1. Lord help me, I couldn't have been happier coming out of Pacific Rim. It's not a great movie—it's just barely a good one—but it is a damned relief. This is not a sour, darkened, lumbering, origin-story-spinning blockbuster complete with plodding backstory and a faux antihero at its center. It is not some ironic reimagining. It is not big-budget self-reflective fan fiction. It is just a big, dumb, fun, corny action extravaganza featuring huge robots fighting huge aliens. It is, more than anything, earnest. It's amazing how refreshing that feels.
2. Handily, the movie dishes out its conceit with three minutes of early narration and gets on with it. On the floor of the Pacific Ocean, some interplanetary breach is bringing kaiju—huge dinosaur-like crazy alien monsters—to Earth, where they are destroying everything in their path. Humans invent giant robots called jaegers to fight them. (Why giant robots? Because giant robots are awesome, obviously.) Teams of two pilots run the jaegers through some sort of mind-meld, and then the fights are freaking on.
3. The plot is basically Top Gun with a less dynamic lead actor and Idris Elba instead of Tom Skerritt. (No offense, Skerritt, but that's an upgrade.) Everyone gets together and trains and loves and fights—there's even an Iceman who sorta looks like a young Val Kilmer, although he's Australian for some reason—and then it's time to kill some alien monsters. Charlie Hunnam is the Nordic Tom Cruise in the lead; Elba is the guru; Charlie Day is the comic relief; and Rinko Kikuchi is the romantic interest. But the movie doesn't waste a lot of time and effort on the particulars. It's too busy having giant robots fight giant aliens.
4. And do they ever. Director Guillermo Del Toro shows off the fanboy inventiveness of Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth with the alien creatures—who are basically Godzilla with even more genetic mutation and, occasionally, wings—but what I was most impressed by were his action sequences. They're grand, well-constructed and (get this) coherent. They have a sense of scale and perspective, and you can follow along with them and tell what actually happens. This sounds like a low bar. But have you seen any of the Transformers movies? Michael Bay has Michael Bay'd any shred of logic from action movies. Del Toro brings it back: The mass-carnage battle sequences are thrilling and huge. The penultimate one, a defense of Hong Kong, is how you do this right.
5. The movie is put together with good cheer and a positive spirit, and it doesn't wink much. Del Toro puts on a show and then gets out of the way. (This was impressive: The Del Toro cult has grown so vast in recent years that the modesty of the director apparent here feels almost monkish.) Not everything works—the movie's sense of humor is pretty leaden, Day aside, and I will be kind and say that casting actors is not exactly Del Toro's strong suit—and much of the dialogue lands with thuds. But so what? There are giant robots fighting giant monsters. Del Toro knows he's got something cool here, and he aims for the 14-year-old boys in all of our souls. I hope Pacific Rim is a huge hit. Because we need a ton more movies like it.