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Test for ‘Pacific Rim’ is whether it can transcend the juvenile

The Gipsy Danger robot in a scene from “Pacific Rim.”
The Gipsy Danger robot in a scene from “Pacific Rim.”

When I was a kid, around 8 or 9 years old, I was hopelessly enamored with things that every impressionable boy likes at that age. You know, cool stuff like robots, monsters, fast cars, spaceships and superheroes.

Since I’ve grown up, my tastes have naturally changed (whether they’ve been refined is still up for debate). But every time I wander into the theater to take in the latest big-budget action blockbuster, what do I see? Robots, monsters, fast cars, spaceships and superheroes. It’s as if everyone in Hollywood is making movies aimed exclusively at the elementary-school set.

Today marks the opening of Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s eagerly awaited “Pacific Rim,” which has a fairly straightforward premise: The human race is being ravaged by vicious monsters that originate from an interdimensional portal beneath the Pacific Ocean, so we create powerful military-grade robots to conquer them.

Doesn’t that sound like a concept a group of kids might have dreamt up during recess? Why not just call the movie “Robots vs. Monsters” and be done with it?

Based on the trailers and the nonstop TV ads, “Pacific Rim” looks like it dutifully follows the current blockbuster template: There’s an apocalyptic threat, a reluctant hero, industrial sets where everything is either constantly on fire or producing bursts of sparks, and bombastic fight sequences that take place primarily in the rain at night.

I think it’s safe to say that this movie can go one of only two ways: Either it will be loud, dumb fun, or it will be loud, dumb monotony. And either it will fill you with the joy of a little kid on a sugar high or the cynicism of a grumpy old man hoping to make it to happy hour as soon as the movie’s over.

Having recently suffered through such summertime monstrosities as “After Earth” and “The Lone Ranger,” I’d probably be dreading “Pacific Rim” more were it not for del Toro’s involvement. He’s proven to be a capable director with this kind of material, and he brings a sense of energy and visual playfulness to movies that could have easily been flat genre exercises (“Hellboy,” for example).

Del Toro’s track record – which also includes brilliant Spanish-language films like “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” – is pretty solid, and he doesn’t strike me as a filmmaker who will crank out an inferior product. I hope he brings something – really, anything – to “Pacific Rim” to distinguish it from the vast sea of pointless movies about shiny robots smashing into buildings.

At this point in the summer, all of Hollywood’s spectacles have started to run together in my mind. Scenes from “Man of Steel” start to blend with scenes from “Iron Man 3,” and I can’t keep them straight anymore. They feel homogenous, as if they were all cut from the same generic cloth, and I’m starting to feel undernourished.

If del Toro follows the template of, say, J.J. Abrams’ smart and exciting “Star Trek” franchise, he might have something here. But if he goes the way of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” series, which is a whole lot of sound and fury and very little else, “Pacific Rim” won’t rise above standards that have already been set incredibly low.

Right now, my expectations for “Pacific Rim” are caught somewhere between the idealism of my inner child, who’s eager to see more destructive action than in a dozen “Godzilla” movies combined, and the practicality of my outer adult, who’s wary of being bashed over the head with mindless special effects.

I’ll reserve final judgment until I actually see the movie, but I’ll remain cautiously optimistic that del Toro will treat his audience with a modicum of intelligence. Just because a movie might be aimed at 8-year-olds doesn’t mean it should appear to have been written by one.