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"Pacific Rim"

Humans, robots, monsters


The fact that the great beast from the depths of the sea haunts the human imagination may account in part at least for the appearance of "Pacific Rim," perhaps the most excessive blockbuster of the season. The sea monster that threatened Andromeda, the mother and son duo that Beowulf fought, Moby Dick, the great white shark that wants to eat Long Island in "Jaws," and of course all those Godzilla flicks, derive from the same racial memory. The myth, however, reaches some kind of zenith in the hands of Guillermo del Toro, who, with the assistance of state of the art technology, transforms it into a science fiction apocalypse.

A wordy exposition by the protagonist, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) recounts the history of sporadic attacks on West Coast cities by Kaiju; huge, almost unstoppable creatures who emerge from the depths of the Pacific and stomp, crush, and kill everything in their path. When tanks, cannons, and jet planes prove largely ineffective against them, the military creates Jaegers, gigantic robots inside which a pilot, working in tandem with another pilot — the machines require two skilled handlers — fight the Kaiju with a whole arsenal of weapons.

Beyond that basic situation, which naturally allows for a great many interminable fights between machine and beast, both of them about the size of a skyscraper, the script introduces a further, very strange element. To manipulate the Jaegers, the pilots must form a mental connection, called a "neural handshake," (really) which allows them to enter each other's mind, a sort of melding and bonding, in which they share perceptions, memories, and reactions, a situation they call "The Drift."

After all that back story, the picture proper begins, showing the Kaiju increasing their devastating attacks on seacoasts all over the world, as humans keep losing the battles against them. The government establishes a base, populated by an international crew of the best Jaeger pilots, armed with the latest machinery, only to discover that the Kaiju keep getting larger, more vicious, and more varied in form.

The commander of the base, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), recruits Raleigh Becket to operate a gigantic robot called — they even name these things — Gipsy Danger (again, really), which introduces the human side of the story. After some tiresome business about conflicts with a fellow pilot, Raleigh persuades Stacker to team him up with the most promising cadet, a Japanese woman named Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). They go through the whole neural handshake, mind meld, Drift business, which explains a good deal about Mako's past and Stacker's role in saving her life, and of course solidifies the romantic relationship that has been developing with painful obviousness throughout the movie.

For those who like that sort of thing, "Pacific Rim," provides a sort of paean to machinery, celebrating its technology, computers, weaponry, and showing Raleigh's affection for good old Gipsy Danger. Its enormous monsters look like a compendium of every frightening creature from every previous movie; amalgams of shark, octopus, snake, dinosaur, pterodactyl, with bits of our old friend Godzilla added here and there. Since all the battles take place at night in heavy rain, the picture never shows a whole beast clearly, a cop-out for its technicians and special effects wizards.

Despite all the spectacular effects, the Drift, and the repeated battles between Kaiju and Jaegers, the script solves the puzzle of the monsters' attacks through the inspiration of a couple of geeky scientists. Though not long on logic, the movie needs some kind of explanation beyond the persistence of myth for the appearance of the beasts and the means to defeat them.

The actors tend to shout at each other a lot, possibly an appropriate method in so loud a motion picture, but hardly distinguish themselves in any way. Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi perform in the functional manner demanded in a film that depends on nonhuman elements for its stars. As Stacker Pentecost, Idris Elba provides the only really impressive performance in the movie, projecting a most convincing sense of authority and a hint of emotional depth. Otherwise, "Pacific Rim" belongs with the rest of the Hollywood summer spectaculars and may qualify as the most extreme, the most violent, and the loudest of them all.