I saw Pacific Rim last night, and while it was visually stunning, the narrative was just dreadful. The 'science' bugged me as well (the drift, the amount of time to engineer the Jaegers, helicopters delivering jaegers, the amount of time it takes for kaiju to swim from the mid-Pacific to anywhere coastal--I mean these things would have to be swimming at supersonic speeds, just...*gah*), but let's call it fantasy and not science fiction and accept the 'science' as part of that world. So yes, the narrative really brings the film down more than anything else. How to fix?
Make Mako the protagonist. The Alaska guy is boring, and it's a bit mystifying why he was chosen as a protagonist when Mako clearly has the best story to tell. Did Guillermo Del Toro not consider telling the story from her perspective? Even Idris Elba's character had a better story. Hannibal Chow had a better story. Newt had a better story. Max the dog had a better story. Which is part of the problem too--too many characters have too much development time. This would be great if Pacific Rim was a TV show and had a languorous 13 or 25 episode arc, but it wasn't and didn't. Still, it's better than the Transformers franchise (I need to mentally cross myself when I think of it, and I'm no longer even Catholic). I really, really hope that Mako wasn't overlooked because she's female.
Here's how I would have set up the story:
Open with the scene of Mako being chased through (Tokyo?) by a Kaiju. It's strong, emotional, and shocking. We instantly care for the kid (and are not-so-subtly reminded of the girl in the red coat from Shindler's List). End with Idris Elba emerging from his Jaeger (bleeding at the nose because he was solo or whatever). An audience fresh to the film wouldn't know that the Jaeger is a good guy, so Idris's emergence would give us a shift of perspective and hook us into this whole jaeger thing without being bludgeoned over the head with narrated backstory.
Scene of Mako training, perhaps in a simulator because I don't get why martial arts are so important in this world (except that it seems to be in keeping with the whole anime vibe. It's like dancing on Bruce Lee's grave to throw in plotless, emotionless martial arts scenes, but whatever). Enter Idris Elba, trying to discourage her from entering the jaeger program--which since this is now strictly fantasy, can be in Hong Kong from the beginning, without the military/UN braindead higherups. The main obstacle to the jaeger program should be lack of resources and a losing war to increasingly adaptive kaiju; bureaucracy doesn't need to be dog-piled on, nor a clearly ineffectual and resource costly wall--I mean, think of the fisheries? How will most of the human population get their protein--I'm sorry, that's science, and this is fantasy. *sigh*.
Anyway, their father/daughter, sensei/student relationship is revealed, and you care about both of them. And you can also find out that he's no longer a pilot but in charge of the program, so you know, he has decision making power and stuff (will he be just and fair? Let's be intrigued and find out).
They are interrupted by a kaiju alert! Idris Elba (I love typing that name) rushes off to deal with it and we are introduced to the science and ops people, but no long back stories! Maybe throw in a few women with speaking roles*! Let's get crazy!
Idris Elba sends Alaska guy and his brother off to fight the kaiju. Boat gets in the way (I mean who the hell is still out trying to earn a living crabbing after big-ass aliens come through a rift in the ocean floor?), boat gets rescued, brother dies, Alaska guy kills kaiju and solos it to have his jaeger die dramatically on a snow-swept beach, just as in the movie. Now we care about Alaska guy. A bit, because we've seen jaegers win, and now we know they are vulnerable so the death of the pilot has a lot more meaning, and everyone back at HK HQ can react to it with heavy hearts (I mean, show some actual wartime grief).
The kaiju body is recovered, and we get treated to a gory autopsy, similar to the one in the movie. No subplot of Hannibal Chow needed (even though I really liked his character--to the chopping block with him!) Technobabble ensues about imaging the beast's brain to figure out how to close the rift (I refuse to call it a throat). Use a friggin' fMRI machine instead of the drift thing (hells bells that annoyed me). I'd have loved seeing a scene of a kaiju brain being shoved into an MRI machine.
Meanwhile Mako sees an opportunity to step up to the plate, and approaches Alaska guy, who is deep in grief. She could be insensitive to his feelings in her go-getting-ness. He wants nothing to do with her, and she has to work to prove her ability to him, his responsibility to humanity to keep being a pilot, and to show Idris Elba that she's no longer a victim. Maybe they have a cathartic (for both of them) martial arts training scene (alone, without people staring at them). They spar on par, and it's brutal and angry. Maybe Idris Elba spies on them. Mako and Alaska guy come to realize this is what they're both best at. This is what needs to be done. It's emotional for both! It carries the plot! No more milquetoast Alaska guy! Huzzah!
The kaiju brain gets fuzzily imaged. Maybe the brain explodes in the MRI machine (that would really satisfy my inner 13-year-old). The science peeps realize the rift is gated. They work out how to unlock it (genetic barcode is actually kind of clever, though how that's done underwater without contact between the kaiju and the gate is beyond me *sigh*).
Idris Elba concocts the plan of dumping a bomb in the gate. But wait! A pair of kaiju come up from the deep and are headed towards HK HQ! Let's send all the teams out! Russian and Chinese teams are cannon fodder, same as the movie, and Aussie dad becomes injured. Mako and Alaska, sensing the danger/opportunity, surreptitiously suit up and head out. Idris Elba is powerless to forbid them because they really are the last hope. Fight scenes progress as in the movie. Mako and Alaska guy are proven as a team.
And from here, the story can progress as it did in the movie, except we should see more of Mako's POV rather than Alaska guy's.
That's it, that's the narrative unwrinkled (and no need for that pesky drift). No long brainbashing intro about the jaeger program and the politics and the blahblahblah. Less of the horrendous science and the cheesy insight into the Hong Kong black market (because that's not a stereotype at all). It'd probably be only 90 minutes, but isn't that the length Hollywood prefers? The time it takes an ingested large Coke to reach your bladder from the beginning of a film?
*This movie did not pass the Bechdel test. At least though, the main female character didn't have a romance with Alaska guy, although I have a hunch that it wasn't thrown in specifically so that the 13 year-old boys this was aimed at wouldn't feel all squicky.