I love playing make-believe with my 5-year-old son, who has no use whatsoever for narrative structure, the laws of physics or simple logic. Swords outdraw pistols, stuffed animals develop superpowers, the Lightning Duplo Jet battles the Thunder Pirate Car in outer space. It's all very endearing, even though my adult brain shuts down after about an hour of incoherent playtime.
"Pacific Rim," a movie about giant sea monsters, called Kaiju, versus giant robots, called Jaegers, feels for all the world like it was made by a 5-year-old, but it was directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, who is 48. It lasts more than two hours. And there is nothing endearing about it.
It's a departure for Del Toro, whose distinctive style has elevated the horror and comic-book genres ("Pan's Labyrinth," "Hellboy"). Here, he's indulging his inner fanboy, the one who watched countless monster movies and reruns of "Giant Robot" hoping to one day make his own big-screen version. He has succeeded: In terms of acting, dialogue and overall intelligibility, "Pacific Rim" is every bit the equal of, say, 1974's "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla."
"Pacific Rim" floats in a fantasy realm completely detached from grown-up reality. To fight the Jurassic-looking Kaiju, humans somehow dreamed up edifice-size robots. Each Jaeger is powered by at least two mind-melded soldiers who simultaneously choreograph its martial-arts moves. (Think "Real Steel.") The machines' fanciful nicknames -- Crimson Typhoon, Gipsy Danger -- sound more like Hot Wheels than World War II bombers, but then the platoon's commander is named Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba).
The story lines are mere formalities: A chaste, eew-free romance blossoms between Jaeger veteran Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, looking slightly concussed) and rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, hair highlighted with manga blue), while an excitable scientist (Charlie Day, providing comic unrelief) searches for a black-market Kaiju-parts dealer (Ron Perelman) who may have deeper answers.
"Pacific Rim" is basically del Toro sprawled on his bedroom floor, staging endless battles between a multipack of toy dinosaurs and a handful of Transformers. I'm impressed by his imaginative spirit ("creativity" seems not quite the right word), and he must have had fun with his reported $180 million budget. Watching "Pacific Rim," though, my adult brain shut down after about 10 minutes.
PLOT When Earth is besieged by giant monsters, mankind fights back with giant robots.
RATING PG-13 (action, brief language)
CAST Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi
BOTTOM LINE Battle after battle, with zero thought to story or character. Even hard-core animé and manga fans might find this a drag.
ROCKING TOKYO WITH MONSTER HITS
"Pacific Rim," opening Friday, harks back to one of Japan's greatest exports -- those cheesy monster movies of the '50s and '60s -- but done on a larger scale. Here are some of the most memorable big-screen creatures who chewed up the scenery -- and half of Tokyo.
GOJIRA (aka GODZILLA) (1954) -- Still the granddaddy of reptilian movie monsters. For the 1956 reissue, new scenes were added featuring a Raymond Burr and awful English dubbing. Many sequels followed, including the 1962 smackdown "King Kong vs. Godzilla."
RODAN (1956) -- Sure it's a creature feature -- giant pterodactyl Rodan blows into a mining village and creates destructive winds with his wings -- but above all, it's the touching love story of Rodan and his mate with an ending worthy of Romeo and Juliet.
MOTHRA (1961) -- Cinematic proof that music has charms to soothe the savage beast. When Tom Thumb-sized twins are captured by evil scientists, their only hope is to sing out a telepathic cry for help from the titular gigantic moth. And if a few buildings must crumble, so be it.
GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964) -- It's like the Justice League of Japanese monsters as Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan join forces to battle Ghidorah, who pops up after a meteorite hits Japan. How's this for a shocker? Ghidorah spews electrical current from his mouth.
-- Daniel Bubbeo