Can 'Pacific Rim' Support Its Own Cinematic Universe?

Is there more to the franchise than giant robots fighting monsters? It depends where you look.
Courtesy of Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures
'Pacific Rim: Uprising'

Even before Pacific Rim: Uprising reached theaters, the prospect of an expanded Pacific Rim universe has been raised by filmmakers, with Uprising writer/director Steven S. DeKnight talking about the potential of spinoff projects months ahead of its release. For the fans of the original 2013 movie who kept the giant Jaeger robots alive as memes long after the film had left theaters, this is doubtlessly good news, but for everyone else, there’s a basic question left to be answered: Is there actually a universe to be found out in the Drift?

On the evidence of the two movies, the jury is still out. While there’s something to be said for sticking to the strengths of the franchise — which is to say, focusing on the very simple appeal of “Giant Robots Driven by People Fighting Big Monsters” — there’s an argument to be said that neither Pacific Rim nor Uprising really make the case for the franchise having any greater depth beyond that; even the extra-terrestrial origins and abilities of the Kaiju are treated with a lack of interest beyond “They’re from somewhere else and can do whatever the plot demands,” with any potential exploration of the subject pushed out, twice now, to future installments. On the evidence of the movies alone, Pacific Rim is a franchise curiously disinterested in its own potential.

Yet, Pacific Rim has never been solely a movie series. The first pic’s arrival was accompanied by Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero, a comic book anthology written by Travis Beachum, the screenwriter of the original movie and creator of the franchise. Set a year before the movie, it filled in backstory that there wasn’t time for onscreen about the origin of the Jaeger program and the relationship between Raleigh Becket and his brother before the death that pushed Raleigh away from the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps ahead of the film’s opening.

Ahead of Uprising, too, there are multiple comic book prequels filling in the blanks around the movie and trying to build the world in which the films take place. Both Pacific Rim: Aftermath and the webcomic Pacific Rim: Amara take place in the 10-year gap of story time between the pics and, on the evidence of released episodes to date — both continue to run after the movie’s release — both demonstrate potential directions for the property to develop in, should the interest be there.

A common thread between the two — feeding directly into Uprising — is the rise of what could best be called amateur Jaegers; the idea that a world in which the military had created giant robots would have to eventually include people trying to reverse engineer the technology for their own purposes, creating entire subcultures in the process (including a criminal underworld dedicated to the buying and selling of stolen tech).

Similarly, Aftermath revives one of the original film’s most popular characters — Hannibal Chau, played by Ron Perlman — with an unexpected, yet entirely logical, new mission: genetic experimentation with Kaiju DNA. Again, this leads into themes of Uprising, but is presented in such a way that, like the reverse-engineering Jaeger technology, doesn’t feed into the same story of Giant Robots vs. Monsters, but suggests that other stories could be told in this world.

In a sense, the existing spinoffs from Pacific Rim make a far stronger case for the movies expanding outwards than the films themselves, by the simple fact of being forced to stay away from the same stories that the movies have covered twice already. There’s potential to be found in the Pacific Rim universe, as long as you know where to look, but based on the two pics to date, it’s unclear whether or not it’s potential filmmakers are interested in exploring.