They came from beneath the sea—towering, scaly beasts known as kaiju that wreaked havoc across earth. Mankind responded by creating Jaegers—giant warrior robots piloted by telepathically connected navigators like Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam). He loses his brother (and wheelman) during the clunky, narration-heavy prelude to Guillermo del Toro’s unabashedly cocky sci-fi epic. Fortunately, such expository weariness is cast aside once the film fleetly flashes forward to the time when Becket is a disgraced loner, the Jaeger program is on its last legs, and kaiju extinction of the human race is almost guaranteed.
Every monster-movie archetype is here, from nerdy scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) to hard-stare leaders (Idris Elba) with a penchant for 11th-hour inspirational speeches. (Watching the former Stringer Bell bellow about “canceling the apocalypse!” is one of those great, giddy pleasures you didn’t know you needed.) The copious battle scenes are what many viewers will want to see, and they more than deliver in all their digitally augmented glory: Alien behemoths are hurled into buildings, an abandoned ship is used as an impromptu cudgel, and battles rage in both the skies above and the oceanic depths below. But though everything we see is pure, pleasurable comic-book absurdity, Del Toro somehow lends a plausible humanity to the proceedings, one lacking in most of this summer’s city-destroying blockbusters. Even the victims on the ground make a palpably personal impression and, in the case of Becket’s callow copilot, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), are as mythically moving as anything in the mecha anime, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, that the director emulates with expert aplomb.
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