Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Pacific Rim: Just Build Giant Robots to Keep the Problem Out

[Warning: Contains Spoilers]

I’ll be honest—I loved Pacific Rim. The movie gave me exactly what it advertised: giant monsters (rightfully called Kaiju from the Japanese “kaijuu” [“strange beast”] and the genre of films introduced by Japan) battling giant robots (appropriately called Jaegers, from the German "jager" ["hunter"]) piloted by a motley crew of characters that fit the best action movie archetypes. It was Godzilla meets Gundam, so of course I was on board!

Guess which ones the plot is going to force into a romantic relationship!

A lot of other people liked the movie as well: the movie received a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 7/10 on IMBD. Although it was panned by critics, who clearly don’t have an appreciation for great art.

The movie takes place in the year 2025, twelve years after the Kaiju first appear out of the depths of the Pacific Ocean from an interdimensional portal in the Marianna Trench (called the “Breach”). The Kaiju—as giant beasts are wont to do—make their way out of the Breach and proceed to smash the hell out of the Pacific Rim cities. In an attempt to fend off this interdimensional menace, the United Nations comes up with the Jaeger Program—using giant robots to fight off the creatures. Seems legit, right?

What could possibly go wrong?

Except—surprise, surprise—the Jaegers aren’t as effective as the U.N. had initially hoped. (Using giant robots to battle giant monsters isn’t effective in deterring destruction? I guess the guys who thought up the program failed to catch any episodes of Power Rangers. Or any of the Godzilla movies. Or any kaijuu film…)

Clearly, the best line of defense against giant monsters.

Thus, the world’s leaders call for an end to the Jaeger Program, and instead begin to build giant coastal walls. (Because walls keep all unwanted things out, right?) To add to the insanity of this defense proposal, the commander of the Jaegers, Stacker Pentecost (best character name ever, by the way), wants to send a nuclear bomb into the Breach. It needs to be addressed here that such an assault had been attempted before by previous Jaeger pilots, only to end in failure.

Because this won’t end badly for all involved…

There’s also a heavy-handed subplot involving the romantic interplay of Mako (the Jaeger commander’s adopted daughter) and Raleigh (the reluctant hero with a tragic, but relatable, past). And a delightful appearance by a scientist who clearly knows what the hell he’s doing, but nobody in a position of power will listen to him.

Nevertheless, the humans win the day in the end and our main characters float off into the sunset to, probably, have copious amounts of sex that the screenwriters were kind enough to leave to the imaginations of the audience.

All in all, Pacific Rim is a standard action film, really only standing out because of its brilliant use of giant creatures and its strong message about immigration.

Wait, what?

It's a fairly conservative argument, too. The overarching message appears to be that, when faced with an invasion of foreign bodies, the best course of action is to destroy them. Take them down, no holds barred. Of course, there is no need to figure out what they want or why they’re here—just beat the invaders down with as much force as the government can muster.

When that doesn’t work, trying blowing up wherever the invaders come from and maybe there won’t be any more of them to come crawling back to mess up our stuff.

And when that doesn’t work, build a giant wall to keep them out.

Impenetrable defense.

In the film, the U.N. becomes very pro-military (as do most of the world’s leaders), which is a bit out of character for the typically peaceful organization. As soon as the first cities are messed up, they call for military action.

The Jaegers, meanwhile, represent the active military force  tasked with destroying any foreign creatures that dare approach the pristine shore of the United States/Japan/etc. They are encouraged to take out the menace by any means necessary.

Impenetrable defense.

Throughout the action, nobody is trying to figure out how to stem the flow of the invaders spare for a handful of scientists that want to know why they’re coming and what they want. And they do so by plugging their brains directly into a deceased Kaiju’s brain—the ultimate exercise in empathy!

Admittedly, this ends badly…

It turns out that the Kaiju are, in fact, hostile, and were created with the sole purpose of destroying the human population. But until this revelation, this purpose was not necessarily clear.

Yes, the Kaiju came forward and destroyed the coastal cities on the Pacific Rim (hey, the movie’s name!). But so did Godzilla when he first appeared. Only Godzilla was given the chance to redeem himself, and became a benefit to the Japanese defense forces when Rodan or Ghidorah decided to come down and wreck Japan.

Godzilla was allowed to prove himself as a useful foreign body. The Kaiju, however, are never offered this chance.

The first Kaiju wreck the place—of course they do, they’re giant monsters that don’t yet have an understanding of the tiny creatures running around, screaming and dodging flaming detritus. And they’re never given the opportunity to co-exist.

After the first Kaiju attacks, the U.N. and the world’s leaders call for the creation of the Jaeger program. Any benefits the Kaiju may have wanted to bestow upon mankind are immediately crushed by the robotic fists of the Jaegers. Hell, even if the Kaiju were just refugees escaping a terrible menace in their own dimension, they’re killed off before they can attempt to communicate their case for survival.

Which, admittedly, some conservatives are in favor of…

Furthermore, whenever a Kaiju is approaching, it is immediately met with hostility. The Jaegers are sent out at the first sight of an oncoming Kaiju. Of course the Kaiju would fight back in this situation—any human being probably would, too! This military brutality becomes commonplace for the Kaiju, who come to meet the oncoming forces with like violence. It's what they've been conditioned to do.

It is only when the scientist, Newton, finally convinces Pentecost to listen to him that any real progress is made with the Kaiju. Now the Jaeger force knows what the creatures want, and can come up with an effective method to deal with them. Before this point, the Jaegers are fighting blindly. Imagine—empathizing with a foreign group helps one better handle them.

Or, you know, keep beating on them. Whatever works.

Overall, the message of Pacific Rim appears to be anti-immigration. After all, the Kaiju aren’t seeking refuge on foreign shores, they’re out to destroy them. Also, the Kaiju kill anyone who attempts to empathize with them. The scientists themselves are goofy and misguided, clearly more driven to understand the menace than destroy it like the more “noble” humans who seek to destroy the Kaiju. The best course of action for the human race appears to be killing the invaders, or at the very least trying our best to keep them from coming ashore.

However, such a conservative message is not out of the ordinary for action films. Most action film main characters are more keen to destroy their enemies than to understand their motives. Of course this would be the case—the audience comes to action films for the entertainment, not the political intrigue. That’s why we cheer when Arnold Schwarzenegger kills the bad guys in True Lies, or when Bruce Willis does the same in Die Hard. It’s easier to destroy what we don’t understand than to try and understand it.

Pacific Rim is an entertaining movie with an ax to grind about immigration—and the fact that it’s so subtle a conservative message adds an element of terror to the action.


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