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‘Pacific Rim:’ All brawn, no brain

By Lawrence Toppman

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  • REVIEW

    ‘Pacific Rim’

    Humans mount a robotic assault against monstrous sea creatures.

    C STARS: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi.

    DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro.

    RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes.

    RATING: PG-13 (sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language).



There are moviegoers for whom the phrase “the loudest movie I have ever seen” will be pure encouragement. Their cinematic heaven consists of jaw-rattling, seat-shaking, special-effects extravaganzas, and they have no more use for surprises than a carnivore has for a cauliflower. I recommend “Pacific Rim” to them unconditionally and unironically: Its visceral excitement never flags.

There are moviegoers who need stimulation of a different kind: psychological, philosophic, emotional, even just something fresh enough to have a few original ideas. (“Pacific Rim” has exactly one.) To them, this movie will be consistently, headache-inducingly dull.

Well, there’s all the review anyone could need, so I’m going back to my coffee and bagel. No, wait a minute – I have 85 more lines to fill, I see. All right, I’ll elucidate a bit.

Director Guillermo del Toro, master of thoughtful horror in the Oscar-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone,” gives himself over entirely to his inner 11-year-old. He collaborated on the screenplay with Travis Beacham, a UNC School of the Arts graduate whose hackneyed “Clash of the Titans” remake is on a writing par with “Pacific Rim.”

Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) tells us gigantic creatures emerged from a breach in the Earth’s crust caused by the movement of tectonic plates during President Obama’s second term. We invented towering robots to destroy them, but they kept coming. By 2022, when most of the picture is set, the monsters have gotten bigger and smarter, and we’re down to four robots under the command of Gen. Stacker Pentecost. (Are these great character names, or what?)

The lone original idea is that each robot needs two pilots who join the hemispheres of their brains in a “drift,” in order to activate the war machines. Becket quit piloting after his brother died in battle but can redeem himself with an assault that will drop a nuclear bomb into the breach.

Beacham and del Toro fire clichés like bullets. The teams commanding the robots are argumentative and arrogant Australians, silent and nimble Chinese guys, butch Russians who wear dyed blonde hair and speak in monotones, and the duo of Becket and Mako Mori – yes, her name means “shark death” – who are on a vengeance quest, he for his brother and she for her wiped-out family. (She watched her Japanese city destroyed as a little girl. Eight years later, she’s approaching 30. The film is full of such flubs.)

The comic relief consists of bickering scientists, one a limping Brit who jabbers like Dr. Strangelove and the other a frantic American who wants to mind-meld with an alien. Ron Perlman, one of del Toro’s pet actors, has an extended cameo as an eccentric Hong Kong broker in sea monster organs; you will find yourself anticipating his fate with a “Surely they wouldn’t do that” feeling. (But they do.)

Idris Elba gives a first-rate performance as Pentecost, though he has to bark every line to be heard above Ramin Djawadi’s roaring score. Hunnam’s charisma comes and goes; Rinko Kikuchi’s casting as Mako seems mainly like a stunt to sell the film to Asian audiences.

All performances remain irrelevant in the face of such expensive, explosive combat and destruction, and there the film excels: You will feel blown back into your seat, starting 40 seconds into the story.

“Go big or go extinct” proclaims the poster for “Rim,” and that’s a metaphor: The movie embodies the idea that the tyrannosaurs Hollywood now regularly produces are its best hope of avoiding extinction. Is it worth keeping such loud, walnut-brained lizards alive?

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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