It's a shame the makers of the original Godzilla movie from 1954 aren't around to see Pacific Rim. While they were putting an actor in a bulky, unexpressive rubber suit so he could stomp around a scaled-down Tokyo with buildings that look like they were made of painted refrigerator boxes, I'm sure they dreamed of a day when they could make Godzilla look like a living animal with tensing muscles, a mouth that could fully open and bellow, and the ability to run, jump, swim, and demonstrate a full range of motion with all its limbs. I'm sure they wished for the day when their cameras could swoop between buildings and capture buzzing helicopters and scampering humans trying to escape Godzilla's wrath. Or at the very least, that Godzilla wouldn't look like a guy in a rubber suit waddling around some painted boxes.
Pacific Rim is the realization of those dreams, along with the imaginary battles I fought with my toys as a kid, which is part of the reason why it's one of the most fun summer movies I've seen in a long time. Watch my ReThink Review of Pacific Rim below (transcript following).
Pacific Rim can be accurately summed up in just five words: giant robots vs. giant monsters. And in the hands of a lesser director, that's all it would be, or worse, another Transformers movie. But in the hands of Guillermo del Toro, a cinema savant with an unbridled imagination and a unique talent for creature and set design, Pacific Rim is a modern triumph and probably the most fun you'll have at the movies this summer. You think I'm fucking with you? I am not fucking with you.
Set in the near future, Pacific Rim starts with a sequence that would put the finales of most giant monster movies to shame, explaining how an interdimensional portal opened deep in the Pacific Ocean and began sporadically issuing gigantic reptilian beasts called kaiju that devastated several cities. The international community banded together and responded by creating enormous robots called Jaegers to fight them that are so complex that it takes 2-3 pilots whose brains are connected by a neural bridge called a "drift" to operate them. The Jaegers are briefly successful, but with the kaiju evolving faster than Jaeger technology, the UN decides to defund the Jaeger program and divert resources to a giant but ineffective wall meant to keep the kaiju away from coastal cities.
But the leader of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba), believes his few remaining robot warriors can make one last stand in Hong Kong. So he assembles the best remaining pilots, including Raleigh Beckett (played by Charlie Hunnam), a washed-up former pilot who looks like the love child of Matt Damon and Matthew Modine who quit the program after his co-pilot brother was killed. However, the only pilot with the potential to create a successful drift with Raleigh is Mako Mori, a talented trainee (played by Rinko Kikuchi) who Pentecost is overly protective of. Included in the cast are Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky as a father/son Jaeger crew, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as bickering scientists studying the kaiju, and Ron Perlman as a gangster specializing in the gathering and sale of black market kaiju parts.
The word kaiju is Japanese for "strange beast", but it's also the name of the genre of Japanese movies and TV shows featuring giant monsters or robots (usually played by actors in cheesy-looking rubber suits) that started in the 1950s, with Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, and Ultraman among the most famous. Pacific Rim is definitely a kaiju movie, and del Toro, who grew up loving Japanese pop culture, has said that he hopes Pacific Rim gives birth to a new generation of kaiju fans.
But with its stunning, exquisitely detailed CG effects, fantastic production design, and bone-rattling sound, Pacific Rim is the movie those early kaiju filmmakers and audiences have always wanted to see. It's the realization of the dream of every kid (even grown ones) who's ever pitted his toy robots and monsters against each other and tried to imagine what a real-life, full-scale throwdown between them would be like. This is some of the best CG I've ever seen, with every drop of rain, falling brick, or bouncing spark beautifully rendered. In addition, the physical production design creates the feeling of a lived-in world full of people trying to go about their lives with the threat of total annihilation looming, mixing futuristic technology with scuffed, clanking metal, greasy gears, and hissing hydraulics.
Yes, a lot of the dialogue isn't great and most of it is shouted, but I'd be shouting too if a colossal space dinosaur was trying to smash me. Yes, Pacific Rim is very loud, but what else would you expect from a movie about warring 200-foot-tall giants? Besides, these only amplify those all-important five words of Pacific Rim -- giant robots vs. giant monsters -- which is exactly what you get, to the point that you almost get too much. If there's something else you're looking for in a robots vs. monsters movie, I can't imagine what it is, since Pacific Rim is a tremendous achievement and the most fun I've had in a movie theater in many, many summers.