You want a single-volume psychotronic encyclopedia of everything that people who love summer movies love about summer movies? It’s all there in the deliriously entertaining Pacific Rim, which pits skyscraper-sized robots against towering, scaly, neon-spitting creatures straight out of the Toho Kingdom.
Director Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy) brings a sense of respect for the genres he pays tribute to here, but keeps tongue planted firmly in metal cheek. It is not a hefty movie, but it’s as surprisingly nimble as that 300-foot-tall mecha-warrior taking a sprint down a cluttered Hong Kong thoroughfare.
It’s something like the future, and a rift somewhere in the oceanic trenches has started spitting out gigantic creatures that surface and tear apart cities at an increasing rate. Humankind jumped on the extermination plan early on, tapping into the sizable military-industrial complex to construct an even more sizeable industrial-strength militia of Jaegers (they’re the big robots) that are controlled by two co-pilots who, in order to manipulate their million-ton charges, have to neurologically nestle into each other’s memories and work like two halves of the robot brain.
The program works alright for a while, but the rate at which the Kaiju creatures emerge from the rift soon starts to accelerate. Scientists predict (well, specifically one jumpy mathematician predicts) that they will soon start emerging within days of eachother, instead of months. The world’s defenses are simply not ready for the onslaught, and Jaegers are starting to lose their battles. It’s up to an elite group of four (and their pilots) to, in the Independence Day-ribbing epigram of Idris Elba’s commanding officer, “cancel the apocalypse.”
In short, the movie’s pleasures are not to be found in the plot, though one could mine the imagery of two separate people combining mental forces for meta-commentary on Del Toro’s genre-splicing glee. More so than with any of his previous films, Del Toro seems to be deliberately eschewing deeper resonance, instead choosing to focus on expertly deployed spectacle as its own form of mythic power. It’s not what he’s saying, but how. And how he’s saying it is mostly loud and expostulatory. His spatial definition during the film’s action sequences is as clean and succinct as his cast’s accents are hilariously incomprehensible. (Seriously, Ron Perlman is the most eloquently spoken actor in this group.)
Armageddon movies that don’t take themselves seriously are not as few and far between as you’d think; just a few years ago, Roland Emmerich’s 2012 transformed catastrophic money shots into the new cream pie to the face. But Pacific Rim goes one step further, inviting audiences to feel guiltless about reveling in the splendor of its unabashedly adolescent worldview. If you can’t get with the image of a massive robot swinging an oil tanker around as a makeshift baseball bat, well, there’s always the next season of Downton Abbey to look forward to.