Watching “Pacific Rim,” I could help but think of the Rock-em Sock-em robots. I know that the movie is targeting a male audience and I’m not a guy. I also know that the writers are trying something new, but that still doesn’t make it good, particularly when you consider the tradition of the creatures called kaiju and Godzilla.
Godzilla is a kaiju, but not the only kaiju. To be specific, Godzilla is a daikaiju. My trusty Japanese-English Kenkyūsha dictionary defines a kaiju as “monstrous beast” but we can edit that down to monster. Monsters come in all sizes and forms as all Lady Gaga followers know and that is true even for Japan where pocket monsters came from (Pokkemon).
Godzilla doesn’t make an appearance in “Pacific Rim,” but you can feel his hot atomic breath in its every frame. We could call it Godzilla envy or licensing envy. Without a claim to the kaiju of fame, the writers decide to create their own kaiju. These kaiju are gigantic and we’re not sure how they are fed, but they could have Tokyo for lunch with a few buses as appetizers. They have that anthropomorphic form of a man walking in a monster suit, but they move with surprising grace underwater. The animation is of a high level as you’d expect from the director Guillermo del Toro who gave us such wondrous creatures in “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
So the story, written by Del Toro and Travis Beacham goes like this. Sometime this year, 2013, our cities come under attack by kaiju. These are extraterrestrial beings who usually take the lone-wolf approach to attack. They are based under the Pacific Ocean, arriving through a interdimensional portal. The nations of the Pacific Rim come together to construct the humanoid war machines called Jaegers that require two humans to control inside the detachable head. Despite the coolness of Samsung and Sony cellphones and tablets, Honda’s ASIMO and the Toyota Prius, the East Asians aren’t really that involved in this production. Why else would these supposedly sophisticated machines get a German name?
Jaeger is a German word and I confess that I never saw the need for studying German. There is still time, indeed, but this movie won’t convince you to get out and get more serious than toasting to Octoberfest. Of course, I don’t drink so that puts a bit of a damper on the whole we are German for a month thing in the U.S. But the like-em or leave-em sentiments about Germany are of little consequence for “Pacific Rim” because the Germans and German don’t have much to do with this film. That makes some sense because Germany is not a Pacific Rim nation.
What makes less sense is that Japan, the country that supplies us with the term for the alien enemies, only supplies the movie with its female possible love interest. If you’re still at the girls got cooties stage of development, then don’t worry. The ick-factor of romance, and even the ick-factor of a Madame Butterfly romance is totally absent from this film.
What isn’t absent is the concept of White Man’s Burden (that’s a Rudyard Kipling reference). Yes, white men save the world and its not the reds although I did debate whether the Star Trek TOS red-shirt plan was in effect.
First we must find our white hero. One of the first Jaegers is the Gipsy Danger manned by brothers Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Yancy Beckett (Diego Klattenhoff). These guys are hot shots who don’t necessarily listen to their commander. In their last mission, their Jaeger is decapitated and Yancy is killed. Raleigh is able to make it back to Alaska, but retires. The year is 2020.
Even in the realm of science, the Pacific Rim countries didn’t produce much research on the kaiju. The leading kaiju scientists are these colorful comedians: Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). They work alone because they must be underfunded and the script writers know little to nothing about how a science lab works–they don’t know that lead scientists have their own drones–slaves working for the betterment of science or a chance at getting their own lab or at an academic level, poor grad students who might not be getting paid. So we have these two white guys on the wrong side of eccentric.
By 2025, the Pacific Rim governments have decided to scrap the Jaeger program in favor of building the Great Wall of the Pacific Rim. How that will work for Japan, Hawaii, the Philippines and New Zealand is never adequate explained, but perhaps those island nations have just been written off as casualties of war. What would be Great about a Great Wall is imagine the future tourists. Raleigh is one of the men working on the Great Wall of Alaska and he’s contacted by the commander of the remaining Jaegers, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba).
There just happen to be four Jaegers left, including the seriously outdated Gipsy Danger. Just the number should have given the Chinese and Japanese reason to pray for good luck. If you are replacing your cellphone every two years or trying to keep your computer up-to-date, you know that five years of technology in means that the Gipsy Danger is almost an antique. So the Gipsy Danger is going to be a support team for the much newer Jaegers.
The primo Jaeger, Striker Eureka, is piloted by a father-son team from Australia: Herc Hansen (Max Martini) and Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky). The father respected Raleigh. The son thinks Raleigh is a danger to them all. Raleigh must also search for a new co-pilot who must be able to drift–share minds in a non-Vulcan mind-meld–together way.
Instead of using something scientific like the Mensan favorite–the Keirsey Temperament personality sorter (ENTJ or INTJ), the Jaeger program uses individual combat which incorporates sticks like kendo and rolling around on matts like some East Asian martial arts. A handful of East Asian guys are easily beaten by our construction worker Raleigh, but the East Asian woman, Mako is his true match.
On a real life level, this might be a product of white male anxiety. Consider the Olympic record of the white American male at the Olympics in judo and the more recent addition of taekwando.
Judo was first included in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Japan leads the world in gold medals with 36 (18 silver and 18 bronze); France has 12 gold (8 silver and 24 bronze). South Korea has 11 (8, 24) and China has 8 (3, 9). The U.S. isn’t in the top ten with only one gold medal (3, 7). The American gold medalist was Kayla Harrison at the London Games. The men winning silver were Kevin Asano (1988) , Jason Morris (1992) and Robert Berland (1984). West German and the United Kingdom have one gold medalist each. Canada has none.
