I'm still not entirely sure why I like it, but I definitely do! Have some of my spoiler-laden thoughts, a few hours out of the theater:
- I read a negative review that made me kind of angry (fuck you, reviewer person, that kaiju suddenly revealing wings and lifting off was awesome, and I say that as someone who doesn't care all that much about fight scenes), but I did agree with one thing about it: the conflict between Raleigh (a.k.a. Our Hero) and Chuck (a.k.a. Australian Jerk) was kind of tired.
- Oh, OH used to be a hotshot Jaeger pilot who thought he knew everything but then lost it all! Oh, AJ is the new hotshot Jaeger pilot who thinks he knows everything! Conflict!1!
- It's kind of an old, dull story. Obvious, in the way AJ himself is obvious - the way Idris Elba's character Stacker Pentecost (unrelated: what a great name for a character) openly acknowledges him to be, a simple "asshole with daddy issues" personality. But lampshading it didn't quite save him as a character, for me.
- And neither did how much he loved his dog.
...okay, maybe that did a little bit, when he told the dog how much he was going to miss it. His calmness, knowing he wasn't coming back from this one, that kind of struck me. I wonder if he and his father both were expecting to not come back. Wonder if that had anything to do with the offhand "raised him by myself" remark earlier on...ahem. Moving on!
- I'm amazed OH and SP didn't go catatonic when they lost their drift partner. You were inside their heads, it seems a miracle to me that you didn't die with them. (I don't know if that's acknowledged by the movie as a possibility - it says these two were the only ones who kept piloting their Jaeger after a loss, but that doesn't tell me if other pilots died or just weren't able to pilot solo.)
- I loved Mako. So much. Loved her strength, her determination and motivations - so similar to OH's yet shown so differently. Loved her familial relationship with SP. (Although, given her final words to him involved the word 「愛しています。」 I'm not so sure how familial the feelings were on her side. But on his they seemed paternal.) I loved Rinko Kikuchi's understated, inward performance. MM might not have said as much as OH, but I never felt like she wasn't invested in every scene she was in.
- I love that MM got to have bilingual conversations. Love that. When concepts get too complex, the conversation gets too fast, too personal - of course you return to your native language.
- I liked that OH knew enough Japanese to follow along, though I wish that had been extended to conversation with the Chinese triplets or the Russian duo, to make it really feel like it was something he'd learned as part of the international effort. (As part of that "world saving the world" theme.)
- It was kind of obvious they were going to die very soon when they didn't speak to OH or MM. Or... at all... before their fight scenes. And I was expecting them to die anyway, since their fighting styles were explicitly predictable (= capable of being adapted to) in ways OH's wasn't. The tail arm used to fight the triplets was clever; the acidic blood-spewing against the Russian heavy-hitter was inspired; the EMP organ was unbelievable, and super cool.
- The international effort thing kind of happened with Choi shouting in Chinese (I think?) for the predominantly Chinese workers to evacuate when MM got caught in the Drift? But... I don't know, a Chinese guy named Tendo Choi (both names more strongly associated with Japanese/Korean surnames, though Choi is a possible romanization of a Chinese surname) being played by a man of German and Mexican descent? I was a little too weirded out by the character as a whole to be too happy about him communicating properly with the background characters.
- Especially with Ron Perlman's Hannibal Chau right there! Like, you mock the character type of white guy with mysterious fake exotic name in order to make his exotic sales seem more convincing... and then right next to that you've got a Hispanic man playing Asian-American? I don't know.
- (That's not to say HC was a bad character to have - I thought he was great! Real sleezy, exactly the kind of person needed to fit that role. I gasped and cheered when he got eaten, then laughed when he cut himself out of the body post-credits asking for his shoe.)
- I was predisposed to like Geizler and Gottlieb, I think. I always have a soft spot for the scientist in any given scifi movie
, and also it's Burn Gorman!!1! I <3 him, and these two covered the two primary types really well: the mega-enthusiastic geek/biochem guy (Geizler) and the studious misanthrope/numbers guy (Gottlieb).
- For a while I was kind of excitedly waiting for Geizler to get viciously killed, as so often happens to the foolish scientist who Touches the Alien Thing, but it didn't happen! Shock!
- I love that they Drifted - yes, it's a bit of an obvious metaphor for Teamwork Saves the Day, but these particularly disparate personalities coming together like that was a nice touch.
More than all of the above, I really loved the things that didn't get explicitly discussed, but that are necessary building blocks to this story - the underlying backstory, I guess you could call it.
Who was Pentecost's copilot? The best of the best are stated to be the ones with the strongest links, and all the ones we saw who're called the best were related. (Raleigh and his brother, the Australian father and son, the Chinese triplets. I'm not sure if the Russians are siblings or married, but I lean towards siblings.) IE was undoubtedly one of the best, back in the early days of the project.
So who did Pentecost lose the day he found Mako?
Is that loss related to his surety that he would bring nothing into the Drift? Because his certainty about that felt very strange to me. He lost his copilot in the last mission he did. Virtual test runs are nothing like real fighting or real Drifting, so how would Pentecost know that he would bring nothing?
(The one explanation I have for that - that he has distanced himself from his emotions/memories/etc to the extent that there's basically nothing left - terrifies me. Pentecost obviously just sees himself as a symbol at this point, of the Jaeger program and the defense of humanity it stands for, but to empty himself that much...)
I think whatever he lost, whoever he lost, Pentecost must have decided he would do anything to stop from losing more. So he distanced himself emotionally from people (to stop from really feeling the short-term losses) and invested himself completely in the Jaeger program (to stop the long-term losses).
Pentecost told Raleigh we don't need to know his life's story, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to know it.
Why did the world's leaders drop the Jaeger program in favor of a (stupid, stupid, really dumb) giant wall around the Pacific Ocean? Because half of the world's leaders (at least 95 of the 192 countries in the UN*), whose countries definitely control more than half the economic power) don't care about what happens in the Pacific. Because there's no way the US didn't lose Hawaii almost immediately, and vengeance for one (small, relatively new, POC-populated) state wouldn't inspire much activism after a decade-long war. Because the West Coast's population and political power doesn't remotely compare to the East Coast's, never mind the Midwest.
Because in the end, Western civilization would definitely care more about their money than about Eastern lives.
In part, this movie is about "the world saving the world" because there isn't a single country that would want to save the world. Oh, sure, early on it was probably different - but early on is when people thought they had a chance. When little toy Kaiju and Jaegers were being put in Happy Meals. Once we were in for the long haul, and the fight stopped being romanticized so much, only people who had actual reasons to fight kept fighting.
That's why there's only four Jaegers left. Look at where they're from: Russia (guarding Vladivostok), China, Australia, United States (guarding Alaska). All countries on the titular Pacific Rim. That's why the Jaeger 'resistance' is so full of East Asian people, because it's their homes that are being attacked. Their lives destroyed. They can't just move inland to the safe zone and wait it out.
(And I think it's relevant that our single character of obvious European origin - a.k.a. the one person who doesn't have an obvious "to save my home/family/country"-related reason to be involved - has a physical disability that requires a cane. Gottlieb's not old enough to just be worn down; I suspect that limp is his reason for being in on the project. Which makes his reason, like everyone else's, personal.)
*That is an actual number I calculated. And that's just the UN member nations from Europe and Africa; there's no doubt in my mind that some landlocked Asian countries and eastern South American countries would be self-interested enough to agree to the wall plan.