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Review: 'Pacific Rim' is fierce summer fun

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi play co-pilots Raleigh Becket and Mako Mori in Pacific Rim.
Published Jul. 12, 2013

Good thing Pacific Rim wasn't possible when I was 8 years old, or else Mom never would've gotten me out of the bathtub. I'd camp there, dinosaur doll in one hand and Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robot in the other, splashing and bashing like the behemoths in Guillermo del Toro's movie.

Heck, I just might do that tonight.

Pacific Rim is that massively good, and capable of bringing out childlike wonder that summer blockbusters largely forget. Although forged from spare parts of smashes past, del Toro's loud-and-proud movie is what we should hope the future will be if mega-budget popcorn flicks are all we get. Pacific Rim is a dumbed-up movie, which is better than one dumbed down.

The good guy Jaegers resemble Transformers, but unlike Michael Bay's soulless bombast, there's not one but two hearts beating within the metal shell. The bad guy Kaijus resemble Kraken's ugly cousins, sprouting bat wings, spitting acid and categorized like hurricanes, 1 to 5. Their battleground is the Pacific Ocean — Asian coast, in a nod to Toho Studios — where in the not-too-distant future an underwater fissure becomes a portal between dimensions.

Kaijus had the upper hand for years, until nations united to create Jaegers, robots so enormous that two internal pilots are required. The pilots operate in a mind meld ("The more you bond, the badder you fight") providing an atypical level of character development for a creature feature. Family combos are best since they have a head start on bonding.

Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) are top gun Jaeger meisters who, during a bravura 18-minute prologue, demonstrate how the robots operate and what they're going against. Pacific Rim is a rare blockbuster that pays attention to people as well as their machines. Even if we've seen these characters before in movies, from Armageddon to anime, the sense of romance, loyalty and loss Pacific Rim invites is impressive.

Raleigh leaves the Jaeger corps for a no-spoil reason but returns when ramrod commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) needs a pilot for a delicate mission to eliminate Kaijus once and for all. In the future women are on the combat front lines, so Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, Babel) becomes Raleigh's co-pilot and emotional distraction. From there it's one Kaiju confrontation after another, on land and sea, expertly filmed with 3-D pressed to its limits.

For comic relief, del Toro turns to Charlie Day as a excitable "Kaiju groupie" scientist swapping insults with a Strangelovian colleague (Burn Gorman), and the director's Hellboy star Ron Perlman as a black market Kaiju organ smuggler. Pacific Rim takes itself just seriously enough to keep these tonal detours amusing, while Hunnam, Elba and Kikuchi balance the jarhead attitudes with surprising emotion. The movie's true stars, however, remain the hundreds of visual effects and set designers, sound engineers and stunt people shaping del Toro's artful escapism.

Their creatures may be a tad overdrawn and the sonic bombast (including Ramin Djawadi's musical score) occasionally oppressive. But Pacific Rim gives big, dumb and loud an exemplary name and summer audiences something to cheer, as they did several times during Monday's screening. Now if you'll excuse me, the water's running.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

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