Out With a Bang

3 minute read

Hollywood loves to imagine the end. Not of movies, which will always be around–remember the Beta tape of Hello, Dolly! that so entranced WALL•E in the arid rubble of future earth?–but of civilization as we know it. If our world isn’t already postmortem, as in Tom Cruise’s Oblivion and Will Smith’s After Earth, then zombies are overrunning the planet (World War Z) or we are in search of a Superman to stop an alien attack (Man of Steel). Washington must be especially vulnerable to terrorist attacks: Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down both imagined an imperiled POTUS, with the latter offering the image–tonic or scary, depending on your politics–of a black President with a gun.

Pacific Rim, the new Armageddon adventure from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, leaves the defense of the besieged earth to the professionals. To counter the dinosaurish creatures called Kaiju (the Japanese word for strange beast, as in the old Godzilla films) that have risen from the seas to devastate our coastal cities, the world’s military-fantasy complex calls on Jaegers (from the German for hunters)–giant robots in clanking human form, each manned by two Rangers, expert fighters whose perfectly twinned minds activate the controls. If you’re thinking of an all-star mashup of popular action movies, you’re on the right track. This is Avatar meets Transformers, or Top Gun–zilla.

Raleigh Beckett (Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam), who quit the Rangers after his brother died in battle, is called back to service by his old commander, Stacker Pentecost (The Wire’s Idris Elba), and eventually paired with first-time pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, the girl from Babel). That’s about it for the human equation. The rest is a series of rock-’em, sock-’em grudge matches between the Kaiju and the Jaegers, which shoot bullets at their prey or stun them with a roundhouse punch, Hulk Hogan–style.

Del Toro is known for leaping disparate genres in a single bound: he made both the wonderful Spanish-language art-horror film Pan’s Labyrinth and, for Hollywood, the Hellboy comix franchise. He also spent a few years preparing the Hobbit series before Peter Jackson stepped in and took back his favorite toys. Liberated from New Zealand limbo, del Toro poured himself into Raleigh’s renegade character and even more into the action scenes, which were executed with a spectacular artistry that Michael Bay could only dream of.

When one nerd scientist (Charlie Day) sees a Jaeger, he exclaims, “That’s 2,500 tons of awesome!” And though millions may die in the Kaiju attacks, del Toro assures that the end of the world, as he knows it, will look fabulous.

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