Pacific Rim 2 is a bad movie. There’s a hollow love triangle, which is only really addressed during a lengthy ice-cream eating scene. And there’s a brief waft of tension as the teenage genius tries to integrate with a squad of adult Jaeger cadets, which feels pretty high-school. But otherwise the writing, dialogue, and story are all matchsticks holding up the giant robot and monster fights. Robots and monsters who seem to revel more in property damage than actual fisticuffs.
In the opening narration Boyega, playing a character who lives off the scraps of dead Jaegers, tells us that the smaller Pacific nations have suffered complete financial collapse–unable to survive the crippling debt caused by excessive infrastructure damage from prior battles. Then in the very first fight scene we see Gypsy Danger *ahem* Gypsy Avenger, piloted by Boyega, using a tractor whip to pull skyscrapers down on a monster. Skyscrapers which prove to be about as dangerous to the enemy as a falling stack of popcorn buckets. It seems our protagonist forgot his own narration about financial damage…But I digress.
No, the real gold to be mined from this movie happens in the background. The most interesting plot points are creeping behind the action, like a plot-tease. Quietly. Subtly. Sometimes in a single throw-away line of dialogue. And those are the little glimpses into the lore we’ll be focusing on. Those tiny glimmers of actual story; those are the hidden movies we’ll be discussing, and how three little details would have made for amazing Pacific Rim sequels.
Wiki Commons / Google Images
In less time than it took to read the entry title, a strange detail is revealed about the cadets and how they train to operate the Jaegerbots. They have, at their disposal, a brain in a jar. And we’re given to understand that this brain has some level of consciousness, it lives in the academy, and it pops out of the ceiling anytime someone needs a co-pilot to mentally train with.
To really grasp this brain-training-companion-weirdness, we’ll need to lay some groundwork about how the giant robots operate. Two pilots are required to keep a Jaeger in motion. One pilot acts as the robot’s left brain, and the other pilot operates the right brain. The Jaeger cannot function without both pilots…except when this rule is broken for dramatic plot convenience, but we’re ignoring that for now. Two pilots. At all times. Or the robot doesn’t move. Got it?
These pilots are also required to mind-link with each other. They call it “drifting” because calling it a “mind-link” out loud by a human mouth would reveal how idiotic this process is. It’s much better to conjure images of this…
Google Images / Tokyo Drift
It’s also important to note that two pilots must be “drift compatible” which means they can sync their minds. They must be able to handle delving into each others’ memories and feelings. Mostly so the director can conveniently show us scenes of their childhoods getting wrecked by Kaiju. This trauma frequently makes them incompatible with each other as drift partners. Until they try really, really hard in Act II, since drift incompatibility hasn’t permanently benched any pilots in either movie.
This is where the brain in a jar comes in. Sarah (as she is named by Boyega) is used, by the cadets, to practice their drift skills. In a sneeze-and-you’ll-miss-it scene we’re told that Sarah is compatible with all pilots, which makes her a go-to tool for Jaeger drift training. And then they tell us…nothing else. Her pod is whisked back up into the ceiling. Sarah is forgotten by the characters. And the two protagonists go back to pretending there’s a plot somewhere in this movie.
I have so many questions. And the only source of information I could find came from a SciFi Stackexchange forum that provided a lot of “This seems logical to me…” answers from fans with no solid support.
Who the hell is Sarah? Is she a clone? Tissue cloning is established in this movie universe, so is Sarah a blank brain in a vault they use like X-Box? Was Sarah a person? Is Sarah so emotionally passive that she can drift with anyone? Did Sarah die in combat? Was she crushed in her Jaeger? Would a tragic death-by-robots make her more, or less drift-compatible? When pilots link with her mind, do they see a yawning chasm of nothingness where her memories should be? What stimuli does her brain get when she’s not drifting with real people? How do they keep the brain from atrophying when it’s up in its dark ceiling hole? Why isn’t anyone offering ice-cream to Sarahbrain?
I would watch a movie about a brain in a jar being used like Flight Simulator any day. Especially if it involved a bright cadet who learns to love a stranger’s brain–a brain which awakens after it interacts with the memories of said bright young cadet.
Speaking of movies about a bright young cadet…
Google Images / Youtube
Amara, played by Cailee Spaeny, is a genius. After watching her parents get Monty Python’d under the foot of a Kaiju at age 5(ish) she starts building her own Jaeger from scrap metal, like a tiny Astronaut Farmer. Let’s all take a moment to process that.
