This year’s Big Dumb Summer Movie was “Pacific Rim,” just the ticket for fans of the type. Tickets, in fact, are what this latest example of the blockbuster flick is all about. It was clearly designed for box office appeal worldwide, where such subtleties as dialogue and character development don’t matter as much as sheer spectacle and noise. Oh, yeah, and destruction, lots of smashing of people, buildings, entire cities, and naturally the imminent devastation of the planet. Because what says “summer” like the devastation of civilization as we know it and the disappearance of the human race? It’s now available on DVD, where it will likely do a brisk rental trade; however, it will be less visually impressive on the small screen — and just as dumb.
Director Guillermo del Toro, better known for smaller scale, stylish chillers like “Pan’s Labyrinth,” has co-written this one by apparently grafting together perhaps a dozen familiar cinematic plots. I counted allusions, borrowings, or outright thefts from, among others, “Godzilla,” “It Came from Beneath the Sea,” “Iron Man,” “The Matrix” series, “Inception,” and — admittedly stretching it a little — “Moby Dick.” But, hey, who’s counting? Plot is not the point here, and there are too many competing strands to deal with: a father/son conflict, a father/adopted daughter debate, a bit of implied romance, a physics/biology dispute, and others that would take too long to list. Football fans, whiling away the time until the Vikings look good again, may even spot a brief “best defense is a good offense” discussion, with offense the clear winner in this high-scoring era. A giant clock measuring the “countdown to apocalypse” is prominently featured, too, and the launching of a bomb — a figurative Hail Mary — figures crucially in the outcome.
Score is kept assiduously throughout the film, as the humans battle the Kaiju (Japanese for “great beasts”) who have appeared after a rift between tectonic plates opens in 2015. (This is undoubtedly the fault of still-President Obama, because what isn’t?) The monsters are put down by a united world effort, but not until they have all but destroyed a number of cities, including San Francisco. Humanity’s key weapons have been “Jaegers” (or “hunters”), giant robots controlled by two pilots who have accomplished “neural drift” (think mind-melding, Trekkies) in order to master the massive machines, which make the Transformers look like wimps. Brothers Raleigh and Yancy Beckett (played by Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff) succeed in destroying one of the early, Category 3 Kaiju, but at the cost of Yancy’s life. The intransigent Raleigh also gets crosswise with his C.O., Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, wasted in this stiff-necked cliché of a character).
Raleigh retires from piloting, finding work on The Wall, massive structures which the gummints of the world have foolishly decided would work better than the Jaegers after the Kaiju reappear in greater and more impressive force. Holed up in the Shatterdome in Hong Kong, the remaining pilots and their reconditioned vehicles prepare to make one last stand against the evolving invaders. (Echoes of “Independence Day.”) Recalled by Pentecost, Raleigh finds his new partner, Miko Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), their compatibility cemented after she beats him in a kendo stick match.
Throw in some heavily stereotyped crews and robots from other nations, a couple of quarreling science nerds (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) for comic relief/brilliant insights, a black market dealer in Kaiju parts (Ron Perlman, in his best thug mode), and you have over two hours of, umm, entertainment. The Big Battle scenes, the presumed centerpieces of this genre, are too many and too long and too boring, and del Toro often keeps the action too close for us to follow. An army of CGI folks clearly labored lovingly and long over the Kaiju themselves, which brought to mind the nasty mother in “Alien,” right down to the acid-spewing. Their evolution from Godzilla wannabes to Category 5, a sort of whale/pterodactyl with a suggestion of hammerhead shark thrown in, is fun to watch, as are the numerous changes in set design, which distract from the movie’s essential mindlessness.
Rated “PG-13” for “intense sci-fi action and violence throughout,” “Pacific Rim” is several shades of gore too many for subteens, who may have nightmares about, for instance, being chewed up alive as several of the characters are. Adults may have nightmares of guilt for having rented it and added to the take.