Before we kick things off, allow me to say this: I loved Pacific Rim. Loved the action, loved the cinematography, and loved the fact that it didn’t try to be anything deeper than a great action movie featuring massive robots beating up massive aliens.
But when you take a step back to evaluate all the issues it had, suddenly the film starts to take on a look similar to Swiss cheese thanks to all of its holes and shortcomings. That’s why I wanted to dish out a little tough love and bring to light some of the bigger issues I had with Pacific Rim, despite the fact that it’s my favorite movie of the summer so far.
Cultural Stereotypes, Anyone?
While it was important to portray the world coming together to fight the Kaiju threat as a unified human race, the stereotypes with which each of them were portrayed was so oversimplified and stereotypical that it came across as shallow and, in some cases, borderline offensive.
Take, for example, the film’s main character Raleigh Becket, an American kid with an attitude who doesn’t play by anyone’s rules but his own. Or the Chinese Wei triplets behind the Jaeger Crimson Typhoon who all dress in the colors of their nation’s flag and have mastered martial arts.
And it doesn’t stop there. Let’s not forget about the stone-faced Russain husband and wife team who drive a primitive and blocky Jaeger, the rough-and-tumble father and son team from Australia, or the eccentric and overtly awkward scientist team that wouldn’t exist anywhere in real life. The clichés go on and on, executed in such a predictable way that they almost come across as comical, taking away any sense of deeper meaning or opportunities for connection that they might have otherwise had.
Now, I know this is a shameless action flick, and I don’t expect it to go super deep into the relationships between characters and their cultural identities. But I would have loved for a bit more sensitivity and subtlety by way of cultural depictions in order to make the dynamics between the different characters more believable and realistic. A multicultural military climate could really be a fascinating one, but when we cling to shallow and primitive ways of portraying them, it tends to hold the film back as a whole.
The Inconsistent Mako Mori
Rinko Kikuchi really brought her A-game to play the role of Mako Mori, the rookie Jaeger pilot with an interesting past and motivations fueled by revenge. She was convincing, interesting, and was able to bring both a sense of cultural identity and depth to her character the likes of which wasn’t really replicated by anyone else in the cast.
But for all the love I had for Mako Mori’s character, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed by the way her character was developed throughout the course of the movie. In the beginning, she is presented as an intelligent and somewhat mysterious student who had mastered all of the qualification tests for becoming a pilot and showed impressive abilities unparalleled by her fellow soldiers. Still, once they get her inside Gipsy Danger with Raleigh and activate the neural handshake that links the minds of the two Jaeger pilots, she has a near meltdown and almost blasts away half of the Shatterdome with the robot’s plasma charge.
It is said previous to this that Mako has achieved perfect scores in her simulation tests. If this is the case, then how is it that she loses her cool the second she and Raleigh start to bridge the gap between each other’s minds? Being that this is such a key element in the piloting of a Jaeger, it’s hard for me to believe that there wasn’t some element of simulation that would have been introduced to the new recruits in order to help them prepare for an event as traumatic as a melding of the minds. Plus, if Mako is such a brilliant soldier, it’s likely she would have a bit more fortitude and training to master her emotions and maintain control of her faculties. Sure, she’s untested in combat, but for her to have a complete meltdown in the cockpit just didn’t work for me.
Furthermore, she never really gets much of a chance to shine, outside of the initial fight scene when Raleigh is searching for a co-pilot and the moment in space when she activates Gipsy’s sword arm and kills the Kaiju in one of the cooler scenes from the entire movie. Outside of that, it seems like she’s constantly relying on Raleigh in order to succeed throughout the rest of the film. Now, I’m not crying a feminism foul here, but I am bothered by the inconsistencies of her character and the somewhat missed opportunity to have presented her in a much more all-around badass way. Sure, she has her moments, but there was a lot of wasted potential for Mako Mori that I really wished we could have had.
Give Me More Kaiju!
Being that they’re the main antagonist and source of all trouble for the human race, there was a somewhat glaring lack of explanation about the Kaiju that could have served to make them a greater threat in the minds of the viewers. Sure, they explained briefly what the creatures are about and where they come from, but there was so much left uncovered or merely glossed over that could have made the enemy (and the universe of Pacific Rim as a whole) much more interesting and unique.
One of the biggest elements of this is the idea of Kaiju worship, taken up by pious people who considered the Kaiju to be Gods and worshipped them in a new religion. We see images of this and other appearances of Kaiju in the world’s culture in cuts and newsreels, but it would have been really great to see a lot of these things in action and to learn more about how the public regarded them with more extended reveals instead of throwaway comments about Kaiju groupies and quick images of television reports and shows.
