Shock and horror filled my mind at the first look at "Pacific Rim." Guillermo del Toro, the Spanish director responsible for "Pan's Labyrinth," one of my favorite films, was making what appeared to be Transformers versus Godzilla. He had, according to the trailer, gone full Michael Bay, the "Transformers" director who is never a favorite among film critics. But Del Toro's spirit won the battle. Sure, there is no shortage of Bay-style robot fights, but Del Toro has more than just an eye, he has a heart. And that little glimmer of soul makes all the difference in the world.
The set-up: It's somewhere in the near future and dinosaurlike monsters called Kaiju have risen from the Pacific Ocean and stomped on San Francisco, Cabo San Lucas and Manila. Out of fear, a Pan Pacific defense made up of the United States, Australia, China, Russia and the U.K. join forces to build gigantesque robots to destroy the beasts. The only way to beat the beast is to be one yourself.
The Kaiju is nothing new. For years humans have been beating them off, keeping them at the bottom of the sea. But the Kaiju have evolved, becoming bigger, stronger and nastier. The defense team is expertly trained, so much so that two soldiers can act in unison, operating the robot from the middle of its body. The computer is too strong for one brain.
It is details like this that allow for wonderful dynamics to develop among the lead characters. Particularly interesting is Idris Elba (he will forever be Stringer Bell on "The Wire"), as a commanding lead officer and Rinko Kikuchi as one of the robot operators.
And it is the soul of Del Toro that makes "Pacific Rim" more than just a simple blockbuster. There is enough for everyone, including an 8-year-old hell bent on seeing monsters fight robots, the adult who reluctantly takes him, and the movie geek who recognizes all the throwbacks to everything from "Star Wars" to Phillip K. Dick.
It is an awesome visual feat, and easily the smartest blockbuster of the summer.