REVIEW: Pacific Rim: The Black is a Fun Return To Form For the Franchise

The protagonists in Pacific Rim: The Black.

Netflix’s Pacific Rim: The Black marks the second (and most successful) time that Legendary Pictures has attempted to recapture the magic of 2011’s Pacific Rim. Three years after the most recent movie (2018’s Pacific Rim: Uprising) and ten years after the franchise began, The Black is a return to form for the kaiju versus mech franchise. 

Pacific Rim: The Black

Greg Johnson and Craig Kyle (creators, writers, and executive producers), Paul Giacoppo and Nicole Dubuc (writers), Masayuki Uemoto, Susumi Sugai, and Takeshi Iwata (directors)
Gideon Adlon, Calum Worthy, Erica Lindbeck, and Victoria Grace (cast)
Based on Pacific Rim by Guillermo Del Toro and Travis Beachum

Set in the same universe as Guillermo Del Toro and Travis Beachum’s 2011 film, The Black follows siblings Hayley and Taylor Travis in an even more post-apocalyptic setting than the other entries into the series. Set in a ruined Australia that has lost the fight against the kaiju, the Travises are two of the last humans in the entirety of Australia, having spent the past five years in a hidden grotto as they wait for their parents to return. Following a devastating attack on their home that leaves Hayley and Taylor as the sole survivors, the Travises set out to cross the continent in a weaponless training jaeger named Atlas Destroyer in the hopes of reuniting with their parents. 

Five years before the start of the series, protagonists Taylor (right, voiced by Callum Worthy) and Taylor (left, voiced by Gideon Adlon) watch as their parents leave to get help.
Five years before the start of the series, protagonists Taylor (right, voiced by Callum Worthy) and Hayley (left, voiced by Gideon Adlon) watch as their parents leave the grotto. Copyright: NETFLIX

In its attempt to carve out its own space within the franchise, The Black takes a key step to differentiate itself from the previous installments. While Pacific Rim focused on a large group of people coming together in humanity’s darkest hour and doing everything it takes to secure a future for humanity in the face of annihilation, The Black acts on a smaller scale, focusing instead on two siblings with a more personal goal.  By choosing to tell a more personal, smaller story, The Black is able to feel unique while still telling a story set in a familiar universe. 

Despite this novel approach, The Black still echoes back to the previous installments, both in the opening of the series (which consists of a flashback showing a fight between a kaiju and a jaeger, and the loss of loved ones) and in the score. Composed by Brandon Campbell (Slender-Man), the music emulates the fun scores of the movies that came before. This is best seen in the similarities between the track “Call Me Newt” from Pacific Rim and the track “I’ve Had Worse Benders” from The Black

Pacific Rim The Black protagonists Hayley (right, voiced by Gideon Adlon) and Taylor (left, voiced by Callum Worthy).
Protagonists Hayley (right, voiced by Gideon Adlon) and Taylor (left, voiced by Callum Worthy). Copyright: NETFLIX

While The Black draws on concepts introduced in the first film (the black market sale of kaiju body parts being particularly significant in the third episode), it still feels fresh even when in decidedly familiar territory.  This is largely attributed, once again, to the smaller scale of the story. The choice to tell Hayley and Taylor’s story is a smart narrative decision that was integral to making the show work. Without it, the show would not be nearly as good as it is.

Despite the overall high quality of the story, The Black is more often than not missing an integral aspect of the franchise: actual fights between jaegers and kaiju. However, that doesn’t mean that the show is without its action sequences. Most of the fights shown in the first three episodes are actually between humans and kaiju without the assistance of jaegers. The second episode begins with Atlas Destroyer running out of power, leading the Travises to search a ruined city for power cells. In the process, they run into smaller dog-like kaiju and are forced to confront them without their jaeger. The third episode then features a humans versus kaiju fight against a fish-like river-dwelling kaiju. While it’s understandable if that the creators didn’t want to overcrowd the series with too many larger scale fights, it’s more than a little disappointing that there are so few of the mech-based actions sequences that the franchise is known for. 

The Travises’ Jaeger, Atlas Destroyer
The Travises’ Jaeger, Atlas Destroyer. Copyright: NETFLIX

All in all, despite the fact that Pacific Rim: The Black isn’t exactly the same as Pacific Rim, it still takes the franchise in an exciting new direction that feels fresh yet respectful of what came before. Both new fans and old fans alike will find themselves at the very least entertained.

Reagan Anick

Reagan Anick

Reagan is an aspiring eldritch horror who can often be found screeching into the void. She goes by rhymeswpicard on twitter.