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Photo by Kerry Hayes - Courtesy of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures

I’ve been counting on savvy filmmaker Guillermo del Toro to give us something more than a Transformers clone, and my faith in him hasn’t been misplaced. Despite outward appearances, Pacific Rim is not just another rock-‘em-sock-‘em robot movie, but a fresh, genuinely exciting action yarn set in a science-fiction future. The good guys and bad guys are clearly delineated, and what’s at stake is nothing less than the survival of civilization. I’d call that “rooting interest.”

Travis Beacham’s story, which he developed as a screenplay in collaboration with del Toro, quickly and smoothly provides all the exposition we need. Terrifying monsters, called Kaiju, have emerged from the depths of the ocean to wreak havoc around the globe. Nations of the world have united to create gigantic fighting machines, called Jaegers (or “hunters”) to combat them. Each robot-like creature must be piloted by two highly-skilled human beings who mind-meld in order to draw on their combined mental and physical abilities. Charlie Hunnam lost his brother in one ferocious battle and has been adrift ever since that tragic incident; his former commander (the imposing Idris Elba) seeks him out for one last attempt to defeat the Kaiju, providing he can find a suitable partner. This could turn out to be demure Rinko Kikuchi, who’s petite but powerful.

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Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

Andrew Neskoromny and Carol Spier’s production design and the visual effects, supervised by John Knoll, are extraordinary. For Pacific Rim to work we have to believe in this future world…and we do. (The filmmakers have fun with 3-D at first; then, as with so many other films not actually shot in that format, the process blends into the scenery, so to speak, and ceases to be an asset.)

The characters in Pacific Rim are mostly archetypes but the actors meet their requirements well, physically and emotionally. The one exception is del Toro stalwart Ron Perlman, who’s great fun as a flamboyant black marketer who sells leftover Kaiju body parts to such curiosity seekers as brainiac Charlie Day. Perlman also gets to utter the movie’s punchline.

My only disappointment with the picture is that it doesn’t know when to quit. There are at least two climaxes too many; it’s hard to rouse the same level of engagement for one “ultimate” battle after another….and then another. The movie loses points by overplaying its hand, but it’s still an exciting, eye-opening epic that leaves much of its summer competition in the dust. If you’re getting tired of sequels and reboots, and want to go for something truly original, try Pacific Rim. Just be ready for a long sit.