Being an in-depth look at Pacific Rim, there will be numerous spoilers in this post. I’ll also make mention of Pacific Rim-specific terms like Kaiju, Jaegers, neural drifting, the Breach etc. What I’m trying to say is that this post will make a whole lot more sense if you’ve seen the film.
I initially thought the disappointment was probably my fault. I saw a trailer about big robots fighting monsters while using a cargo ship as a makeshift sword and something inside me just flicked to “on.”
Although, to be completely honest, I actually had to work myself up to a state of excitement when the advertising campaign began. The first time I saw a trailer I said “I’m not see this movie – it looks like a dumb, dumb thing.” I call it my Terrible Movie Alarm and it’s usually pretty reliable. I should have trusted it.
But I didn’t. I kept seeing more and more trailers and promotional material and I let myself be sucked into the hype.
I even saw Pacific Rim at the Sydney IMAX. The chances of me liking this film could not have been higher.
Sadly, all that glitters is not gold, but is actually the reflection of your hopes and expectations burning to the ground. Metaphors are hard.
The characters were flat and annoying, the dialogue was cheesy, and the film was weirdly paced. If you want to read more of my critique, follow the link at the start of this post.
This post is about how the building blocks for a really amazing film were actually present, Pacific Rim could have easily been one of the best releases of the year.
First off, ditch Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) as the primary protagonist and switch him out for Mako Mori (Rinko KiKuchi). I’ve thought about and even spoke with Mia about why this would actually enhance the end product.
Becket is broken. He saw his brother die. Hell, he FELT his brother die because they were mentally linked in the Jaeger. Becket has essentially run away and wants nothing to do with anything any more, which is why he’s hiding on “the wall.”
That’s all pretty engaging stuff, right? So why do I give so few shits? I’ll tell you why – because it’s never mentioned again. Or it has no real baring on the story. Becket has exactly zero consequences for such a traumatic event. Somebody comes to the wall, saying “oi, we need you to come fight some monsters” and Becket agrees within the space of five minutes.
To change things up, have the story focus on Mako Mori. Director Guillermo Del Toro said he wanted an “incredibly airy and light feel” to the film. Having Mako Mori (whose full name it appears I must use in all instances) as the protagonist would have been a far better choice. She’s fresh blood. She’s young, hot-headed, still in training, and has a tragic background that easily compares to Becket’s.
There are literally hundreds of films that focus on a book smart rookie! It’s a proven staple and would have easily fit into Del Toro’s desire to have an “adventure film” throwback.
You could even do the whole “introduction to the pilots” sequence without a hitch because she’s just a trainee. She’s a fangirl of these pilots. She can rattle off exposition to the other trainees. Or she could be an outsider who talks to herself and makes mental notes of the Jaeger pilots and their skills.
Mako Mori is also a strong female lead with a decent emotional capacity who goes through the hero’s journey. When was the last time you saw one of those in the leading role of an action movie?
The way to introduce Becket is to not introduce him at all. All of a sudden a new, older “trainee” is dropped into the group of potential pilots.
This gives the audience the chance to build up this “mysterious” new character without actually giving any information away. Don’t have him talk about where he came from, only that he was on the wall. Don’t have command explain – because they don’t want the potential pilots to be freaked out.
Okay, so envision this, if you will: Mako Mori is at the Shatterdome, she’s in training. The place is a wreck after so many Jaegers have been decommissioned because they’re unsafe, or destroyed. There aren’t many potential pilots training with her. It’s a combination of a lack of desire and a lack of “compatibility” to connect with other pilots. Commander/Admiral/Whatever Pentecost (Idris Elba) comes to training one day with another “potential” pilot. He’s kind of unstable, but has excellent reflexes and looks like a soldier. Mako Mori doesn’t like him because he talks about what “real combat” is like and how protocols don’t matter. That irks her, but they “connect” on the training floor and eventually command pairs the two.
As they’re introduced to the rest of the professional Jaeger pilots, Mako Mori notices they shun Becket. Some take her aside and fill in some details, but it isn’t until their first neural drift that she sees the extent of his psychological trauma. Becket is still haunted by the psychological ghost of his brother and there might be something else in there as well…
See? Doesn’t that sound more intriguing? It engages more characters. It cuts out the annoying scientists. It makes Becket more mysterious and actually shows the effects of having a pilot die while in a neural drift.
Not only that but it also gives the audience the chance to see what Becket’s brother was like. Or at least what Becket’s idea of his brother was. You can introduce him as a hallucination and you can take cues from films like Inception.
Instead of having the exceptionally annoying scientists, you can have the knowledge of the Kaiju come from Becket or Becket’s brother. For example, when the Kaiju killed Becket’s brother, it connected with the neural breach for an instant, imparting some knowledge of the monsters into Becket’s subconsciousness.
Which brings me to the setting.
I really liked the setting of Hong Kong, but wished a little more time was spent building the Kaiju-culture. The pilots could have left the Shatterdome and experienced the general public who venerated the monsters as gods or rock stars. More time could have been spent on Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) and how sinister the Kaiju trade could be.
There could have been more done to raise the stakes. The film can show the governments of the world sending damage bills to the Jaeger pilots, asking for damages. The Jaegers could be almost falling apart or being cannibalised and re-purposed to repair other Jaegers. Have some pilots off on assignment, chasing Kaiju in Africa or Europe. The stakes never felt particularly high – I never believed the Kaiju could actually be a threat to the world.
The final confrontation was actually well done, but would have been much more effective if the size of the final Kaiju was demonstrated fully. Having the last Jaeger sacrificed to destroy the Kaiju was a nice touch, and I even liked the fact it was Becket who went on the “suicidal” mission.
My last point is on the technology and not treating the audience like idiots.
I can put up with a lot, but if you’re going to make rules, stick to them. If you need two pilots, don’t give us a robot with three pilots and then not show the audience how bizarre it is. If you’re going to say the pilots can read each other’s thoughts, then don’t have them surprise each other by going “oh yeah, we have a sword.” And finally, learn what “analogue” means. A robot powered by nuclear reactors would not be “analogue.”
Actually, my last point is on the actors. If you’re going to cast an actor in a role that isn’t in their native accent, make sure they can actually pull off the accent. I’m looking at you, Charlie Hunnam and the “Australian” pilots. Ugh.
You can keep the ridiculous names, you can keep the setting, but just fix the pacing and actually make it feel like the stakes are high. Most of all, fix the damn characters.
I really, really, wanted to like Pacific Rim and it had the building blocks of a fantastic film, but it dropped the ball.