While I was waiting for “Pacific Rim Uprising” to begin, I asked, “Will the Asian guy die first?” The movie returns to kaiju (monsters) rising from a portal in the Pacific Ocean and being fought by giant rock-em sock-em robots ten years after the Guillermo del Toro directed “Pacific Rim.”
“Pacific Rim” Refresher
In real life, “Pacific Rim” came out in 2013 and starred Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba. The thesis was humanity had recently united to build Jaegers–giant walker type mobile robots that required two pilot who were mind-melded. On the movie’s timeline, the alien sea monsters first appear in 2013. By 2020, brothers Raleigh (Hunnam) and Yancy Beckett (Diego Klattenhoff) are piloting Jaeger Gipsy Danger, defending Anchorage against a kaiju, but during the battle Yancy dies. In 2025, only four Jaegers remain but are being retired. Instead great walls and nuclear weaponry are the current defense plans. Raleigh (Hunnam) is brought out of retirement by Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Elba) and teamed with Pentecost’s adopted daughter, rookie pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) for the Gipsy Danger. In the other three are Sasha and Aleksis Kaidanovskyin (Robert Maillet and Heather Doerksen) in the Russian Chemo Alpha, the Wei Tang triplets (Charles Luu, Lance Luu and Mark Luu) in the Chinese Crimson Typhoon and father and son team Herc (Max Martini) and Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky) in the Australian Striker Eureka. For a bit of comic relief, there were two mad scientists: Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day).
In that film, I made the prediction that the Asians would go first and the Wei Tang triplets were the first to die, followed by the Russian duo. Hannibal Chau was played by Ron Perlman and Clifton Collins, Jr. played Ops Tendo Choi. The former wasn’t supposed to be Chinese and the latter was supposed to be Chinese-American. Collins is actually Mexican-American. Perlman is Jewish.
“Pacific Rim Uprising”
In the current film, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of Stacker and adoptive brother of Mori, is involved in black market dealings of Jaeger parts. During one foraging trip, he finds himself outsmarted by a young girl, Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who has built her own single-pilot small Jaeger, Scrapper. This pairing might sound a bit like Finn in the 2015 “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the name Cailee might excite fans of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” (where Jewel Staite played Kaywinnet Lee “Kaylee” Frye, a woman without formal training but was a natural mechanic).
Both Jake and Amara are arrested by the local law enforcement in Santa Monica, but in a holograph, Mori gets her brother out of a jam and recruits both Jake and Amara into the Jaeger program under Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood).
Two different strategies have been proposed to improve the mobility of the Jaegers. One under Liwen Shao (Jing Tian) of Shao Industries with Dr. Geiszler have virtual pilots controlling the new, improved Jaegers from afar. The other, proposed by Gottlieb, puts rockets on to the Jaegers legs. Geiszler seems to be flying pretty high as the yes-man to Shao despite his atrocious Chinese. Remembering their shared experience mind-melding with a Kaiju brain, Geiszler, who admitted “I still get nightmares,” invites to dinner with his wife, but Gottlieb is tied to his lab and, unlike anyone else, still uses paper.
A mysterious rogue Jaeger attacks Sydney during a planned high level meeting, resulting the sudden activation into battle of Jake and Nate, but also the death of Mori (first Asian death). Shao Industries proposal is quickly accepted, but there is one problem–the possibility of the transmission being hacked. Yet during an emergency, one has to move quickly, particularly when there’s someone out there with a powerful Jaeger.
Before Mori died, she was transmitting a message that leads Jake and Nate to Siberia where they again battle the rogue Jaeger and make a startling discovery which I will not reveal here but you can ask Alice, Geiszler’s wife.
Amara becomes part of the family of Jaeger pilots and this is where the casting goes diverse, but she’s not accepted at first, of course. Eventually, after a pep talk from Nate (like family, “You forgive them, then you move on”), the tempers cool just in time for the big battle.
The ultimate battle will be on Mt. Fuji, as if a tribute to the country that created the genre, but can’t create a hero and instead has to be saved by a British black man and an American white girl. Before the ending and the epilogue (which suggests another installment of this series), the second death will be another East Asian, Marshal Quan (Zhang Jin), followed by another ethnic Asian (Indian), Suresh (Karan Brar).
Don’t worry, Mt. Fuji will be saved. Overall, there’s great CGI but there will be less levity supplied by the mad scientists and instead that will be left to the unlikely pairing of Jake and Amara when Nate is temporarily incapacitated.
The script (written by Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight and T.S. Nowlin) doesn’t have anyone as richly perverse as Hannibal Chau and still asks us to believe that all of the facility’s instructions will be predominately in untranslated Chinese, but the English is barely influenced by the Chinese language and the fluency in Chinese of the non-Chinese team members is limited. That was a problem with Travis Beach and Guillermo del Toro’s original script as well. I don’t believe we ever hear Nate or Jake speaking Chinese. I also question some of the shaky camera judgment by director Steven S. DeKnight. Del Toro’s visualization was much more detailed and engrossingly layered.
The new cultural imperialism seems to be black and white save the world but at least in this iteration of that science fiction myth when the twosome gets a little help from their friends, the friends include some Asians.