‘Pacific Rim’ rises above the depths

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All the promises made by the 1998 Godzilla film, the Power Rangers television show, Michael Bay’s Transformers films, and Voltron have been fulfilled. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present “Pacific Rim.”

The concept is simple: giant, destructive creatures called “kaiju” are invading our world, and the world’s response has been to build giant mech suits called “jaegers” to fight them. Giant robots versus giant monsters: every 10-year-old’s dream movie.

Of course, this premise has been done since the days of Ray Harryhausen (“Clash of the Titans,” “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”) and his claymation fantasies. Japan has churned out giant moster/robot movies and cartoons since the 1970s. So what sets “Pacific Rim” apart from the slew of giant monster movies that came before it? It’s not the fun but cheesy acting, nor is it the predictable plot.

The truth is that director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Hellboy”) took a relatively simple premise and did it very well. In “Pacific Rim,” giant robots fight giant monsters, and del Toro saw no reason to put much in the way. There is a plot, and it does the job of moving us from fight scene to fight scene. The actors are solid, but only the most animated characters are memorable. This movie knows it’s a silly action film, and its sense of humor matches.

Del Toro’s monster design is one of a kind, as usual. His beasts’ unsettling, alien anatomy recall Godzilla channeled through H.P. Lovecraft. But this is to be expected from del Toro’s work. His robots are mostly humanoid, fusing simplicity with effective design. There’s not much left to say, except “on to the fighting.”

Speaking of the fighting, it’s amazing. The pervasive shaky-cam of modern action cinema is all but gone. The fights feature longer, smooth camera shots that emphasize the scale of everything. Viewers can tell exactly what’s going on at any point in the fight, something that many modern action movies have lost with the rapid cut shots which are in style.

That sense of scale – the fact that the robots and monsters are all hundreds of feet tall and thousands of tons – is never lost. Each fight feels different, and the breaks between are long enough to make each one feel significant, from the introduction to the climactic battle.

Most of this movie’s appeal is in the spectacle. Del Toro put a world of effort into the most important part of “Pacific Rim.” Every other part of the movie – plot, character, development, pacing – can be described as somewhere between passable and solid. There’s nothing profound, really, or even new about “Pacific Rim”; the technology used to render it has been around for years, and all of the other pieces are well-trod geek tropes.

At the core of this big movie is something simple. It’s a small child playing with toys, imagining an epic showdown between epic foes, with stakes and scale long lost to most adults. There are few children so capable of playing with their toys as del Toro. We can only wait and wonder what he’ll do next.