Charlie Day and Charlie Hunnam  in 'Pacific Rim'

3 Stars

The Summer of Loud continues this week with "Pacific Rim," full of sound and fury signifying nothing more than a monster movie in full roar. Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro's clever if rather wearying ode to Japanese sea-beast mythology is best enjoyed with a pair of earplugs and on a short night's sleep. That is to say: It's closer to the hammering "Transformers" aesthetic than expected. Yet the weirdness around the edges saves it from impersonality.

In this near-future scenario, the valiant men and women of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps take on the amphibious dragons from the deep. There's another battle afoot: the battle between a fine director's strongest storytelling instincts and the clobbering prerogatives and perceived box-office requirements of a picture that needs to make hundreds of millions to break even.

We've encountered whole sections and flaming chunks of "Pacific Rim" many times before. We've seen them in the training sequences in "Avatar" and the generic relationship banter of "Starship Troopers" and, more to the water-based point, the "Godzilla"-inspired pictures released in the decades following World War II, when irradiated beings and smog critters and other progeny of humankind's mistreatment of the planet gave us the retribution we so richly deserved.

At the start, "Pacific Rim" dispatches with the necessary expository blah-blah in delightfully forthright fashion. The audience is debriefed via extended montage on the emergence from beneath the ocean floor of the Kaiju, prehistoric, steroidal dinosaur-y visitors that come in a variety of shapes, sizes and threat levels. They keep coming, these Kaiju, and they wipe out Manila, San Francisco and other cities in short order. So the nations of the world settle their petty land disputes and political wars and agree to work together on a solution.

Solution: 25-story-tall human-made robots known as Jaegers, controlled by two pilots strapped in and mind-melded in "a neural bridge." It's a tough job, and many lives are lost in the battles, but when a Kaiju war veteran (Charlie Hunnam) teams up with a newbie (Rinko Kikuchi), Earth's rightful owners get a second chance.

For anyone with an abiding affection for plus-size beasts, here very large indeed, "Pacific Rim" offers considerable visual panache of the digital effects variety. I wish the rooting interests among the heroes and heroines were stronger. Hunnam's character has a brother (Diego Klattenhoff), also in the Corps, also not very interesting. Max Martini and Rob Kazinsky portray an Australian father-and-son team in the Corps, likewise given insufficient material to make us care about their fates.

But del Toro has a few aces up his sleeve, or rather in the control room overseen by Commander Stacker Pentecost (love that name!). Idris Elba's the commander, the one who delivers the rallying cry about how "we're canceling the apocalypse!" He's a welcome presence. But he's no match for the mugging scientists and factotums lower down the chain. In modern-day monster movies, too many performers favor an approach of deadpan under-reaction in the face of supernatural narrative occurrences. Not in "Pacific Rim." Watch what Clifton Collins Jr., Charlie Day and Burn Gorman manage here, in fearsome close-up, when they're bugging out about the latest terrible development of the Category 4 Kaiju. They hit the panic button over and over and over, like mice in some sort of "feed me again!" lab experiment. Enormous, tantrum-prone beings are on the rampage! Overact like you mean it, men!

Ron Perlman, a del Toro and fanboy god, has a wonderful time as an underground dealer of Kaiju body parts. In effect, he's into monster memorabilia -- the world's most menacing comics emporium dealer. Perlman's fate is memorable for a host of slimy reasons, and his storyline comprises a movie inside the larger movie, much like the pilots operating inside the mechanical sluggers invented to vanquish the tourists from the center of the earth.

It's noisy, overscaled fun, this picture, and now and then a little poetry sneaks in to tantalize. My favorite moment is an underwater shot of the first major Kaiju, just a-swimmin' along in long shot, about to rise above the water's surface to show us what's what. Tellingly, the shot's a second or two too short. But "Pacific Rim" has a lot on its plate, and always another clash of the titans to prepare.


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

Running time: 2:11.

Cast: Charlie Day (Newt Gotlieb); Charlie Hunnam (Raleigh Becket); Idris Elba (Stacker Pentecost); Rinko Kikuchi (Mako Mori).

Credits: Directed by Guillermo del Toro; written by del Toro and Drew Pearce; produced by Jon Jashni, Mary Parent and Thomas Tull. A Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Copyright © Tribune Media Services, Inc.

'Pacific Rim' Movie Review - Charlie Day and Charlie Hunnam