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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE: |
. "Pacific Rim"

Director Benicio del Toro, known for mixing the real and the surreal as he did very successfully in "Pan's Labyrinth," ups his game by taking his vision to an epic scale of sci-fi with creatures and weapons from a Japanese folkloric genre.

Modeled on such things as dragons and of immense size and power, they are categorized as Kaiju, the Japanese word for "giant monster." A colony of them have established an entry portal into earth through a conjunction between two tectonic plates in the deep abyss in the neighborhood of the Pacific Rim. These water-borne creatures arrive with the purpose of laying waste to the entire planet, starting by making a mess of things in San Francisco, and then directing their unexplainable rage on other coastal cities round the world. They have no problem wreaking havoc on land.

We're told that this destruction is a thing that they do and, once accomplished planet-wide, they will move on to the next space orb that supports sentient life. Which planet might that be is anybody's guess. Maybe an answer will come in a sequel.

Flattening cities with no effective counterattack by conventional military weapons, officials saw that something proportional was essential to save earth. Futuristic technologies from every nation united in a common purpose and resulted in a new class of humanoid robots, stories high, called Jaegers.

Each mech (or mecha) carries a different package of combat tools and power source, among them laser rays, rocket chest launchers, tesla fists, incinerator turbines, twin fist saw claws, a plasmacaster, sting blade, nuclear vortex turbine and other means with which to combat the Kaiju's bag of tricks. The Jaeger program is headed by charismatic leader Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba).

Because of size and complexity, A Jaeger requires at least two human pilots to control their part of the robot while under the most extreme stress, which is what del Toro and his team were after, nothing less. Essential to this is the pilot teams' combined fighting instincts for which they are mentally conjoined in a neural link for coordination and to maximum effectiveness.

This connection, called "the Drift," is a state of dual mentality in which each pilot is in the mind of the other as they wage their searing battles against an unnatural adversary that are Godzillas on steroids.

But, with the Kaiju adapting to human defenses like a disease to a medicine, plus the increasing rate of their attacks, it's not going so well for humanity.

Pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), deeply scarred by the death of his brother in the first Jaeger, a battle which we witness in a prologue. Raleigh recedes from the war as it continues with great losses, until officials decide Jaegers aren't cutting it. Instead, they'll build great walls to deny the Kaiju entrance to the next cities on their list.

Five years later, with defeat looming, he's still in mourning when former CO Pentecost asks him to pilot his old Jaeger, Gipsy Danger once again, in one last Herculean effort. The second pilot with whom he will share his brain is yet to be determined and is highly critical.

Enter the love interest when Charlie senses a connection to Pentecost's seemingly shy, standoffish adopted daughter Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). He senses fighting skills and killer mentality. In order to prove it to him, but more to us, a taunt in the gym leads to a test on the mat in a one-on-one martial arts stick fight. Her agility and timing corroborates what his senses told him and the connection between them is cemented. Which is good for him, good for her and good for the film. Sexual tension is a vital contribution to any adventure film and what better format for it than pilot and co-pilot?

When faced with overwhelming force by such a brute enemy, the understanding of it, how it works, how it thinks, how it reproduces, etc. becomes essential if there's a weakness to be discovered. For this, del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham ("Clash of the Titans") who came up with the story, create the Simon Peggish Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and a subplot in which he works obsessively in his lab to study a captured portion of a kaiju brain.

He manages a breakthrough and contacts Hannibal Chau, a dandified mobster who sells captured Kaiju parts on the black market -- something like the banned Japanese delicacy, shark fin soup, which is supposed to offer an ingredient that increases energy and stamina.

The primary dosage of entertainment to which del Toro devotes screen time is the battle footage, performed with mighty technical proficiency by the CGI geniuses at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) founded by George Lucas for "Star Wars."

But, somewhere in the fervor to give the audience a volume of action to impart a feeling of having had their "money's worth" they let the film go on for two hours and eleven minutes. The truism that less is more is ignored, as all unlimited-budget movies do, these days. Ok, but the Jaeger/Kaiju conflicts ultimately seem to detach themselves from the story, imparting a growing tedium with the repetition. The point for del Toro seems to be to outdo "Transformers," at least on the machine and threat level. He accomplishes this, but I think it's fair to say that if there had been no "Transformers," there wouldn't be a "Pacific Rim."

The role of Commander Pentecost, a Promethian person whose mere appearance makes you want to stand at attention, might once have fell on the shoulders of James Earl Jones, Lawrence Fishburne or Russell Crowe. But it's difficult to beat the likes of Idris Elba who comes out of this with future casting points (as though he needed them). It's easy to call him the best of the generation for his commanding elegance. Never a false move.

The cast is highly attractive, starting with Hunnam who proves his mettle among young male stars for sympathetic magnetism and physical dynamics.

Beyond the brink but an entertainment just the same. If you have the same reaction I did about the time issue, you may start thinking you'll never get home. But, once you do, you'll have a lot to talk about.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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