Movie Talk: Ponderings on Pacific Rim 2

Or, where is my goddamn shoe sequel?

“To be or not to be — that is the question…” As we all know, in this speech Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was pondering the fate of the proposed sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 movie Pacific Rim. The “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” clearly represent the uncertainty surrounding this project: initially it looked like Pacific Rim wouldn’t perform well enough in the box office to assure a sequel; it didn’t recoup its costs in America, but after a strong performance in other countries, especially in China, a follow-up film was finally greenlit and scheduled, only to face further delays and now – if last week’s reports are accurate –  a question mark over whether it’ll happen at all. In the next line of his soliloquy, Hamlet mentions “a sea of troubles” the Pac Rim influence here is not in doubt, but scholars are divided over the precise focus. Did Shakespeare intend the line as a reference to Breach – the ocean rift through which the film’s Kaiju antagonists ascend? Or if it is rather an allusion to “Maelstrom” which has been the working title of the troubled sequel? Either way, prescient Bard that Will. Trust me, I’m a doctor.

Alas poor, uh... PPDC badge?

Alas poor, uh… PPDC badge

Ok, so I made up a lot of the stuff in that opening paragraph, did you notice? Although someone totally should write a thesis on Del Toro and Shakespeare… hang on… *Googles* someone already has, day made! But some truths remain. I do genuinely have a PhD, and there is currently a hell of a lot of confusion and uncertainty over the future of Pacific Rim 2. Here’s my unasked for soliloquy on the situation…

The state of play

So, last week The Hollywood Reporter ran an in-depth piece on the current creature feature properties war that’s raging between Universal and Legendary. Universal seemed to be cultivating monster movies after last year’s Godzilla, but now Legendary’s proposed Skull Island project has been picked up by Warner Bros instead. Forbes have also run an interesting article on precisely how these studio tensions could impact on the fate of Pac Rim 2, suggesting that Universal’s recent string of big successes like Jurassic World is likely to make them more reluctant to gamble on a follow up to a movie that was only successful outside the US. “Delayed indefinitely” was starting to sound a lot like “dead before arrival.”

Yet, after such pronouncements of doom, Del Toro was quick to jump in, cancelling the apocalypse with the reassurance that his project was still moving ahead and would still see light of day – or light of huge Jaeger-mounted search beams anyway – though he might now deliver “another movie in the middle.” I’m a huge Del Toro fan, and one of the things I love most about his work is the passion he brings to all his projects. Pacific Rim isn’t a groundbreaking film but is genuine in its love for its genre and it was truly the most fun I’ve had in the cinema for years. This is why I still care about it – and about the fate of any follow ups. It’s hard to let go of the things you really love, but that’s also why I’m taking Del Toro’s reassurances with a pinch of salt. The director is clearly a dreamer: it’s why so many of his films are so wonderfully inventive, and for that we should be thankful. But it’s also why he’s notorious for getting linked to projects that never happen. Pacific Rim 2 could easily make up the third corner of the ‘films I’d love to see but never will’ triumvirate, alongside Hellboy 3 and At The Mountains of Madness. Despite all assurances to the contrary, I think it’s safer to assume that Maelstrom is not happening at all and then hope to be pleasantly surprised further down the line.

Spoiler Alert!

This post discusses major plot points from Pacific Rim!

Merchandise and marketing

Recent news articles on of Pac Rim 2‘s future have focused on the financial side of things: is it a viable project, can it attract a bankable star (the lack of A-listers in the original movie was something I found refreshing but I understand it made it a harder sell.) In a way I’m not surprised that the original film didn’t turn quite the profits Legendary were hoping. With a geek film like this merchandise is an important source, not only of income but of publicity and advertising and I can’t think of another similarly-budgeted film that was quite so badly merchandised as this one. Star Wars has always been the Emperor of merchandised brands – and that’s leveled up even further now Disney have it — so it’s a good benchmark to use here. Let’s think about The Force Awakens, the damn thing isn’t even out yet but people are already rioting in the street and selling their firstborns to get a BB8 toy. And they don’t even really know if they like the character yet – he might be the next Jar Jar! But it’s a cool design and a fun gimmick, so people bite. Of course, they’ll shamefacedly bury their droids in the back of the wardrobe and deny all knowledge if it turns out the character does suck but by then LucasMouse have long since had their cash.

