt say that 'Pacific Rim' blows all three of those bloated movies out of the water.

To be sure, 'Pacific Rim' definitely won't be nominated for any prestigious awards.  The plot is elementary: giant robots fight giant monsters.  There's no great lesson to be learned.  The characters are mostly archetypes: the brooding but handsome lead, the damaged heroine, the gung-ho leader, the bickering scientist sidekicks, etc.  Fortunately the actors, led by Charlie Hunnam ('Sons Of Anarchy') and Idris Elba ('Thor,' 'The Wire'), manage to transcend the clichés through their committed performances.  Mr. Elba in particular lends an awesome gravitas to his role as the man in charge of the jaeger program.  But winning prestigious awards was not the intent behind 'Pacific Rim.'  It's not for the story or the allegory or the characters that this film will be remembered: it's for the overwhelming sense of fun that pervades every scene.

Guillermo Del Toro was a big fan of monster movies when he was a kid growing up in Mexico, and it's always been his dream to make one of his own.  You can feel Del Toro's childhood passion oozing out of every frame -- you can practically see him holding the jaegers and kaijus like toys and smashing them together.  (The same simply can't be said for the 'Transformers' franchise -- those films have the soulless perfection of a paint-by-numbers template.  'Pacific Rim' is more akin to a child scrawling excitedly on the wall.)  Another thing 'Pacific Rim' achieves that 'Transformers' never managed to is the feeling that the robots are actually there.  While the machines in 'Transformers' were always gleaming, perfect and seemingly weightless, in 'Pacific Rim,' you can feel the heft of the massive jaegers as they tromp down the streets of Hong Kong or splash through the waters of the Pacific.  Most of the fight scenes occur either in water or when it's raining, and the interaction of the robots with the particles in the atmosphere gives you a sense of their immense size and power.

Fortunately for the audience, Del Toro also knows how to set the camera back and absorb the action, actually letting you see what's happening, as opposed to the headache-inducing frenzied editing that Michael Bay is a fan of.  And Del Toro's fantastically creative imagination is evident everywhere, in the intricacies of the jaegers, the fearsomeness of the kaiju, the immensity of the Shatterdome (the jaeger headquarters), the visualization of the "neural handshake," and the beauty of the neon-lit streets of Hong Kong (which reminded me design-wise of the Troll Market from 'Hellboy II').

Most importantly, Del Toro has a sense of humor, and there's a childlike innocence to this film.  After a summer of cynicism (the darkest 'Iron Man' yet, the darkest 'Star Trek' yet, the darkest Superman yet), it was refreshing to see a film so steeped in optimism for humankind and not puffed up with bombastic self-importance.  Del Toro was quoted in an interview with Vulture as saying that he wanted to craft a movie that was "not overwrought and incredibly dark. But something light and fun and a little bit crazy and designed with a lot of care."  He succeeded on all points, and it makes for one of Hollywood's purest joyrides of 2013.  It isn't flawless by any means, but if you want to feel like a kid again for a couple of hours, then this is the film for you.

(I would also highly encourage you to shell out the extra bucks to see this one in IMAX 3D at Lincoln Sq -- NYC's only true IMAX screen.  If any film was made to be seen on a screen the size of Texas, it's this one.)

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Written by: Jefferson Grubbs
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