From her tragic Batman origin story, to when we first see her in the movie, she has passed from toddler to teenager. In that time gap, at a transitional age when most children can’t be trusted around the stove, Amara has accomplished several behind-the-scenes feats. She has;
- Kept herself fed and clothed seemingly without support.
- Thrived in a violent and treacherous slum.
- Stolen from several rival gangs and scrappers.
- Stayed off the radar of the local government.
- Educated herself beyond basic literacy, to to the point of writing complex computer code.
- Built a giant robot durable enough to save the protagonists at the end of the movie.
And I ask; why aren’t we watching a movie about Amara? Because clearly she’s the hero we deserve.
When making her character the screenwriter could have scribbled “Batman+Ironman, but poverty” on the back page. If we eliminated Boyega or Eastwood from the movie, removed the ridiculous love triangle, and centered the movie around Amara being discovered in the slums with chunkier Big Hero 6, we’d have an epic movie.
“In the unlikely event that you’re crippled for life we’ll get you some fancy robo-legs.”
— Hugh Jackman, Real Steel
Google Images / Pacific Rim Wiki
If one brain in one jar is a fun plot device, why not use it three or four more times? As the movie reaches its middle we discover that mad scientist Dr. Newton Geiszler has a secret. After the conclusion of the last movie, Newton managed to steal the Kaiju brain from the government lab and secret it away in his downtown apartment. There he’s been mind-linking with the brain every night, letting the strange alien thoughts mesh with his own. Also, he named the brain Alice. We know this because he wrote it on the jar. In blood. Probably Newton’s.
Later, in a twist of villainy that was
inspired by ripped off from Neon Genesis Evangelion, the same alien brain is cloned into several drone Jaegers, creating the coolest moment of the movie. Kaiju-Jaeger hybrids with drone brains.
Google Images / Pacific Rim Uprising
Wait. Hold on. Why wasn’t the landing pad cleared? Sure, the drones turning hostile was a surprise. But what military fills a landing strip with people before dozens of heavy machines are dropped off by helicopter?
Why wasn’t Newton’s heist and descent into madness the entire plot of the movie? Act 1: a daring government theft by a trusted scientist to whisk the alien mind to safety. Act 2: the slow realization by Newton that the brain he’s in love with doesn’t love him back, and might be manipulating him, while he struggles to appear normal during a tense investigation. Act 3: Newton accepts that he has become the villain, and sets his mad Jaeger-Kaiju drone strike into play.
Game. Set. Match.
Let’s go one step further. Because I believe we could have the best of all worlds. We really can. Imagine the following movie, involving all of our hidden plots:
- The heist of the kaiju brain by lovesick hero-turned-villain Dr. Newton.
- A security footage tape of the pier where Amara’s family was killed, being reviewed by investigators.
- The investigators interview Amara, who has been evading custody for years.
- We discover that Amara was finally caught because her giant robot saved her from a violent gang.
- Eastwood intervenes, saving her from a prison sentence.
- Realizing that revenge on the Kaiju (who are actually gone in this movie) is impossible, she agrees to join the military.
- While investigating Amara, Eastwood finds her scrapper robot, and begrudgingly agrees to bring it along.
- Newton gets his brain scrambled by the alien mind, and barely avoids getting caught up in the search for the kaiju brain.
- Amara, unable to drift, discovers Sarah the Brain. They strike up a friendship.
- Plotlines progress. Eastwood mentors Amara. Newton ‘rides the snake.’ Amara has a journey of self discovery with Sarah.
- Newton sends the hybrid drones to attack. The old Jaegers, in mothballs, are torn apart. Things look bleak.
- Amara, knowing that the brain-in-a-jar Sarah has accumulated thousands of hours of combat experience through simulations with the cadets, installs Sarahbrain into her scrapper robot.
- Badass fight scene where Sarah-in-Scrapper goes sickhouse on the larger drone hybrids.
- Meanwhile, Amara and Eastwood track down and defeat Newton before he can play the same trick–installing the original, stolen Kaiju brain into his illegally built Obsidian Fury Jaeger.
- Newton is stopped, but not soon enough. Obsidian Fury goes online with Alice the Kaiju brain inside.
- Sarah-in-Scrapper vs Alice-in-Obsidian Fury. Fight!
Heroic story arc? Check. Zero convoluted love triangles? Check. Empowerment? Check. A hero and villain who experience parallel trauma and come to terms with it in opposing ways? Double-check!