Local review: ‘Godzilla’ plus ‘Cloverfield’ times del Toro equals awesome

Combining the oversized action of a Godzilla monster mash (with better special effects) and the street-level anxiety of “Cloverfield” (with steadier cameras), director Guillermo del Toro builds on what’s come before and makes the mega-monster genre his own with “Pacific Rim.”

An affectionate homage to the rubber-suited behemoths that regularly pulverized a miniature Tokyo back in the day, “Pacific Rim” is set in a very real, recognizable world dealing with strange beasts, called “Kaiju,” being spewed forth from a chasm at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. A montage of the early attacks feels eerily like actual news footage of natural and man-made disasters, making the next fantastical jump – that humanity builds towering robots to fight back – that much easier to swallow.

The big ‘bots, or “Jaegers,” must be piloted by two people. As humanity gradually loses the war, one of the best pilots, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, “Sons of Anarchy”), is pressed back into service for a last-ditch effort to thwart the Kaiju once and for all.

Leading the charge is Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, “Prometheus”), your typical take-no-guff commanding officer whose “The apocalypse is canceled” speech easily trumps Bill Pullman’s famous rallying call in “Independence Day.” Other character types you may recognize are the wacky-but-brilliant scientist (Charlie Day, “Horrible Bosses”), the overconfident hot shot (Robert Kazinsky, “Red Tails”) and the loyal, resourceful techie (Clifton Collins Jr., “Red Widow”). Becket is the reluctant hero, paired with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, “Babel”), the eager apprentice, to pilot a rebuilt Jaeger.

Yes, the characters are pretty standard fare, and some elements of the plot rely on little more logic than, “well, we need it to happen that way.” But it’s a tremendous ride.

The combat between the Jaegers and Kaiju is terrifically rendered, with efforts taken to make the robots’ mechanics look somewhat plausible without robbing the film of fantastic visuals. The combat is also brutal – the audience is acutely aware of the pilots inside the machines and the mortal danger they face, while the monsters look, move and bleed like actual animals.

In addition, the impact of these battles isn’t ignored. While it’s not the focus, the movie grippingly shows giant monster attacks through the eyes of regular folks on the ground, ensuring no fight is a Power Rangers-esque melee between two dudes towering over a toy city.

This takes the air out of some of the cheap thrills of giant-robot-monster combat (something I quite enjoy), but adds an atmosphere of suspense you might not expect.

It also means that while kids will be drawn to “Pacific Rim,” parents should think twice about taking them (and not just because of Ron Perlman’s foul-mouthed character). A flashback sequence showing a young child in a crumbling city as a Kaiju rampages through is particularly intense. And many of the monsters don’t exit the fights with the same number of appendages they had upon entering.