Big robots are big fun

”Pacific Rim” looks amazing.

Seriously, the movie is magnificent technically. The computer-generated special effects are as spectacular as any I’ve ever seen.

And director Guillermo del Toro doesn’t waste any time with a tease or a slow build before getting to those giant robots battling massive sea monsters. Before a title card appears on screen, the director opens with a quick prologue – in the near future Kaiju (giant sea monsters) begin to emerge from the Pacific Ocean and the only way coastal nations can defend themselves is by building equally giant Jaegers (robot hunters that require two human operators) to fight them – and then launches into a 15-minute action sequence that shows what a talented filmmaker can do with the major studio resources available for a potential summer blockbuster.

And it’s the rare film shot in 3D where the technology seems to add visual depth and excitement to those battle sequences. ”Pacific Rim” should play well in 2D, but this time it may be worth the upcharge for those stupid glasses.

If only ”Pacific Rim” sounded as good as it looked.

There is a lot of silly, hokey dialogue (by Travis Beacham and del Toro) stringing those action sequences together, giving those metal machines a tin ear. That is, it has a tin ear when the dialogue can be understood. With its Bennetton collection of accents – Idris Elba’s refined Brit (which I’ll never get used to hearing out of Stringer Bell’s mouth), Max Martini’s brogue, Rinko Kikuchi’s Japanese – and the words frequently being shouted over clanging metal pummeling scaly flesh, a good chunk of the banter is lost in the sound mixing. Then again, let’s just say the story isn’t so complex that one needs to hear every single word to follow along.

In that opening sequence, Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) facing off against a Kaiju. Only Raleigh survives the fight, and since the two warriors must meld minds in order to operate the piece of machinery, Raleigh is haunted by images of his brother’s final seconds.

Fast forward five years later, and Raleigh is working as a laborer while the Jaegers are having trouble keeping up with increasingly bigger Kaijus that are appearing more frequently. Governments decide that building giant walls along the coastlines may be better protection, and the Jaeger program is targeted for elimination (if there is supposed to be a political subtext here, paralleling the border walls in the U.S. immigration debate with the proposed walls here, it’s buried mighty deep).

Stacker Pentecost (Elba), who runs the program, has one last plan to use the few remaining Jaegers to drop nuclear explosives down the crevice in the bottom of the ocean and destroy the passageway between the two worlds. He recruits Raleigh back into the force because he’s the only person who has experience operating one of the older-generation Jaegers at his disposal, and the reluctant fighter is paired with a talented but inexperienced woman named Mako (Kikuchi), who Stacker rescued from a Kaiju when she was a young girl.

The flashback where Mako relives that attack as a child is beautifully evocative, both recalling the Japanese monster movies that were an influence on del Toro and transcending anything they ever did. Kikuchi’s performance also seems designed to echo the acting style of those films.

This is a movie where the technology overwhelms the humans. Hunnam, who still looks like Heath Ledger’s kid brother, certainly doesn’t have the gravitas to loom as large on screen as the robot he inhabits.

The only actors who stand out over the roar are Ron Perlman as a flamboyant black market dealer of Kaiju remains and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as bickering scientists brought in to help execute the plan. Day’s hyper, nebbishy, Kaiju-worshipping scientist is particularly fun.

Wahatever its flaws may be, ”Pacific Rim” is infinitely better than ”Transformers,” the movie to which it will likely be compared. And viewers who can tap into their inner 10 year old and enjoy the mayhem should have a lot of fun with it.