I know Pacific Rim wasn't a great film, but it was a great idea for a film and it had great parts. It's been frustrating me for four years now and now I think I know why it was so frustrating.
Last week, I watched my favorite part of Pacific Rim, the battle in and near Hong Kong between the four mechs....er, "jaegers" and the kaiju. That sent me down the rabbit hole of reading up on all of the jaegers in the lore that didn't make the film. There were, apparently, other jaegers that were going to be in the movie but had to be cut because director Guillermo del Toro felt there was already too much backstory. That's when it hit me.
The problem with Pacific Rim is that the film we got was the third movie of the trilogy.
Bear with me on this: Pacific Rim is the story of the conclusion of the decades-long war between humanity and giant monsters from...well, let's call it "the deep." The majority of this war is shown to the audience in flashbacks or plain old voice over exposition. Not only is this awkward, it also forces the films to spend an inordinate amount of time on world building instead of fulfilling its promise of wall-to-wall robot versus monster action. The film had some really great parts, but it never got rolling until way too late.
It didn't have to be this way. The basis for full films is in the backstory. The first is the story of the first appearance of the kaiju. Humanity throws their military might against the huge monsters, fighting heroically but ultimately unsuccessfully against an enemy the likes of which we've never seen. As a last throw of the dice, we build a giant freaking robot and, after several setbacks and against all odds, the newly-christened "jaeger" beats back the menace. Humanity has a, ahem, new hope and the jaeger program is born.
The second film shows the rise of the jaegers to the height of their glory. The pilots are rock stars, heroes, and almost gods. Basking in the glory of easy early successes, no one wants to acknowledge that the monsters are getting tougher and appearing more frequently. Soon, the victories aren't coming so easily and the losses are starting to mount. When an entire city is destroyed due to over-confidence on the part of a jaegar pilot, public opinion turns against the program. Humanity is on the back foot and the fateful (and ill-advised) decision is made to abandon the jaegers and entrust our fate to enormous sea walls.
Now, we have Pacific Rim as the third film. This solves so many problems. When Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha take the field against a kaiju, the audience knows these jaegers as legendary veterans who've won battle after battle. Now there's no need to spend a third of the film on the backstories of the eventual pilots of Gipsy Danger. Now there's time to have more robot vs. monster fights, with higher stakes since we're invested in the participants. It works so much better.
I know this is the mootest of moot points, but it's been bugging me for a long time. This makes sense, right? Anyway, here's the first part of the Hong Kong fight. It still makes sad to see the Russians get it this way: