“Today we are canceling the apocalypse!!” says Idris Elba, trying to rally his discouraged troops before the final battle in “Pacific Rim.”
Elba is the authority figure in “Pacific Rim,” which means he’s allowed to be older than 35 (he’s actually 40, in life) and tell everybody else what to do, but only if it’s clear in the final scene that he’s nobly marching off to oblivion and everyone knows it.
The apocalypses just keep on coming to your friendly local theater. To steal another line from “Pacific Rim,” here is what scaredy-cat professor Gottlieb has to say when he hides out from monsters the size of small suburbs in a crowded underground bunker while thunderous footsteps are heard overhead: “This isn’t a refuge, this is the buffet line.”
That’s a good description of your local neighborhood cinema in the past eight weeks: an ongoing Apocalypse Buffet. Line up at the box office and pick your apocalypse: the Rapture awaiting Hollywood stoners at a party (“This Is The End”); the one with scurrying zombies around every corner (“World War Z”); the one where Superman and his enemies destroy half of Metropolis as collateral damage in an 18-round bout to establish who’s the heavyweight champ of the D.C. comic universe (“Man of Steel”); or now, the War Between Undersea Monsters battling Man-Made-and-Operated Monsters to preserve a beleaguered earth from extraterrestrial rapacity in the new millennium.
The monsters who escaped from a fissure in the ocean floor are called Kaiju. The gigantic man-made monsters who battle them are called Jaegers and are operated by two humans inside as if they were playing Wii games.
It’s a cheesy ’50s creature feature of the sort that used to star Richard Egan and Ed Kemmer.
Except that it’s a standard 21st century summer film – made on a budget of $180 million for a world audience (especially Pacific Rim patrons or those near the Japan and China seas) that comes first and America second. Accordingly it’s full of 3-D CGI battles conducted at Boeing 777 volume levels. Lots of luck trying to understand every word of dialogue.
You could, then, consider it a horror movie of sorts from a cultural standpoint, especially if you’re the sort of person who – quite rightly – considers word-rich movies like “Stories We Tell” and “Before Midnight” head and shoulders above everything else in town right now, especially those movies made on a budget 100 times larger, at least.
On the other hand, if Saturday matinees as a child taught you the essential paradox of popular entertainment in a democracy – that utter shameless junk can be a hugely enjoyable way to kill a couple of hours – “Pacific Rim” will fill your summertime needs nicely.
Which is to say that unlike “Man of Steel” (thank heaven), it has no pretensions whatsoever to be anything other than what it is – a monster-sized creature feature about huge ocean-floor monsters with a hive mentality and gigantic man-made monsters who exhibit the weird human propensity to give affectionate, even downright cozy little names to fighting machines.
You see that propensity at monster truck rallies, Battlebot conclaves and, for sure, 21st century movies meant to please fanboys, garage fanatics and machine fetishists on four continents (Asia, Europe, North and South Americas).
It takes a full half-hour for the first and only girl to show up in the cast of “Pacific Rim.” The actress who plays her is Rinko Kikuchi and if it seems she just might be a plant to solidify the Japan and China Sea box office, I won’t argue with you.
She’s pretty much alone in her gender here. Defending against the apocalypse, I guess, is man’s work but it seemed awfully nice to have her in the movie anyway. Even if her traumatic memories sometimes get in the way, she’s a good enough monster fighter to be on anyone’s team.
And, yes, of course, she’s one male cast member’s daughter figure and another’s romantic interest. In fantasies like this, you can’t be female unless you’re a serious emotional multitasker.
So think of this as “Godzilla Meets The Transformers” for the pubescent and post-pubescent set.
But, understand a couple of things: It’s 1,000 times better made than any “Godzilla” movie, and the action is 100 times more coherent and better connected to recognizable human beings than any Michael Bay “Transformers” horror.
A nice idiot Saturday matinee, then, suitable for any day or time of the week. And, as they say, for 13- and 14-year-old boys of all ages and genders.
Rating: 3 stars