There are some great designs in Pacific Rim, I remember being exicted about them way before the film came out. Though I wouldn’t have bought Jaeger figures before setting foot in the cinema I certainly would have done immediately afterwards. I would have bought the lot, but Legendary missed out there because they were so slow to get on the merchandise bandwagon. I saw the film in July 2013 and do you know when I got my Neca Cherno Alpha figure? February of the following year. And that was on pre-order. It’s only because I’m stubborn that I waited that long. By the time the damn figure arrived I sewn Kaidanovsky costumes for B and I, hundreds of safety pins and all. This is not smart merchandising. I picked up a Leatherback and a Trespasser figure along the way but I never had the stamina or patience to collect the other toys, so they lost out from me there. Other Pac Rim merch is rare too: I have a couple of books, some fridge magnets, and — after much eBay searching — the Cherno dog-tags. That’s it. If they do make a sequel they could make so much more of the franchise’s cool design and overall aesthetic. PPDC logo shirts in girly fit sizes would be a good start….

AddAltModeR as Sasha Kaidanovsky.

AddAltModeR as Sasha Kaidanovsky – with Cherno and Leatherback figures.

Do we really need a sequel?

When you’ve enjoyed something so much it’s a natural reaction to want more. I was consuming news and rumours about the sequel eagerly enough when it seemed like it was definitely on, but this pause / potential death knell actually provides a good opportunity to stop and ask whether we really do want the things we think we want in the first place.

Does Pacific Rim really need a sequel? The reasons to vote “yes” are as follows:

Great aesthetic. I am easily won over by awesome robot designs and I loved how individual each of the Jaegers appeared. It seems a given that Gipsy Danger will be rebuilt in any sequel but there are so many more really cool Jaeger designs in the Pac Rim comic and glimpsed in the early narrative, I would love to see more of those brought to life, so the lack of remaining models at the end of the movie doesn’t mean more can’t be built or rebuilt.

Lived-in universe: one of the things the film gets so right is just how well established its universe feels. So many big budget action films give us origin stories (and then rebooted origin stories a few years later) so it’s actually refreshing how Del Toro’s film gives us a quick run down on the first Kaiju attack, the Jaeger programme and the concept of the Drift, and then cuts straight to the last days of a losing battle. At at all times it feels like there are so many more stories, and so much more history than we glimpse on screen (this is probably how the films gets away with some very simplified, sketch-like characterisations). Even though the film ends pretty conclusively I was still left wanting to see more of the world that pulled together to finance a giant mecha programme, and where whole city regions have sprung up amidst a toxic cathedral of Kaiju bones.

Intriguing antagonists: we don’t learn that much about the Precursors during the film but that glimpse through the Breach at the end before, uh — spoiler — Gipsy nuked it was certainly intriguing. Del Toro has been implying that the sequel would be heavy on Kaiju and there’s certainly more to learn about them and their creators.

Which brings me to… Questions about Newt. Pac Rim didn’t exactly leave a sequel hook wide open but there is one loose end: Newt. We’ve seen how trauma experienced during the Drift stays with people and changes them, Newt and Herman drifted with the goddamn Kaiju, that’s got to have repercussions but it’s something that the film doesn’t really acknowledge beyond the immediate nosebleeds and urge to vomit. The scientists are often the comic relief in the original movie but I would be interested to see them move in a darker direction and I think there would be scope to explore this. The loose end of Newt and Herman’s mental state is to my mind the most likely catalyst / causeway for a Kaiju return.

But, to weigh against that….

A conclusive finale: the end of Pac Rim was pretty special because it subverted some pervasive genre clichés: Mako and Raleigh didn’t kiss (I love that they didn’t) and there wasn’t any kind of obvious sequel hook. The Breach is closed, all Jaegers are destroyed too but that’s OK — right — because the world is saved. Doesn’t it make a nice change just for once not to see a single Slattern tentacle slithering ominously out of another ocean rift or the legend “Gipsy Danger will Return” or something. The mech geek in me (which is most of me) wants more, but the film fan appreciates the closure and wonders if this really would feel better as a one off narrative, just let fans play with the world and invent our own stories – most of which are prequels from the earlier days of the war.

