Very little in Pacific Rim makes sense. I’ll allow the giant monsters and giant robots their existence, as the movie has nothing to offer without them. We learn that, on some vaguely predictable schedule, giant monsters (“kaiju”) emerge from a rift in the Pacific Ocean and attack coastal cities. When a monster pops up, one of the giant robots is dispatched to punch it back down. Sounds simple?
Let’s start with the simple questions.
Question one: why are the robots called Jaegers (“hunter” in German) if they don’t hunt anything? Our hero pilots are asleep in bed when the first call comes. The humans have big radar screens that show you where the monsters are located. There’s never any radar interference or intelligence required of the pilots. The kaiju are the ones doing the hunting.
Question two: why, if every battle is guaranteed to start in the ocean (because that’s where the monsters come from) are the Jaegers woefully unequipped for underwater combat? Some of the monsters have tails, fins, and can swim. Our guys walk out into the salt water like bored lifeguards. It’s a miracle that any monster ever gets punched considering how laboriously the Jaegers move. We never hear anything about salt water damage as it sloshes into exposed knee joints.
Speaking of movement, Jaegers need two pilots to walk because the neural load is too much for one human. We learn other rules, like all pilot pairs are related: brother and sister, father and son, brother and brother and brother (the Chinese guys who get one line before they die).
Then the movie starts ignoring these rules. You’re supposed to have a deep mental connection with your copilot (as relatives would have), yet hero guy and Japanese girl have this amazing compatibility even though they’d never met before he was pulled out of retirement. Moving a Jaeger alone is supposed to be impossible, but when hero guy loses his brother in combat he walks his mech ashore without a hitch. When black commander fights the crab monster in Tokyo, he emerges from the top of his Jaeger seemingly alone. No, I will not give these characters names, because the movie doesn’t provide them the characterization to earn one.
Seeing things starting to unravel? Pacific Rim features robots built for land that constantly fight in the water. The Jaegers need two pilots to function except when they don’t.
Question three: what the hell happened in the four years between hero guy losing his brother in that first fight and the arbitrary point where the movie picks up again?
At the beginning of the movie the monsters catch the humans by surprise. We build Jaegers to fight the monsters and turn the tide. Soon kaiju attacks are commonplace and their defeats uninteresting. Then hero guy loses a fight in his Jaeger, the Gipsy Danger, and disappears.
When the story picks up again, the Jaeger program is being discontinued and the Earth government (or possibly just NATO) is putting their money into a giant wall “between Alaska and California.” That’s it.
This is the best idea for a false crisis the movie has: a wall. Not spending four years improving the Jaegers to counter the upgraded monsters (the Jaeger contractor lobbying team is clearly not doing their job). Not developing, say, automated defenses that seem to make the Jaegers obsolete, leading up to a final showdown where the old school method proves itself superior. Not staffing the Jaeger program with bureaucratic knobs who have to be circumvented so the kickass pilots can get back in their Jaegers. None of that. Just: your funding is cut to pay for the wall.
Surprise surprise, monsters get through because the wall is effectively made out of balsa wood. And then it’s never brought up again. The shadowy cabal who defunded the Jaeger program doesn’t get its comeuppance as they did in The Avengers. Nobody says something as simple as, “grr, I’m so mad they cut our funding to pay for this wall that doesn’t even work.” Instead there’s one last hurrah to gather the remaining four Jaegers and deliver a bomb to the rift where the kaiju come from.
Interesting fact: this bomb plan has been tried before and failed. So black commander is putting his crew and robots in mortal danger for no reason. That he succeeds is because of crazy scientists one and two, who provide the needed information just minutes before the bomb goes off.
The crazy scientists are a tightly-wound British mathematician and a fast talking Ian Malcom biologist type played by Charlie Day. Their constant bickering is the only source of actual amusement in the entire movie, like a sped-up episode of The Big Bang Theory.
In his search for kaiju brains the biologist comes across a black market kaiju organ dealer played by Ron Pearlman. I think that’s the punchline. Ron’s character isn’t funny, threatening, or eccentric. His character is his weird red and gold shoes. He tells the biologist to get lost, which he does, then the biologist returns, and Ron helps him out. I don’t think I fell asleep during that part, but I honestly can’t say why Ron agrees to help. It certainly wasn’t because the biologist told Ron the truth - that he’s part of a Jaeger plan to destroy the rift once and for all - because that would kill Ron’s business.
After a few minutes the biologist finds the kaiju brain he’s looking for and Ron’s character is eaten by a baby kaiju that strangles itself on its umbilical cord. Because the big kaiju was pregnant. Insert tasteless abortion joke.