Taekwando has been an Olympic event since 2000. South Korea has 10 golds, China has five and the U.S. has two (like Taipei, Mexico and Iran) won by Steven López in 2000 and 2004 (bronze in 2008).
So maybe, white guys are either delusional or have that Olympic inferiority complex to contend with. In either case, considering how the Jaegers move, the whole combat style test makes no sense.
While the kaiju in the water have fluid movement and zip around like a seal after a sashimi dinner, the vehicles of kaiju destruction Jaegers trudge around like Godzilla on land and are even more plodding in the water. For the drivers of these machines to enter, the head must come off and the crew must screw it back on after the head is lowered in place. Nothing about these machines is quick or efficient which is why the kaiju should win.
Now if your two drivers are essentially meant to jog in place in synchronization while pushing buttons, the ideal training would be synchronized jogging or synchronized marathon running. If your machine works on the concept of the rock-em sock-em robots than maybe studying Muhammed
Ali and learning the fundamentals of boxing would be more practical and logical. Logic is definitely not a problem for this film…after all, the script writers have already posited that scientists are brilliant idiots who can explain but not do.
Our brilliant idiots want to mind-meld or “drift” with the brain of a kaiju and in order to do so more than once, they need to deal with a man in charge of the black market of kaiju parts in Hong Kong. Even in Hong Kong, even after the return of Hong Kong to the mainland Chinese from British rule, the Hong Kong black market is ruled by a white guy, Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) who has a bunch of East Asian flunkies to help him sell kaiju parts. I guess the tongs have been rendered powerless in China.
Hannibal Chau gets his name from his favorite historical figure and his favorite Szechuan restaurant. Woo-hoo. Chinese food keeps up its rep, but Chinese aren’t clever enough to do more than cook, even in China. Chau helps our mad scientists and the scientists get intelligence from the kaiju which helps our Jaeger team.
There is a Jaeger manned by Chinese Wei triplets (Charles Luu, Lance Luu and Mark Luu ) but they are just like politically correct filler. The Russian team of Aleksis and Sasha Kaidanovsky (Robert Maillet and Heather Doerksen) get more screen time but both the Chinese and the Russian Jaegers are soon eliminated which brings up the TOS Star Trek red-shirt debate. The Aussie Jaeger will have a good go at it (with an injured Herc replaced by Stacker) but you know that Raleigh with the help of Mako and Mako helped by Raleigh will triumph.
The solution involves detonating a nuclear weapon at the underwater portal. Did the writers forget that is how the most famous kaiju was created? This is perhaps the most striking consideration for kaiju fans. The original Godzilla movie was seen as a protest against nuclear testing in the Bikini islands, coming out the same year that the crew members of the tuna fishing ship Lucky Dragon 5 were exposed to radiation. Daigo Fukuryū Maru (第五福竜丸) was not in the zone where the U.S. have designated as a test zone. The Castle Bravo thermonuclear device was twice as powerful as the scientific data had predicted. On March 1, 1954, the wind carried ash and radiation to where the ship was stationed and of the 23 fishermen, 11 died of radiation poisoning. The Daigo Fukuryū Maru is currently on display in Tokyo. The 1954 incident was a catalyst for the Japanese anti-nuclear movement.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster has brought renewed public interest in the trawler and Fukushima brings up another concern–tsunami. Would a nuclear detonation cause a tsunami that would effect those insignificant islands such as Japan, New Zealand and the Philippines who were likely not protected by a wall? I don’t believe that the Latin American countries on the Pacific Rim are represented at all.
No commentary on the whitewashing would be complete without mentioning that the Chinese American technician who is supposed to be the brain behind the Jaegers is played by Clifton Collins Jr. The Los Angeles-born Collins who plays Tendo Choi is of German and Mexican descent. Does he pass for you as Chinese?
I suppose that the Japanese were probably battling their own kaiju such as Godzilla and couldn’t take a time out for these new kaiju. The absence of Japan and Honda’s ASIMO technology might explain why the Jaeger are as heavy-footed as the 1905s Godzilla and not as quiet as ASIMO. I suppose every Godzilla film needs a Raymond Burr to explain things and help save the Japanese. I suppose a lot of things haven’t changed since the 1950s when Godzilla first came out.
I do wonder if the kaiju are too busy monologuing to have a full force attack on the people above ground. But I also wonder who fabulous a Chow Yun-Fat or Tony Leung might have been as Hannibal Chau. So many actors could have been Tendo Choi. You think there must be some actors in the Pacific Rim that could have made the time and been up to the relatively undemanding acting levels required here.
Even if you forgive the white man saves the world theme and the whitewashing, the Jaegers are too slow and clunky (but make a great action figure toy) to claim victory over the kaiju. “Pacific Rim” lacks logic within its own universe and the acting is as plodding as the rock-em sock-em robots. Will the kaiju mutate and come back as Godzilla’s lesser known irradiated cousins? Only time will tell since this movie has been highly successful worldwide. I’m waiting for Mattel to produce the rock-em sock-em robots Pacific Rim Jaeger edition. A good idea that someone should jump on before Christmas (although “Pacific Rim” hasn’t been doing well in Japan).