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What Could Improve and What Needs to Stay in “Pacific Rim: Maelstrom”

The strangeness of ‘Pacific Rim’ is essential to its plot, but we’re all hoping the sequel holds as much humor as its predecessor, too.

Hopeful Musings for the New Sequel

The strangeness of ‘Pacific Rim’ is essential to its plot, but we’re all hoping the sequel holds as much humor as its predecessor, too.

By Ashley Wertz, University of Pittsburgh

It’s been three years since the release of Guillermo Del Toro’s spin on the “giant robots vs. equally giant monsters” genre, “Pacific Rim.”

For those who have yet to see the movie or just don’t remember what the hell happened, “Pacific Rim” is the story of behemoth creatures called “kaiju” emerging from the Pacific Ocean (wait, haven’t we seen this before?) and what humanity does to fight back. And is there a better way than to build enormous robots called “jaegers” piloted by two people? I think not.

While the film has developed a sizable and loyal fan following, its time in theaters was underwhelming to say the least, only making up for about half of its reported $190,000,000 budget from domestic showings. And yet there’s something to be admired in the film’s grandeur and special effects.

What Could Improve and What Needs to Stay in “Pacific Rim: Maelstrom”
Image via Pacific Rim Wiki

Unlike Michael Bay’s “Transformers” series equipped with explosions in the desert and the belittlement of any female actors, “Pacific Rim” delivers when it comes to fleshed out characters with interesting relationships and motives. And as cool as the ocean dwelling kaiju and user-operated fighting robots are, the real heart of the movie lies in the interactions between human beings. It seems impossible for humans to justify fighting amongst themselves in a world ravaged by a foe that can’t be reasoned with. And with a multicultural setting and cast, Del Toro refuses to whitewash a movie about the human race vs. real monsters. If you’re a Guillermo Del Toro fan, you know just how terrifying the creatures of his imagination can be. If you’re not familiar with his work, watch “Pan’s Labyrinth,” just don’t get it confused with “Labyrinth” featuring David Bowie.

But his mind can also conjure up some pretty beautiful settings and character dynamics as well. It’s no surprise that fans have been hungry for more since rumors of a second film began floating around not long after the first movie’s release. But with that excitement comes apprehension. There’s the possibility that “Pacific Rim: Maelstrom” could smooth over any rough patches the first film neglected. On the other hand, the multi-faceted characters and the distinct tone of the original movie are at stake. With Steven S. DeKnight (“Spartacus,” “Daredevil” Season 1, “Smallville”) at the helm this time around, there’s some understandable anxiety about how the film will square up with its predecessor. Luckily, Del Toro will still be on the story writing team, and hopefully a great influence for DeKnight’s directing.

However, just because you love a movie doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be subject to criticism. Though it’s comparably superior to a lot of other films in terms of representation, “Pacific Rim” is not perfect. So what could use a little fine-tuning?

Where Are the Women?

Rinko Kikuchi’s character, Mako Mori, is often the main focus of the film, even alongside her white male lead, Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket. Mako experiences a full character arc, beginning all the way from the moment she was saved as a young girl by her adoptive father, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), from being a kaiju snack to the present day where she’s begging Pentecost to let her beat the snot out of kaijus in the name of the family she’d lost.

What Could Improve and What Needs to Stay in “Pacific Rim: Maelstrom”
Image via Wallpapers

But this is where the movie starts to lose points. Although Mako Mori is one of the most important characters in the entire film, she is also the only woman who has more than a few lines of dialogue. Yes, she has motives and a storyline that aren’t used for the sole purpose of boosting the male lead’s own plot, and it’s pretty damn sad that it’s difficult to find female characters with Mako’s level of badass and substance. Not to mention, the pool of well-written female characters gets smaller when you take away all the white women.

Though it hasn’t been confirmed or denied, having Rinko Kikuchi come back for the sequel would be an ideal move. Mako carries much of the heart of the first film, so it would be wonderful if she reprised her role. But the bigger issue here is the obvious lack of women. Looking at the current list of the confirmed cast is comforting though. Actors like Adria Arjona, Tian Jing and Shyrley Rodriguez will hopefully play a big part in “Maelstrom” and do right by Mako Mori’s legacy.

Keep “Pacific Rim” Weird

One of the most fun aspects of the movie is how it feels and looks like a comic book at times. The bright colors, high contrast lighting and SFX verging on surrealism are how you know you’re here to have a good time. But aside from the visual elements, who could forget the comic relief duo of Newt Geiszler and Hermann Gottlieb? The two wacky scientists are much different than all the serious characters around them, which is what makes their screen time all the more memorable with their bickering and general distaste for one another. Charlie Day also carries over some of his “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” flair, or maybe he’s just being himself.

Del Toro has apparently confirmed that the two eccentric scientists will be returning for the sequel.

But seeing how much has already changed since “Maelstrom” was confirmed, a solid plot has yet to be revealed. The equally strange black market kaiju organs dealer, Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), may also make a comeback. Even if these quirky characters don’t return, it would be wise for filmmakers to keep the odd quality that keeps your senses in high gear throughout the movie.

John Boyega!!!!

I don’t think this point needs much explanation. The first “Pacific Rim” movie did not have John Boyega and “Maelstrom” does. In my opinion, this is an immediate upgrade to any movie. After his breakout role as Finn in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” John Boyega has been on everyone’s radar. “Maelstrom” won’t be his first apocalyptic movie though. In 2011, he starred in “Attack the Block,” a movie about a London gang of teenagers protecting their neighborhood from an alien invasion. Kaijus may be from earth, but they’re certainly not trying to live peacefully alongside humans.

Boyega will be playing the leading role of Stacker Pentecost’s son a few years after the events of the first movie. And if he can deliver half of Idris Elba’s performance, which I know he can, then I have fewer worries for “Maelstrom” than ever.

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Ashley Wertz

University of Pittsburgh

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