Guess what also makes no sense. We learn that the kaiju are clones, genetically engineered by this evil race of smaller monsters that are basically the aliens from Independence Day, sent to Earth to scout the planet out and wipe out the vermin (humans) so it can be terraformed. Yes, that’s also the plot from Independence Day. And yet one of the kaiju was made (became?) pregnant. Because pregnant women make great scouts and shock troops.
I’m not going to dwell on the myriad other stupid little things in the movie, but here’s four of my favorites:
- Jaeger pilots have to push a button above their heads to talk to HQ, even though moving and fighting requires both hands and both feet.
- Hero guy travels through the rift - at which point his radio cuts out - but when he gets to the alien world he can suddenly communicate with HQ again.
- Jaegers are the size of skyscrapers and must weigh thousands of tons, yet can be lifted by eight helicopters. Even the really old Russian robot that’s called out as being especially heavy can be lifted by the same number of helicopters.
- Early in the movie black commander tells hero guy and his brother to protect a city of two million people. They’re based in Alaska. As of 2012 the US Census Bureau said three quarters of a million people live in the entire state of Alaska. Where did those people come from? Are they the Jaeger technicians and staff?
In the middle of all this nonsense are our pilots. Hero guy is an average American beefcake with that amazing gravelly voice you’ve heard on the trailers. Then there’s the Australian father and son team. The son is an asshole and has a dog. End of characterization. We also have the Russian brother and sister team, who get a few seconds of screaming in Russian before they die while still being Russian. There’s also three Chinese guys who dress in red, play basketball, and get one line before they die.
Does it seem like I don’t care about any of these characters? Good, then I’m accurately imparting the spirit of the movie.
The only people we do care about are hero guy, black commander, and Japanese girl. You don’t need to know anything about hero guy, and black commander’s personality is just vaguely hard-ass. The Japanese girl has a tiny bit of personality: she’s ambitious yet reserved, unstable yet precise. She also can’t act and speak English at the same time.
To be fair, the other actors alternate between chewing the scenery and reading lines from giant cue cards held up behind the camera, but Japanese girl has a way out the movie never uses. She can speak Japanese, hero guy can speak Japanese, and black commander can speak Japanese. She only ever speaks to those two people. Why does she not speak Japanese to them the entire time? Pacific Rim is comfortable with subtitles and the rest of the movie is clearly pandering to Asian audiences, so why not let this girl act naturally?
Japanese girl is also a major problem for the plot. She’s the first to break the familial symmetry among the pilots, as hero guy gets along with her very well in the robot despite having nothing in common with each other. Oh, I guess the kaiju killed both of their families. There’s even a point when Japanese girl screams “for my family” before cutting a monster in half. We’re supposed to pump our fists in celebration with her, but her family is never made important to her character. She never talks about her mother, father, or any siblings. She doesn’t carry a memento from any of them. The closest thing she has to a family is the black commander who saved her from the Tokyo crab monster, and she’s certainly not avenging him.
What about the fights, you ask? Surely it isn’t all terrible characters speaking terrible dialog for terrible reasons? It’s not, but the fights are just disappointing compared to the excruciating plot.
I think there are four fights in the movie. Three of them take place in the water (one entirely submerged) and the other one is the bit in Hong Kong where the Gipsy Danger wields a tanker like a baseball bat. Please note that I’m not complaining about the tanker thing. It was fun and funny and not burdened with motion blur. The rest of the fights are a mess.
You might guess that fights in waist-deep water would involve tons of spray, and indeed that’s what sinks Pacific Rim. The Jaegers move very slowly, the camera is mounted about shoulder high, and the rolling and flipping of the combatants makes it very difficult to tell what’s going on. That’s what perplexes me about other Pacific Rim reviews. What movie did they see? I saw the 2D version. Did the 3D projection elevate the constant water droplets so you could peer through and see the combat behind?
This is setting aside the fact that without characters the audience cares about and consequences they can understand, the fights may as well be video game tech demos. The Russian and Chinese Jaegers are destroyed within two minutes of their deployment after killing zero monsters. The Australian Jaeger is disabled by an EMP after killing zero monsters. Gipsy Danger is the only Jaeger we see kill a monster outside of Japanese girl’s flashback.
We never see the parade of 30 Jaegers that were active during the first part of the war. We never see the millions of people whose lives have been affected by the kaiju rampages (eh, I guess I was happy when hero guy saved that little fishing boat). The other pilots are personality-free ciphers for their nationality. If you blink you’d miss the Chinese guys playing basketball and know nothing about them. Maybe I did blink, because I know nothing about the Russian team except that they have white hair.
What’s at the center of Pacific Rim? Nothing. When the characters think, nothing is processed. When they speak, nothing interesting comes out. When their robots fight, the audience can see nothing. How much should you pay to see this movie? Nothing.