Kaiju Flashback: One Problem With 'Pacific Rim 2' (Opinion)
Guillermo del Toro's monster movie is getting a follow-up, but the story pretty much wrapped up the first time out.
Wait, wait, wait. A sequel to Pacific Rim?
That Guillermo del Toro is developing a second Pacific Rim movie wasn't that much of a surprise; it's been rumored for awhile, with Legendary's Thomas Tull all but confirming it in recent comments. But it's actually a sequel?
Don't get me wrong; I'm not arguing that Pacific Rim is one of those movies that was so good that any kind of follow-up would be like Da Vinci trying to repaint the Mona Lisa. In fact, I'm one of those people unpopular on the nerdternet who think that Pacific Rim is — whisper it for fear of retribution — not actually that good. But something that it gets right is that it actually has an ending.
By the end of Pacific Rim — spoiler alert — the threat of the Kaiju is pretty definitively dealt with. It's not just that the portal to their dimension was closed, but that a nuclear explosion closed it — an explosion that destroyed all of the Kaiju and their alien masters in the process. The story was all wrapped up, complete with a noble sacrifice by one of the leads: Poor Stacker Pentecost, we hardly knew ye beyond your outrageous name and powers of speechifying. Now your sacrifice apparently means nothing beyond humanity getting a brief reprieve from Kaiju rampages. (Here's hoping that Idris Elba returns as his own twin brother, Doublestack Pentecost).
Of course, all it takes is for del Toro and co-writer Zak Penn to write the words "Oh, look, it's another portal! And the aliens are back with nuclear-explosion-resistant Kaiju!" But such a move would undo the ending of the first movie in a way that, say, The Empire Strikes Back doesn't undo Star Wars, which takes pains to show that Darth Vader survives to threaten the galaxy far far away again. Bringing back Pacific Rim's bad guys for a second go-round feels more like a bait and switch, one that also ramps up the threat level to ridiculous heights: How do you top a nuclear bomb?
(There are ways to do follow-ups to Pacific Rim that don't undermine the first film's arc, mind you, not least of which would be to set the Jaeger against an entirely different threat that has nothing to do with Kaiju. However, del Toro's video message explicitly promises "More Kaiju, more Jaegers, kicking each other's butts," so I think we're locked into some type of rerun.)
The first movie left a lot of Kaiju/Jaeger backstory open for future exploration. Pacific Rim shows the beginning and end of the invasion, but — save for a few brief flashbacks — largely skips everything in between. Expanding on that backstory would seem perfect for a second movie (especially considering that fans of the first movie have been vocal about wanting to see it), but it appears that material will be left for spinoffs; del Toro's video promises an animated series and follow-ups to co-creator Travis Beacham's Tales From Year Zero graphic novel in addition to the sequel.
With so little information to go on, there's always the chance — the hope — that del Toro, Penn and Beacham have a plan that'll open the story back up without stepping too heavily on the toes of what went before. If nothing else, a straight-up sequel offers the chance for Mako Mori to have a storyline that isn't just based around her getting saved by her male co-workers. Redress that balance a little and maybe Pacific Rim 2 will seem a little less like an unnecessary attempt to cash in on the international success of the first.