I watched probably the only and last decent Summer blockbuster of this year, Pacific Rim (haven’t tried but The Wolverine seems decent too). This is what you mean by raising a bar.
You may read other reviews for its beautiful set design, incredibly realistic CG, and Japanese monster/anime influence. I would like to point out one thing that makes this film stand out from the rest of the pack: weight. In my eyes, the triumph of this movie lies in successfully capturing the heaviness.
The body: Both kaijus (monsters) and robots are very, very heavy in this film. When they throw each other, they crash everything on their way: buildings, infrastructures, and sightseeing spots. In the golden age of clunky Godzilla movies, one of the highlights was to witness a landmark demolished into the ground (and the number of sightseers doubled from then on). We watch a beautiful castle turn into a pile of lego blocks or the tallest building in the city turning into a split pretzel. That’s what we’re talking about.
The attack: The robots use few firearms and instead rely on punches and flames and swords and a club made of a vessel to strike the kaiju. Every fight is an epic brawl with tremendous weight and slowness built into motion: kaiju bones get cracked and robot limbs get torn. How awesome is it?
The death: Being a PG-13 film, we do not see much blood (except for that of Kaijus) but there are several brutal scenes where our mighty heroes meet slow and painful demise instead of blink-and-gone disappearances. I felt their agony, fear, and desperation, which all added extra weight to my sinking heart because they aren’t anonymous crews wearing red shirts but chosen ones that had the power to save our world. The scenes temporarily brought me back from the safe screen to the brutal reality of the real world. For me, it was the most spine-chilling experience since Immortals (beware: the linked clip is fully R-rated).
How does Pacific Rim compare with the other recent robot movie, Transformers? Polar opposite. The Transformer series can be succinctly described by this keyword: lightness. The robots were light (they jumped and flew around defying gravity), the battles were light (even a human being could counter-attack them using shoulder rockets), and the deaths were light (robots were discarded a dime a unit).
If Transformers series were the equivalent of Asian bread, fluffy and air-like with too many holes, Pacific Rim is fully German (the robots are called Jaegers, meaning hunters in German) where density and solidity rules all. Or popcorn vs. hot dog if we use the movie theater analogy. (Both films share the same amount of absurdity, which is an essential ingredient in a robot film.)
Well, the movie is still showing in local theaters. Just go watch it. It is one of the very few movies that justify the 3D surcharge.
P.S. I still cannot help introducing where their insane robot weapons came from. The overall design might be influenced by the recent Evangelion series, but the insane weapons and mechanism probably took cue from this series (the clip is from the remake version). Breast missiles, flying punches, giant swords…those were essential elements in the classic Japanese anime robots. Thank you, Guillermo.