‘Pacific Rim’ manages to make giant robot battles entertaining

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Giant robots fight monsters in the 2013 film Pacific Rim.

Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.

by Bill Wine

Big aliens battle big robots in big tussles throughout “Pacific Rim.”

Did I mention that they were BIG?

Pacific Rim” (2013) is a large-scale science fiction action thriller about humankind’s last stand against relentless invading deep-sea monsters who have risen from another dimension through a portal beneath the Pacific Ocean.  It’s set in the year 2020, the seventh year of battle.

While that description certainly makes “Pacific Rim” sound as if it’s in the same vein as director Michael Bay’s empty and insufferable “Transformers” flicks, director Guillermo del Toro has a little more up his sleeve.  That is, whereas “Transformers” is childish, “Pacific Rim” is childlike.

We’re forever accusing movies of catering to a fault to twelve-year-old fanboys -- y’know, the demographic actually pleased to hear those two words together: “giant” and “robots.”  That’s usually the point at which grownups are literally disenfranchised. 

 So the question is:  DoesPacific Rim” manage to turn us into tweens for two hours?  Answer:  It comes pretty darn close.

The plot: to combat the menacing alien invaders, called kaiju (Japanese for “giant monsters”),weapons known as Jaegers (German for hunters) – enormous robots controlled simultaneously by two biomechanically linked human pilots in tandem whose minds are locked together in a “neural handshake,” referred to as “the drift” – are employed to do battle.

Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff play brothers Raleigh and Yancy Becket, who pilot a U.S.-based Jaeger called the Gipsy Danger.

When the kaiju adapt to the Earth’s defenses and the Jaeger program fails, the global government pulls its funding and instead begins building a wall to protect the shores.

Idris Elba plays Marshal Stacker Pentecost, the master of the Jaeger program.  He is, as always, a sturdy presence in what ends up being the lead role, although Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi as made-for-each-other pilot partners get just as much screen time.

The two actors who get to provide a bit of comic relief are Charlie Day as an intrepid, obsessive scientist and del Toro regular Ron Perlman as a crafty underworld body parts dealer.

The mechanized behemoths may be the main attraction here, but if the human characters did not register, this would be just another yawner/clunker in the “Transformers” mold.

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Hellboy,” “ The Devil’s Backbone,” “Cronos, “Mimic”), who co-wrote the apocalyptic screenplay with Travis Beacham from an original story by Beacham, is wonderfully imaginative and manages to make both the science and the fiction interesting.  He knows that if he didn’t offer characters who register emotionally, that if he didn’t actually call on his primary cast to act, that he’d have Transformers Meets Godzilla on his hands.  So that’s what he accomplishes within a genre in which we have come not to expect it. 

To say that the special effects are the real stars ofPacific Rim” is still the case here – and they are amazing to behold.  But there’s also enough character delineation and interaction to make the film more than mere spectacle.  True, there’s still too much fist fighting and the film overstays its welcome with an extravagant, numbing running time.  But the cartoonish violence makes the film family-friendly, even if it seems to be the loudest movie ever made.

Hey, how about that?  This mammoth monsters-versus-robots creature feature is an entertaining giant-robots movie: will wonders never cease.

Bill Wine is an Emmy-winning film critic who served in that capacity for WTXF and KYW Newsradio. He lives in Chestnut Hill.

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