With all the genres of movies suffering from mild to egregious overkill (superhero movies, zombie movies, destroyed White House movies), it’s hard to believe that the “big monster” movie hasn’t been around more than it has lately. Aside from the always-awesome SyFy treats (2011’s Mega Python vs. Gatoroid is still a favorite), the genre’s been woefully under-represented. 2008’s Cloverfield (in which the monster largely goes unseen) is the last major release I can think of.

Now comes director Guillermo del Toro’s mega-budget Pacific Rim, a campy, bigger-than-life mash-up of Godzilla and The Transformers that makes Michael Bay look like a nuanced director of subtle cinema.

Set in the near(ish) future, Pacific Rim begins with newsreel footage of giant monsters (Kaiju) emerging from the depths of the ocean to destroy San Francisco, Manila, and Cabo San Lucas with reckless abandon. The world pools its resources, though, to build skyscraper-tall robots (Jaegers) to battle the monsters; each one is manned by two pilots who sync their thoughts together in order to fight as one.

After hotshot pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) loses his co-pilot brother during a Kaiju attack, he leaves the program for five years– only to be called back in once the going gets real bad. (Yes, that is the plot of Top Gun that you smell.)

Scientists have determined than the Kaiju attacks are ramping up with alarming frequency, and it will take the best of the best (and, perhaps, a nuclear weapon) to fight them off. So Raleigh bucks authority (Idris Elba’s Colonel Stacker), teams up with the talented but overlooked upstart (Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori), and faces off with the pompous, pretty-boy, jerk pilot (Robert Kazinsky’s Chuck Hansen)… and it, of course, is all capped off with a battle of global proportions.

Del Toro has made no secret of his childhood love for monster movies, and it’s blatantly obvious from square one. Pacific Rim is bigger, louder, and wilder than almost anything of its kind ever put on film. It’s as if he’s making up for all those years he spent making more restrained, visionary films like Pan’s Labyrinth.

Inherent in that statement, though, is the fact that there’s nothing restrained or visionary about Pacific Rim. Though the effects (augmented by some eye-popping 3D) are awesome in the true sense of the word, the acting is melodrama of the highest order, and the screenplay (by Del Toro and Clash of the Titans‘ Travis Beacham) is chock-full of cliches, Schwarzenegger-esque one-liners, and other silliness.

The cast is perfectly fine, although none of the leads particularly stand out. The supporting cast offers a couple nice surprises, however, which (based on the audience reaction when they popped up on screen), should go unnamed for the time being.

The end result is a long (probably a half-hour too long) exercise in good-time, go-big-or-go-home, summer popcorn fare… but that’s perfectly fine since, well, it’s summer, and you’ll probably have some popcorn while watching this thing.

The big popcorn. In the giant bucket.

3.5/5 stars