It was the Russians.
In watching Pacific Rim, directed by Guillermo del Toro from a screenplay by del Toro and Travis Beacham, I found myself swept up in the richly realized, deeply designed world, and dizzily finding myself looking for a baseline to plant myself to. And that’s when I saw the Russian Jaeger (giant robot) pilots – looking like a mashup of Brigette Nielson and Dolph Lundgren, animated G.I. Joe villains and something hand-drawn within the dog-eared pages of a kid’s Trapper Keeper – and realized… del Toro and his team didn’t just go comic book, or Saturday morning cartoon. Nope, they reverted right back to their 12-year old selves and went full-on, geek-out giant robot and monster movie. Past Power Rangers, beyond Macross, even before Mazinger Z or those sweet, oversized Shogun Warriors toys. No, this is a love letter to Gigantor and Godzilla, to Ultraman, and to Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot.
Starring Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, and the always-awesome Idris Elba and Ron Perlman, Pacific Rim is short on exposition or deep explanation, boiling the details down to a simple voiceover at the beginning of the film – giant alien monsters, or Kaiju, are invading the planet via a portal at the bottom of the ocean, and it’s up to Elba and his team, including Hunnam and Kikuchi, to bring the creatures down. Their solution? Giant-ass robots. That’s pretty much the plot. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman star as a couple of feuding doctors, hoping to gain some insight on the Kaiju, on a played-for-laughs mission that introduces Perlman as a Kaiju “parts” dealer, but those scenes serve more as a sidequest than the actual main attraction.
And what an attraction it is! This is del Toro and friends playing in a huge sandbox, with the biggest, best, most advanced toys around, and making full use of them. The effects are fantastic, with nary a glimpse of the usual, expected, CGI-ness normally scene in an effects heavy film like this. And the 3D is some of the best and most immersive – and, frankly, justifiable – seen in a long time (if you can swing it, top it off with an IMAX viewing – these things tower, and that massive screen only adds to the effect.)
This isn’t the smartest, or brightest, or even best film out there, but it is one of the most fun, always pushing to top itself. In many ways, it’s a modern drive-in masterpiece, never taking itself too seriously, but never falling too far into self-parody. And that’s because this movie comes from a place of genuine love for what inspires it. If you think back to the 1998 remake of Godzilla, the last, big, summer monster movie – I’m not counting Cloverfield, because that was a small, big monster movie – you might recall that film leaving a monster-sized fart in the theater. Bad script, acting, direction or FX aside, most damning for Godzilla was that it didn’t have an actual affection for its source material; in fact, it barely wanted to acknowledge it.
It’s clear that del Toro loves reliving his childhood. And I’m more than game to go right along with him.