REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK starts off slow but shows great potential

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pacific rim: the black
Credit: Netflix

Set in the time after the Raleigh Beckett and Mako Moris of the world, Pacific Rim: The Black tells a bleaker tale about a world overrun by Kaiju. The Black starts off with an evacuation of the continent of Australia, as two jaeger pilots Ford (Jason Speak) and Brina Travis (Allie MacDonald) board their jaeger Hunter Vertigo to get to Sydney, leaving their two children, Taylor (Calum Worthy) and Hayley (Gideon Adlon) behind, promising their return. But, of course, time passes and soon five years have gone by and it’s still radio silence.

The best thing about The Black is that we get to jump back into the world of Pacific Rim. Created by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro in 2013, Pacific Rim has a dedicated fan base and did well both critically and among audiences. It’s popularity spawned a less successful Pacific Rim: Uprising sequel (there’s not enough time to talk about the problems there) but the love for the universe still endures. The strength in The Black comes from diving into the lore of the universe. The drifting, the jaeger piloting, the callbacks to film characters, it give us more of what we want and what we crave.

The Travis siblings’ jaeger, Atlas Destroyer, is an antique, a far cry from the deadly mechs of the early days of the war. Atlas is a test jaeger and has been stripped for parts. I has no weapons, meaning it can only engage in physical combat. This mean battles are up close and personal, and although jaegers are strong, they are no match for the ever evolving, increasingly powerful kaiju. Determined to find their parents, the siblings take Atlas toward Sydney and in a desperate attempt to find their parents. Along the way, they meet a couple curious figures.

pacific rim: the black
Credit: Netflix

The first is The Boy (Ben Diskin) a curious test subject they find in a tank at the PPDC center in town. He spends the series mostly silent, but develops a close bond with the siblings, specifically Hayley. Small hints here and there eventually lead to the major reveal of his identity. The problem with The Boy is that his plot is the most interesting, but we only get a bit of it near the end of the season. It’s definitely the most intriguing and bizarre plot but it’s that one that feels very in-universe.

Instead, most of season one, focuses on Mei (Victoria Grace) and Shane (Andy McPhee), and it’s made weaker for it. In a poor man’s Mad Max situation, we meet Shane, a mean, violent, and unrelenting leader of a posse of survivors. He’s the mustache twirling villain. Nothing likable about him and nothing dimensional either. He’s the kind of guy who threatens everyone with a bullet — even in the case where shooting said person would doom himself and the rest of his men. It makes no sense why this guy is at the top, but we have to tolerate him after he comes into contact with the siblings and realizes they have a jaeger. There’s an interesting concept with how Shane conducts interrogations, but mostly with Shane it’s a pissing match, and it’s exhausting.

Even more exhausting is Mei. Set up as the broody, angsty cold-hearted foot soldier of Shane, there are moments when Mei shows a lot of potential. But again, because none of Shane’s threats make sense to me since he seems to be the weakest link, the people cowering beneath him make less sense. Mei spends a majority of the time complaining, throwing a gun in a person’s face even though we know she won’t shoot them, pushing people away, and acting emotionally stunted. Yes, there is a lot of emotional baggage to explore here, and once we’re away from Shane, I feel hopeful for Mei. But, for the most part, she’s underdeveloped.

That’s one of the key problems of The Black. It’s far too short. There’s not enough time spent with anyone. Even after seven 20ish minute episodes, I feel like I don’t really know the main characters beyond their basic motivation. But, that’s not to say that The Black is hopeless. The series is a magnificent set up, but that’s all it is. It’s setting the board and preparing us for a better second season (or at least, I can hope). Showrunners Greg Johnson and Craig Kyle do a good job of showing the world after the big heroes are gone and it is enticing. I can only hope that its second season will prove more fruitful now that everything is set up.

Pacific Rim: The Black is now streaming on Netflix!

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