In this robots-vs.-monsters story, it's the heartbeat of humanity that resonates.
When actor Ron Perlman first heard about the sci-fi film Pacific Rim, he desperately hoped it was more than just giant robots punching giant monsters for two hours.
His fears of a very loud, very empty movie were allayed when he heard that his good buddy Guillermo del Toro was the director.
"The greatest choice they ever made was hiring Guillermo,'' Perlman says. The movie opens this weekend.
If there's any through-line to the Mexican director's work, it's the heartbeat of humanity that exists even amid the strangest and weirdest — and biggest — creatures imaginable.
Del Toro's 1993 film Cronos dealt with the downside of eternal life. Pan's Labyrinth (2006) centered on a young girl escaping the horrors of World War II to find different ones in a fantasy realm. His Hellboy movies cast Perlman as a half-demon superhero looking anything but human, yet underneath he was as relatable as they come — albeit with a giant stone hand.
And so it goes with Pacific Rim: Years of robotic Jaegers fighting off Kaiju (giant monsters) from an underwater interdimensional rift have created the need for a world army. Leading the charge are Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who looks to redeem his life and avenge his fallen brother; and co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who aims to not be the young girl she once was cowering in fear from mankind's worst enemies.
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Del Toro, who wrote the screenplay with Travis Beacham, envisioned a movie about humans battling forces of nature. And he wanted to offer a positive message of people who trust one another to survive and spread it to a younger generation.
"I always hoped it would be kids in their early teens or kids with their parents who'd like to see a good monster movie," del Toro says. "A lot of the summer movies in the past few years have been so dark and existential and gritty. I wanted to throw a little change in there."
Gigantic robots and monsters are cool, Hunnam says, and no one makes them as vibrant as del Toro. "He goes to sleep thinking about this stuff, and wakes up in the middle of the night and sketches robots."
But the actor says people also will be surprised at the richness of the human story.
"These robots and monsters and the human struggle actually represent something tangible. It's kind of a beautiful allegory, really, in that these robots are a representation of the problems that we actually face as humanity now," Hunnam says.
"We've got some big problems on the horizon with populations spiraling out of control and global warming and water shortage and all of these very severe problems we're going to face over the next 100 years."
Perlman, who stars in Pacific Rim as a black-market purveyor of Kaiju organs, has always taken note of del Toro's interest in the human condition.
"This thing he has about monsters and creatures is more of a reflection of his opinion of people than it is anything else," Perlman says. "In his movies, the people are usually more monstrous than the creatures and the creatures are more human than the people. He's really fascinated by that duality."