On top of that, a lot of the biology wasn’t explained in a way that would have made the Kaiju themselves much more interesting and understandable. The first thing that bothered me about this was the moment Otachi was finally defeated in Hong Kong and the scientist Newton Geiszler discovers that the massive Kaiju is pregnant. Now, I’m not a biology major by any means, but I do know that pregnancy is an occurrence that typically only takes place within mammalian species. How, then, could a Kaiju, who is essentially amphibious in nature, be pregnant? If that’s the case, then wouldn’t they would instead rely on fertilization of external eggs for reproduction?Yeah, this is probably a pretty nerdy and severe nitpick, but something about this scene as a whole really bothered me to my core.
The film also really missed an opportunity to discuss Kaiju Blue, the blood of a Kaiju that renders the air around a carcass unfit for breathing, poisons the ground it absorbs into, stains anything it touches, and serves as a highly corrosive acid. This would have been something interesting to deal with, simply because it gives us another look at what some of the hardships and ramifications are surrounding a disaster such as a Kaiju attack. Sure, the Kaiju on their own are pretty awesome, but not answering or using some of these elements to build its grandeur really served to flatten their threat and interesting properties as a whole.
Another One Bites the Dust
One of the most maddening scenes in the entire film for me was the part when all four of the remaining Jaegers are dispatched to take out two Kaiju that were attacking Hong Kong. Allow me to explain myself: the action in this sequence was great, and I can’t say enough good about the visual effects of this film. But this scene was downright embarrassing for the Jaegers themselves.
Within the space of a few minutes, we see three of the best Jaegers fall to the Kaiju without really putting up much of a convincing fight. Sure, they’re great for a handful of seconds, but these supposedly experienced and fantastic fighters and pilots who come with highly decorated military records quickly fall like dominoes within minutes of each other.
Meanwhile, Gipsy Danger is able to saunter in after disobeying orders and takes care of business without taking the same amount of damage and humiliation as the other three machines.
Look, I get it: you need a hero for this film. And honestly, the entire scene was a visual treat whose climax was nothing short of jaw-dropping. But am I honestly expected to believe that a machine piloted by a rookie and a pilot who had been out of commission for five years is able to step in and finish up what three other groups of significantly more experienced pilots couldn’t? Now, you might argue that the Kaiju were able to tear through each of them with ease because, as the movie teaches us, the Kaiju are constantly adjusting their tactics to combat the humans every time they set foot on the surface of the Earth. Okay, fine. But then, why is it that only Gipsy Danger can save the day? It’s this idea of an all-powerful “chosen one” trope that ultimately hurts the plot in this case, since this sequence was almost too much for me to buy given the film’s context. Speaking of believeability…
Toeing the Line
Suspension of disbelief is a term used to describe a viewer’s or reader’s willingness to overlook the implausibility of a story in favor of the fiction presented. Basically, it means that you’re willing to accept what’s thrown at you in a film because you want to believe it, allowing storytellers to abandon the confines of modern science and explanation in order to take you somewhere you’ve never been and experience a world you’ve never seen before.
Pacific Rim relies on this heavily throughout its entirety, simply because it is an over-the top glitzy Sci-Fi action film that asks a lot from its audience.
And ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m more than happy to buy it. I’m happy to accept that massive monsters have emerged from a pan-dimensional crack in the ocean and want to wreck havoc on the face of the earth. I’m willing to accept that a robot piloted by two melded minds is humanity’s only defense against this colossal threat. Hell, I’m even willing to buy the idea of a somewhat eccentric scientist playing around with a machine that will allow him to perform a neural handshake with a portion of a Kaiju’s brain.
Still, there are moments in Pacific Rim where it almost takes things a bit too far, asking a little too much of the audience to believe without giving us a decent explanation.
For example, does the UN really suspect that building walls will do anything to stop the Kaiju threat? I’ve heard some critics cite this as a possible satire on nonsensical government decisions made today, and if that’s the case, then Del Toro nailed it. But there’s not enough in this movie that I felt extended beyond its own narrative, and as such, I find it hard to believe that the idea of building walls to keep Kaiju out would be humanity’s last resort to solving this problem.
Then there’s the entire end sequence that felt a bit too rushed for its own good. Suddenly a brand new, never-before-seen massive Kaiju emerges from the other dimension, but never really comes across as bigger or badder than anything that had come before. Pentecost risks his life by climbing in the cockpit of a Jaeger, citing that the radiation in the first Jaegers took a great enough toll on his body that he would inevitably die upon entering another one, despite the fact that Jaeger technology had vastly improved since the early years in order to reduce the amount of radiation to which the drivers were exposed. Finally, it’s somehow possible to jettison someone to the surface of the ocean through a dimensional portal and have them suffer next to no consequences and wake up safely on the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Because why not?
Sure, these moments are all somewhat small in comparison with the rest of the film, but they dangerously toe the line between being a situation we can accept based on the film’s fiction and downright dumb parts that defy all logic and reasoning. It’s hard to say that a part of Pacific Rim tested my ability to buy whatever the film was selling me, but I can’t overlook it in these stated cases and several others.