‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ Needs To Do More Than Just Feature A Diverse Cast To Give Them Justice

Pacific Rim: Uprising is now available on physical home release, but there is one much-needed conversation that has been left on the backburner ever since it hit theaters in March. This conversation does not concern the massive Kaiju or Jaeger mechs that the series has become well known for. This talk only revolves around the multiple ways people of color were represented on-screen. One may think, “slow down, do not reach on a film solely about giant robots and monsters.” Yes, the Pacific Rim films are centered around the conflict between mecha and kaiju- but the conflict is unmistakenly driven by human interaction. After all, who are the ones inside the mechas putting up a fight for humanity? Guillmero Del Toro’s Pacific Rim is a film about survivor’s guilt and the struggle in allowing others in to continue forward. This drive of the human spirit is at the core of the film’s giant-sized action. Pacific Rim is not perfect by any means, but there are a few aspects that felt like great steps forward in Hollywood. Not only did a huge blockbuster sport a strong diverse cast, but it birthed the feminist icon that is Mako Mori. Going into Uprising, one would assume that the sequel would continue the footprints left by its predecessor. This sure looked like the case just based on its promotion. The fantastic John Boyega taking the wheel with a noticeably diverse cast behind him. However, after one viewing of the final product, it seems like Uprising actually took a few steps backward.
One immediate response to this statement could be, “why does this have to be about race when you can just have fun and watch the movie?” It should be obvious that one’s enjoyment of a film would be clearly affected if they were to see someone who looks like them represented in ways they see unfit on-screen. Just because it is widely classified as an action film, does not mean that it should not be examined under a serious light. Many great inspirational role models in film come from the action genre. These words are not meant to provoke hate, only thought. This is being written with the most respect for all the filmmakers and cast that put hard work into the project. This is merely a discussion and breakdown on how representation can keep progressing in Hollywood instead of retrogressing. With this being said, here are all the steps in which Uprising moved backward.
*Please note: there are spoilers ahead if you have not seen Pacific Rim: Uprising

1. The Lack of Diversity Behind the Camera

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The sequel’s above the line crew is noticeably less diverse than the first. The first film had two big names representing Mexico behind the camera; Guillermo Del Toro (director and co-writer) and Guillermo Navarro (cinematographer). Uprising has a mainly all white above the line crew (director, cinematographer, credited list of four writers). This is not to imply that any of these people are hateful or anything that extreme. The point is that the less diverse eyes you have behind the camera make it easier for complications of representation to slide through. This critique is not so much on the crew themselves, but the studio (Legendary in this case) who hired them. However, no studio in the industry is guilt-free of this action and must realize that hiring even just a few pairs of diverse eyes can make all the difference.

2. Mako Mori is Reduced to a Plot Device

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Arguably the most iconic character in the franchise, Mako Mori became an idol for many in 2013. Rinko Kikuchi gave one of the best performances in a blockbuster that year. When fans were affirmed that she was returning for the sequel, their tickets were already sold. Who would not want to see the respected, independent and strong female lead return for a second outing? Fresh off The Force Awakens, John Boyega’s casting boosted this eagerness from audiences tenfold. Seeing Kikuchi and Boyega lead giant-sized monster battles seemed like a dream too good to be true. It turns out this dream was too good to be true. Mori is reduced to a supporting role in Uprising, which is fair considering the direction the story went. There is nothing wrong with Mako taking a backseat as the lead character’s mentor. She is the perfect role model in this universe. However, even serving in the mentor role is not enough to save Mori from being reduced to a plot device. Mori dies less than halfway through the film, and this could have been justifiable. No character is impervious to the rules of the universe.

Mako’s death could have carried weight if it was not for the sole reason to give motivation to a male. In respect, the male is her brother, but female characters dying to solely serve a male’s motivation or tipping point is a beat seen way too many in Hollywood. Mako is only in the film to serve her brother. She is first seen introducing the disgraced pilot back into the Jaeger program. She then convinces him to at least stay for a while to help new recruits. She then dies and it is here when her brother finally takes his role seriously. Without her, the male lead would not function to see the whole film through. Her death is a tool (or device) to make sure the film keeps rolling at a pace.  The film even falls into a case of ‘sequel-itis’ by repeating Mako’s character arc from the first film, but this time experienced by a younger white female. Why repeat her arc when Mako is literally right there? Mako’s origin story meant so much because it was experienced by a female of color. Repeating a very similar arc with a white character only feels less authentic.  Kikuchi and Boyega equally leading the film together sounds a lot nicer right now. She could have still died in this version as long as it carried weight and a message to drive into an audience.

