With the recent news that Pacific Rim 2 might be canceled, two Inverse writers weigh in on whether this is for the best or for the worst.
Lauren Sarner: Let’s get one thing straight: Pacific Rim didn’t suck. I think it’s the weakest of Guillermo del Toro’s movies, but I can understand why people like it and I respect it. It spawned the Mako Mori Test, was casually diverse in a way that too few splashy films are, its very existence — as a big action/dystopian/fantasy film that’s not a remake or based on a pre-existing book or comic or amusement park ride or back of a cereal box — extends a middle finger towards Hollywood’s Franchise Machine, and it stars Charlie Hunnam, one of my favorite actors.
All that said, the potential cancellation of Pacific Rim 2 is a good thing. Pacific Rim said all it needed to say. The bad guys were mostly vanquished, the good guys lived to see another sunrise and had their big non-kiss.
In our age of franchises on franchises, a standalone story this bold was ambitious as hell and mostly worked — unlike, say, Jupiter Ascending — so let it stand where it is. Extending it into a franchise of giant robots vs. monsters risks turning into Transformers. Nobody wants to see del Toro turn into Michael Bay.
Eric Francisco: You had me at “didn’t suck.” OK! Great. We’re on the same page so far.
Lauren: Let’s talk characters. As I mentioned before, Charlie Hunnam’s performances are usually magnetic as hell. So this should hold weight when a fangirl says that his character Raleigh Beckett — the hero of Pacific Rim — is boring. In the clip below, witness actual acting. Context: he finds out his wife’s murderer was his own mother. Most actors go overboard and loud when they break down; his naturalistic performance turns what could have been a generic Sad Tough Guy Tantrum into something more nuanced and complex.
Pacific Rim’s hero, Raleigh Beckett, is about as generic and forgettable as what’s-his-name from Avatar. Beckett could have been played by any of Hollywood’s G.I. Joe shaped human mannequins. Hunnam is usually so far from that category, but Raleigh Beckett is a big yawn. Below: not nuanced. Not complex.
Maybe Hunnam’s acting powers are in his beard and vanish when he shaves, I don’t know, but Raleigh Beckett is not a compelling hero to build a franchise on. Sure, you could argue that in most franchises, the hero is the least interesting character (see: Frodo, Thor, Bruce Wayne, Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Jon Snow in early seasons before he grew a spine, etc.). Still, del Toro and Hunnam can both do better. So let them do better on other interesting projects.
Plus, to return to the other lead, Mako Mori, and their fantastic non-kiss, a sequel would be compelled to ruin that. It would be forced to make a decision about their Will-They-Won’t-They dynamic, and I’m afraid they’d go back on their amazing decision to have them, for once, not.
Eric: Agreed, Charlie Hunnam brought a wooden performance, but I really enjoyed Raleigh. One of the weird trends some modern blockbuster movies do is bring a dour face to a hero who needs to be square-jawed and inspiring. The same year Pacific Rim came out we also got a Man of Steel that made the world’s finest boy scout act like an insecure teenager. Making a seemingly shallow character doubt himself despite his abilities is lazy shorthand for “This is depth!” I liked that Raleigh was great and he knew it. His self-doubt arose only because his arrogance cost him his brother.
Most surprisingly, despite being a buff, two-dimensional white dude, he knew how much the greater good mattered. He knew immediately Mako had to be his partner, because no one else could be. There was no BS, “You’re not my brother” drama. He knew what was at stake.
When Pacific Rim came out, the culture was leaning away from inspirational leads. The Lone Ranger, Man of Steel, The Dark Knight, The Amazing Spider-Man — these hero-centric movies were highly skeptical of heroes and their motivations, which made for unsteady viewing.
Lauren: Nothing against Pacific Rim, but not everything needs to be a franchise. Let it stand against the grain as a solid, unique, standalone film. Don’t suck its power down the drain of the Franchise Machine.
Eric: I fell in love with Pacific Rim and its world, and if I were a kid I’d eat up every toy, comic book, pajama, and spin-off cartoon it’d throw at me. There’s nothing like Pacific Rim — it’s an American realization of a wonderful Japanese genre that had long been swept away and boxed in as “weird shit we don’t like.” Pacific Rim proved that kitschy Power Rangers can be romantic, grand, and bigger than we think. God, I loved the opening.
If there’s anything that deserves a franchise, it’s Pacific Rim precisely because it was such an atypical blockbuster. You can only have a dinosaur park so many times. Big monsters and aliens bashing with big robots? Why do you think Japan has been doing these movies for decades? I see your point, that a sequel would inevitably warp the overall effect of the first film. But you can skip the second one! You hang onto Pacific Rim, and I’ll be first in line to see Pacific Rim 2, if we ever get it.