Lack of remaining characters: sure Jaegers can be rebuilt, but what was awesome about the ones in the film – and most of all about my beloved Cherno Alpha (for all of its precious 5 minutes of screentime) was their sense of history. Cherno and its pilots were barely in the film but they had badass gravitas because you could sense their bigger story, see their war wounds. A completely rebuilt or new Jaeger would lack that. And though we still have Raleigh, Mako, Herc and the Science Bros, there are a lot of human characters who’d be sorely missed in any sequel. And I don’t just mean a certain Russian duo. I can’t imagine this franchise without Stacker either.

Plot holes! There are tons of plotholes in Pacific Rim. Not least the fact that — as How it Should Have Ended acknowledge — the Jaeger programme is by no means the most sensible way to fight the Kaiju. Building some kind of guard facility around the Breach itself would be so much more sensible and would keep the fights away from major cities. I didn’t care about that, however, mostly because of the rule of cool (and cityscape monster/mech fights are sooo cool) but also because of the sense of heritage this film establishes. By the time we join Raleigh on his journey, the PPDC is so well established that the film doesn’t give us space to question if its giant mech ways are the best ways, we just go with it, and love it. However, since there are no Jaegers left a sequel would have to see the programme re-established and — when starting over armed with much better knowledge of the Kaiju — there’s no way it could really seem like the best solution. So I fear the Jaegers will either seem very forced in or they’ll be relegated to make Maelstrom a film about Kaiju. I love Del Toro’s monsters and I’d watch the hell out of a Kaiju movie but it’s the mechs that made the first movie; without a hefty tech-porn dose of giant robot fisticuffs it’s just not Pacific Rim.

So that’s 4 vs 4. A tie. A sequel could work or it could feel very tacked on and unnecessary. But, with the exception of the Newt question, all the reasons I’ve given as to why a sequel could work actually prove why a PREQUEL would be so much more desirable. Refreshing as it was to eschew the standard origin story first time around, I’d be so happy to go back and get it now. The Tales from Year Zero comic expands on some of the backstory from the movie. Some of the stories in this collection are stronger than others but the central one about Caitlin Lightcap, the woman — yes a woman, hooray — who pioneers the Drift and goes on to become a kick-ass pilot is really great. Plus the rough and ready designs of the prototype Jaegers are just so visually satisfying, I prefer the crude mechs over the shiny later models (I’m sure this is why I love Cherno so much). So I’d love to see early models like the steampunky Horizon Brave or Brawler Yukon brought to the big screen.

Or, you know, just 2 hours more of Cherno Alpha. That would be fine too.

Or, you know, just more Cherno Alpha. That would be fine too.

I’d go watch a sequel, sure, but I still think they should really be making a prequel. Of course we know how the war finally goes, and that the humans are losing pretty badly by the time of the first movie but tension could still be achieved even in a prequel as the results of individual early battles wouldn’t necessarily be known.

Hamlet too expresses his preference for a prequel rather than a sequel: when he speaks of his “dread of something after death” he’s clearly indicating that he doesn’t want to pick up the story after Stacker’s demise but to go back to the early days of the PPDC.  I’m with you Hamlet!

So let’s rephrase that notorious Hannibal Chau quote from my opening:

Where is my goddamn shoe prequel?

Hannibal Chau's goddamn shoes. Shiny.

Hannibal Chau’s goddamn shoes. Shiny. Screencap from Pacific Rim.

What do you think? Sequel, prequel or should we just let sleeping Kaiju lie?

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2 thoughts on “Movie Talk: Ponderings on Pacific Rim 2

    • Yes, I do think Legendary are making the wrong choice, but they’re just going to play it safe and keep pumping out known names with more Jurassic Parks and Godzillas.

      I actually enjoyed the 2014 Godzilla but it felt like an “event film”: the Kaiju King back on the big screen at last. The director played up to that by making us wait so long and building up so slowly to the monster mayhem. That kind of approach won’t work if they’re going to do loads of these films. Pac Rim has a much bigger heart.

      Liked by 1 person

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