3. The Main Latina Character’s Purpose is to Create Sexual Tension

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The term “main” is used because there is indeed one other Latina with screen time throughout the film. Shirley Rodriguez plays Cadet Renata- the only Latina shown in the Pan Pacific Defense Corps’ Cadet Program. She has little to no dialogue and unfortunately takes a back seat to the rest of the other cadets who were granted character work. The Latina at discussion here is Jules Reyes played by Adria Arjona. Reyes is a PPDC officer and mentor to the cadets. The film also implies that she is one of the Corps most skilled Jaeger engineers. This short description sounds like a unique role for a Latina to play in the universe. The downside is that Reyes only gets to show these traits in a few scenes. The rest of the time she is completing the love triangle between Boyega and Scott Eastwood’s characters. She teases them both which creates the “she likes me not you” mentality between both male leads. She is even last seen kissing them both on the cheek before they set off for the final battle. One would think that including a female character who clearly displays skills of kicking Kaiju butt would be utilized more than just feeding the film’s male machismo. Reyes being in the love triangle is not necessarily the problem. She could have still filled this role if she was only given way more opportunities to show that she can be a way stronger character of her own. Her few scenes in the film are simply not enough. Having Latinas constrained to simple sexual tension roles is a way too common stereotype in the industry.

4. People of Color are the Only Prominent Characters Who Die

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When one takes a moment to count all the fatalities in Uprising, this criticism becomes more obvious. Many white and non-white crowds die at the feet of Kaiju, but only supporting characters will be counted here. Mori’s death starts the chain of people of color being the only unlucky ones in the film. Marshal Quan played by Jin Zhang of the PPDC follows after. His death was already blatantly shown in trailers and TV spots. This already establishes the character to be not as important or replaceable (could also be seen as the token Asian military role). Cadet Suresh played by Karan Brar ends this chain of death in the third act as the only cadet who loses his life in the final battle. He gets enough screen time to establish himself as an underdog among the cadets. He is often the subject of ridicule during friendly banter. He does not let this bring him down for his perseverance to save the day is enough to get him to the third act, despite showing fear like anybody else would. His being the only death among the final cadets is very strange considering that his character was being hinted at more than being comedic relief. Unfortunately, the script leaves him with just being another Indian character who mainly served as comedic relief (Dopinder in the Deadpool series is another example). These three deaths also become even more strange when two Caucasian characters almost die and get to survive the same or similar dilemmas. Scott Eastwood was lucky enough to survive an injury directly from inside his Jaeger’s head. Cadet Ilya played by Levi Meaden was Suresh’s Russian co-pilot but somehow came out okay through their Jaeger’s rubble. This is probably a coincidence unseen by the filmmakers, but through many other eyes it seems odd that two Caucasian characters avoided death while three people of color lost their lives in the same or similar situations.

5. Credit Where it is Due

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Addressing the positive aspects complete the circle of film criticism. People of color getting the opportunity to lead tentpole films is a practice that Hollywood is somehow barely realizing to be successful. Boyega effortlessly carries the film on his shoulders while still proving to fans why they like him in the first place. By the end of the film, one would have seen his charm, charisma, and firm attitude. The character of Liwen Shao played by Tian Jing is the film’s other good example. She is first introduced with the implication that she will be a soulless and greedy villain. When it is revealed that she is not, she steps up to the plate to fight for her name and humanity. Proving that her strict and sometimes mean personality does not mean that she is soulless. How else is she supposed to lead a male-dominated tech company? Her decision to even get in on the Jaeger action in the third act proves how strong she is through her independence. The only questions to be raised here are: why did we have to lose Mori to allow Shao the screen time she deserves? Why must films get rid of one of these roles to allow another to squeeze in? Seeing Mori and Shao interact and work together to fight Kaiju would have been pure awesomeness for the eyes. Unfortunately, they share little screen time in the film and are hinted at being at odds with one another. The goal should not be to put these similar characters against each other but to team them together. It should not be improbable to give characters like Mori and Shao equal screen time in the same film. The Last Jedi made it look easy to give female characters like Rey, Rose, Holdo, and Leia enough screen time to shine. This is a big lesson the industry should learn from here on out

When examining all the promotion for Uprising hitting home release, one would see diversity being pushed to the forefront. After watching the actual film, they would have seen these characters pushed to the back under stereotypical labels with little to no dialogue. This becomes more obvious when one realizes that the Jaeger with the least screen time from the main four is the only one piloted by more than one person of color. It takes more to drive in the meaning of diversity than just featuring it. Uprising is not the only current film to be guilty of this, but this conversation never had its due at the forefront. It mainly being seen as just an action movie helped it avoid this conversation until now. Action films often generate the most money and attention in the industry. With so many people paying to see these films, it is only right that they get the same criticism in their own right. Diversity should mean something in every genre.

 

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