Short version: Best popcorn flick of the summer.
Longer version? OK, longer version.
Giant monsters (Kaiju) from another dimension are invading earth through a trans-dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. They come one at a time, months apart, giving mankind time to unite and figure out a way to fight the beasties. And of course you fight giant sea aliens by building giant, human-piloted battle robots (Jaegers). The neural connection between man and robot is too much for a single human brain to handle, so two pilots are connected together in a neural “drift” and act and fight as one. Think of them as a flesh-and-blood RAID 1 array, if you’re geeky like that. The problem is, the alien attacks are growing more frequent and of course the aliens are also getting bigger and tougher. They even evolve weapons of their own, like acid spit and an EMP-type thing.
If you think giant monsters versus giant robots is just an excuse for city-busting battles… well, yeah. Of course. And if you think the neural “drift” is an excuse to heighten the human drama… well, yeah. Of course. Even better, the deeper connection between the characters, the better they connect in the “drift,” and the better they fight.
I told you it was high concept.
In an effective opening battle, hotshot Jaeger pilots Raleigh Becket (Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam) and Yancy Becket, brothers, set the stage for what’s to come. Yancy dies fighting — while the two are neurally connected. Raleigh feels everything his brother does, right up until… nothing. Raleigh then goes into hiding for five years, while the alien attacks increase.
So of course Raleigh gets called back for one last stand, and of course his new neural mate (Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori) is young, pretty, and with a past of her own. I should also mention that Hunnam nicely avoids the TV Star Disease of seeming too small, too personal, for the big screen. He has a big-budget actioner on his shoulders, and he carries it effortlessly. Even Tom Hanks moved from TV to movies in baby steps, but not Hunnam. If he’s smart, he has a real movie career ahead of him.
You also get a hard-ass military commander (of course) in Idris Elba’s Marshal Pentecost. He too has a past and doesn’t want to see Mako have to fight. There’s a father-son team played by Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky to very nice effect — I even had an honest sniffle or two. There’s a Russian team you’d like to have gotten to see more of, and ditto for a team of three brothers who fly a three-armed robot with spinning blades for hands.
There’s comic relief in two bumbling scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) with just the right amount of cheese. And of course they find the secret to closing the rift and saving the Earth from certain doom. Most fun of all might have been Hunnam’s Sons costar Ron Perlman in a supporting role as an illegal dealer in alien organs. Of course he does that Ron Perlman thing he does so well, all strut and menace with maybe a little heart in there somewhere. And that pretty much rounds out the cast, except for a few thousand Hong Kong extras, many of whom of course get shmooshed up in classic Godzilla style.
Of course the battles are epic, but most importantly the battles are comprehensible. There’s none of this super-zoom shaky-cam BS where you can never tell who’s doing what to whom. Director Guillermo del Toro knows how to tell a story through the action, without losing sight of the human (Hunnam?) element. The battle scenes reminded me most of epic versions of the mana-a-mano fights The Bourne Identity. That’s as high praise as I can offer an action flick.
Are there any surprises? Not a one, unless you count just how well executed the movie is. The good guys win, the bad guys get blown up real good, and of course everybody dies who you figure is going to die. But the predictability doesn’t matter because you’ll be entertained and enthralled in equal measure every step of the well-worn way. There’s also plenty of shirtless Hunnam for the ladies and for certain gents, and plenty of hot ass-kickery from Kikuchi for the other gents and for certain other ladies. There’s spills and chills and just a touch of romance — but no kissing to offend my seven-year-old son who just swears “THAT WAS THE BEST MOVIE IN HISTORY!”
But it is two hours very well spent, and if there’s a sequel (of course there will be a sequel), then I’ll be back at the theater for more.