The list of summer flicks that are loud, dumb, shallow and require minimal thought from viewers got a bit longer with the arrival of “Pacific Rim,” an almost fetishistic “Transformers” knockoff sprinkled with a pinch of “Aliens” and “Top Gun” DNA.
The premise couldn’t be much simpler: An interdimensional wormhole has opened in a fissure deep beneath the Pacific through which aliens dubbed “kaiju” (Japanese for “large beasts”) sporadically emerge — huge, misshapen, blue-goo-drooling creatures that want our planet.
Taking down one kaiju requires insane amounts of conventional weaponry, so the international community creates a program to build gigantic weaponized robotic suits dubbed “jaegers” (German for “hunters”).
The suits are so large and tough to control that they require two pilots, who must mind-meld in a process called “drifting” to effectively coordinate and maneuver their jaegers in battle.
Yeah, whatever ... movies like this live or die on their looks, not their stories. Writer-director Guillermo del Toro, best known for the “Hellboy” series and now hip-deep in “The Hobbit” trilogy, has the right fanboy sensibility for this sort of thing and crafts a number of trippy scenes.
For anyone who has ever sat mesmerized in front of a TV on a rainy Saturday watching Godzilla stomp all over Tokyo, the initial thunderous clashes of jaegers and kaiju provide visceral thrills.
The scenes in which the jaeger pilots “drift” — in which we take a brief, fast tour through their minds and memories — are also quite cool. Del Toro ups the ante on that score when a nebbishy scientist (Charlie Day) trying to figure out how to dismantle the wormhole decides to drift with the disembodied, still-living brain of a defeated kaiju, a scene that qualifies as flat-out hallucinatory.
But as is the case with every action film these days, this one doesn’t know when to quit.
There are only a few basic ways to stage the kaiju-jaeger battles. After the first couple, they quickly become redundant (as well as hard to follow, especially from behind the 3-D glasses that destroy any film’s color palette).
The movie could easily lose 20 to 30 minutes off its 131-minute running time without missing a beat — especially considering that the script, which del Toro co-wrote with Travis “Clash of the Titans” Beacham, is wafer-thin, with dialogue that runs toward gems like this: “In combat, you make decisions and have to live with the consequences.”
Hey, thanks for the tip!
The cast is no great shakes, either. The high point on that front is Ron Perlman’s turn as a Hong Kong-based kingpin of the black market in kaiju organs.
Clad in a red velvet jacket, with jangly metal spurs on his shoes and a mouthful of silver caps on his teeth, he serves up a typically campy Perlman performance.
Too bad it’s only a five-minute cameo; the headliners are much less interesting. Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”) plays the ostensible hero, hotshot jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket, and does most of his acting by pursing his lips really hard.
The script tries to provide some emotional depth with a backstory linking Idris Elba’s four-star jaeger corps commander with Rinko Kikuchi’s young, conflicted, inexperienced pilot, but that subplot barely resonates before another kaiju needs to be beaten into submission.
Ah, well ... it’s pointless to be too harsh on disposable films like “Pacific Rim,” which are built as much for their cross-promotional spinoff merchandising potential as for whatever limited half-life they may have at the box office.
And in truth, the movie’s basic premise would fly as a decent video game. Oh, wait ... they’ve already made one.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence.