“Hellboy” director Guillermo del Toro and scenarist Travis Beacham have caught Michael Bay and his “Transformers” franchise napping with the theatrical release of “Pacific Rim” (*** OUT OF ****). This entertaining but formulaic hokum amalgamates science fiction with horror in an apocalyptic adventure epic that pits humans piloting giant robots against “Godzilla” type monsters from another dimension. Imagine “Godzilla” meets “Robot Jox” (1989), and you’ll have a good idea what to expect from “Pacific Rim.” When you aren’t laughing yourself silly at the doomsday premise of mankind tangling with alien behemoths from another galaxy, you may find yourself caught up in the bombastic, larger-than-life action. Basically, “Pacific Rim” amounts to a slugfest between towering robots and amphibious leviathans that attack each other on both land and sea. Just because you haven’t swamped your bathtub lately with a rubber ducky in one fist and a huge plastic robot in the other doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy this boisterous Armageddon. Comparatively, between the heroic humans and the “Jurassic Park” influenced monsters, Del Toro creates more urban destruction than both “Marvel’s Avengers” and DC’s “Man of Steel.” Skyscrapers topple like dominos, and gargantuan creatures rampage through several heavily populated Pacific rim properties like tornadoes. In the hands of a talent lesser than Del Toro, who also helmed “Blade 2,” “Pacific Rim” might not have been so amusing. The film’s biggest asset isn’t the impressive CGI combatants, but its cheeky sense of humor. Meantime, the biggest problem this outlandish epic contends with is its largely unknown cast. Aside from veterans like Ron Pearlman and Idris Elba, who support rather than lead, nobody qualifies as a celebrity superstar. Charlie Hunnam has made one above-average thriller “Deadfall” and appeared in 70 episodes of the “Sons of Anarchy” television series as Jackson ‘Jax’ Teller. Anybody who liked Steve McQueen will notice a stunning resemblance between Hunnam and the “Bullitt” star. Hunnam has all of McQueen’s physical movements down, but his hair looks a mite long. Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi plays Hunnam’s feisty co-star, and they wind up sharing more than merely physical space in this rock ’em, sock ’em saga. The beauty of unknowns in a mega-budget movie like “Pacific Rim” is that you’re never certain who is going to survive the fracas.
This fast-paced, live-wire, science fiction spectacle takes place about seven years from now in 2020. The worst thing that we face as a society then isn’t suicidal terrorists. Instead, it’s the Kaiju. These massive, dinosaur-like, creatures from another dimension that emerge from a breach in the ocean floor to stomp the smithereens out of San Francisco, Manila, and Cabo San Lucas. Initially, mankind tried out conventional weapons on these supernatural mega-beasts. Unfortunately, more powerful weapons were required to repulse these pugnacious leviathans. All the scenes with the monsters trashing cities will evoke memories of the original Japanese Godzilla movies as well as the 1998 American remake starring Matthew Broderick. Eventually, mankind cooperates on a global basis and assembles huge, 250-foot tall, humanoid metal com-bots with cannons and lasers called ‘Jaegers.’ Two pilots in tandem operate these man-made monsters with each acting as opposing neural hemispheres. Like the monsters, the Jaegers can ‘take a licking and keep on ticking’ in the drink as well as on dry land. The pilots don space suits, wield their two minds as one in “Star Trek” mind-meld fashion, and control their robot from a sophisticated Wii platform built into the head-piece of the hulk. Two pilots are essential for a Jaeger because one pilot cannot perform the tasks mandatory without suffering long-term, nose-bleeding, side-effects. When these robots are prepared for combat, both pilots must establish a neural link between their minds, so their memories and consciousness are bonded together by inboard hardware. As it turns out, Earth succeeds in deterring these creatures. Nevertheless, the Kaiju haven’t tossed in the celestial towel. They storm back for one final fracas, and the best of the Jaegers confront them in a life and death struggle in the north Alaskan Seas. Brothers Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff of “After Earth”) and Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam of “Sons of Anarchy”) wade into icy waters against the orders of their superior, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba of “Thor”), to save a fishing vessel from the Kaiju. This Kaiju has a surprise in store for them when it rips the head-piece off the Jaeger and pulls Raleigh’s brother Yancy out. Stunned and injured during the toe-to-toe fray, Raleigh manages to bring the Jaeger home and quits the program. He is a hull of his former self now that his brother is gone. The Jaeger program isn’t far from extinct itself. The authorities have decided walls are the answer to the threat posed by the Kaiju. Every metropolis on the Pacific rim sets out to erect impenetrable walls. Unfortunately, nobody told the Kaiju, and they smash through these immense walls as if they were built of Styrofoam. Stacker searches for Raleigh and finds him toiling on one of those walls. Later, he introduces him to Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), and they assure Raleigh he can drive another Jaeger. Stacker’s scientists, Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day of “Horrible Bosses”) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman of “Layer Cake”), are furiously working on ways to destroy these creatures when Mako announces she is the ideal candidate to help Raleigh pilot a Jaeger. Stacker is initially hesitant to let her double- team with Raleigh, but she wins him over to her way of thinking. Stacker’s heroic speech about “canceling the apocalypse” sounds reminiscent of the King’s “into the breach” speech in Shakespeare’s “Henry V, Act III, Scene I.”
“Pacific Rim” boasts more than just a bunch of robots battling prehistoric monsters. Braying like a jackass, Charlie Day steals the show as an insane scientist who resembles Christian Slater crossed with Rick Moranis. Burn Gorman and he have a field day playing psychotic scientists. At one point, Dr. Geiszler decides to mind-meld with a fragment of a Kaiju’s brain and realizes that Stacker’s strategy of using a Jaeger to drop a nuclear device down the Pacific Ocean portal from where the monsters hail from isn’t going to succeed. “Pacific Rim” qualifies as a monster of a mash.