The following contains spoilers for PACIFIC RIM UPRISING.

Guillermo Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM is an odd cinematic beast. The film could be considered a box office flop, barely cracking $100 million (at a $190 million budget) at the domestic box office. This could be leaving many American filmgoers wondering why a sequel is even happening in the first place.

First, while the film had a middling performance in America, it raked in just over $300 million in foreign box office (with a third of that money coming from China alone). PACIFIC RIM UPRISING is a perfect illustration of the value that more and more American film studios are placing on overseas box office.

Stateside, Del Toro’s auteur status gave the film its cult following, particularly in online communities. In addition, the film has a diverse cast of international actors representing different countries all united for a single goal. The Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) is like Starfleet but with giant robots instead of starships.

This idea is in full bloom in PACIFIC RIM UPRISING. In PACIFIC RIM, the PPDC was on its last legs, desperate for funding. The world of PACIFIC RIM UPRISING is a world that has embraced and celebrated the power of the PPDC. 

This thematic idea is a powerful one, but it ultimately feels confusing. PACIFIC RIM UPRISING is a film at odds with itself. It wants to pay homage to the beloved original cult classic while rebooting itself to a clean slate. Interesting choices are made alongside some rather confusing ones. Ultimately, the film is daring in its risks, but baffling in its message.

Coping with Robots

Pacific Rim Uprising

One of the most important elements of kaiju films is how a director will use the big monster to represent a big idea. In PACIFIC RIM, Del Toro analyzed anxieties around natural disasters and humanity’s response in the face of trauma.

Just about every major character in PACIFIC RIM is dealing with a prior traumatic event. Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) is dealing with the death of his brother. His partner, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), grapples with the death of her family. This shared trauma isn’t explored through dialogue, but rather through the concept of the Drift.

The Drift is the neural pathway that allows pilots to operate Jaegers. The pathway joins the minds of two people, allowing them to see into each other’s memories and thoughts. Piloting a Jaeger becomes an intimate experience. The film’s message is clear: the more we allow ourselves to open up to others, the stronger we can become. “The deeper the bond, the better you fight,” as Raleigh explains in PACIFIC RIM’s opening minutes. (In case you haven’t caught on: PACIFIC RIM? Not subtle!) By bonding in the Drift, they find a coping mechanism for their shared trauma: punching monsters in the face.

PACIFIC RIM: Unintended Misogyny

PACIFIC RIM UPRISING: The Next Generation

I’m being glib, but this unique exploration of how people cope with mental health issues was fascinating for a popcorn blockbuster. It was also a solution that was based on a healthy expression of emotion. The pair had to be willing to open themselves up before they could grow beyond their heartbreak. So how is this idea explored in PACIFIC RIM UPRISING?

Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is living in the shadow of his father, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). He has tried, but never could, live up to his father’s legacy (probably because he doesn’t have as awesome of a name). His new path as a junker and con artist are likely manifestations of his grief. Like Raleigh, he is unable to move past his mourning. The PPDC reinstates Jake to help him avoid legal trouble. Jake, however, resists this new role, not wanting to end up like his father. Amara Namari (Cailee Spaeny) fills a similar role to Mako Mori in the previous film. She also lost her family as a child during a kaiju attack. Her coping mechanism isn’t much different from Mako’s.

Both are outcasts within the system. Jake rejects the system to avoid his father’s shadow, while Amara’s status as a wunderkind makes her a target of jealousy from some other recruits. The film establishes these two characters brilliantly. Their backgrounds make them great foils to one another and the actors have fantastic chemistry. Sure, there’s no moment as fist pumpingly cathartic as Mako Mori revealing Gipsy Danger’s sword and shouting “FOR MY FAMILY!” However, Jake and Amara eventually find in each other the surrogate family members they have lost. Of course, the rest of the movie also happens.

The Junk Heap

Pacific Rim Uprising

The main crux of the plot in PACIFIC RIM UPRISING is that industrialist Liwen Shao (Jiang Tian), along with beloved oddball scientist Newt Geizer (Charlie Day), have developed a line of Jaeger drones that can be remotely piloted. Shao claims this will be the future of the PPDC, making pilots essentially obsolete.

This plan is suddenly thrown off balance when Mako Mori is attacked as she delivers her final assessment of the Jaeger drones. A mysterious Jaeger shoots down her helicopter and Jake is too late to rescue her.

Yes, in the year of our Lord 2018, we are still fridging our female characters.

I want to make a quick sidebar here. I don’t think a critic’s job is to Monday morning quarterback a script. Directors and writers make the stories they make. It is the job of a critic to analyze these choices, not to suggest new ones. Director Steven Deknight and his team made two bold choices in this film to two of the arguably most popular characters from the original PACIFIC RIM. This film kills off Mako Mori and reveals that Newt Geizer is the villain. Where the film stumbles is the execution of these ideas.

By removing Mako and revealing Newt as the villain (albeit one that is clearly being mind controlled and is far from redemption in a hypothetical third film), the film takes chances. I can respect that the movie refuses to play it safe, but it does so in a way that undermines the central messages of the original PACIFIC RIM.

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Generational Conflict

PACIFIC RIM UPRISING explores the idea of the sins of one generation being passed to the next. Jake cannot escape the heroic reputation of his father. The confidence in the Jaeger programs and in Newt Geizer himself leads to the creation of the horrific Jager/kaiju hybrids. It’s up to the young cadets of the PPDC to fight the mistakes of the past and stand in defense of the world.

This is a great thematic hook for a film. But what PACIFIC RIM UPRISING seems to forget is that the protagonists of the original PACIFIC RIM are millennials. They are standing up against a foolhardy government structure (who might I add, thinks the solution to all their problems is to build a wall) and combating the ignorance of past mistakes to create a more unified future.    

This is ultimately PACIFIC RIM UPRISING’s greatest failure. It tries to use the themes of the original film against the original film. It essentially tries to explore the same themes that THE LAST JEDI did last year, but without anywhere near the same sense of history. 

Likely part of what made Pacific Rim a cult hit was its appeal to young people. Riley says he was 14 years old at the time of the film’s release (2013), meaning it was adult millennials piloting Jaegers. PACIFIC RIM showed a generation of kids that the adults crapping on you now will be the ones celebrating you when you metaphorically build giant robots that save the world.

PACIFIC RIM UPRISING thinks it’s speaking of the resistance, but the resistance has been there all along.

One Comment

  1. tclist

    May 31, 2018 at 12:42 am

    More social justice bullshit thinly disguised as a movie review.

    Reply

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