Today you get a Two-Fer: 7 and 8!
People don’t go to movies to see the villain get killed, they go to see the villain get thwarted! They want the villain to have a concrete goal and they want the hero to conclusively block that goal at the last second. We want to see the look on the villain’s face when the plan fails.
In Pacific Rim, as in the Nolan Batman movies, the villains just want random mayhem, which means that the heroes can’t possibly win: no matter what happens, mayhem will ensue. If the monsters were trying to destroy the robot base, or destroy a certain city, or make their breach permanent, or something, then we could root for them to fail. But if all the villains want to do is crunch random buildings, then we can’t root very well root for the heroes to stop that...mayhem is the whole reason we bought our ticket!
This whole movie is defined by the hero’s goal (close the breach) but its always a stonger choice to define a story around the villain’s goal.
PLUS: All-Too-Common Flaw #8: Clash of Personalities, Not Agendas
The non-robot scenes in Pacific Rim go on forever, so in order to beef up the conflict, they added an undercooked rivalry between the characters played by Charlie Hunnam and Robert Kazinsky. Every time Hunnam gets in an argument with his boss, or loses a sparring match, it cuts to Kazinsky smirking sadistically for no reason. Several times, they shout insults at each other, and once it leads to a fistfight. Why? No reason.
This is the definition of phony conflict. These two characters actually have a shared goal and the same tactics. They don’t disagree at all about how or when or why to fight the monsters...they just dislike each other.
The audience simply cannot care about these sorts of clashes. We invest in a character’s goal, and we dislike any characters who oppose that goal, but audiences don’t invest in the hero’s personality, and we could care less when others are opposed to that. In fact, we’re usually drawn not to the character with the “best” personality but simply to the character with the most personality.
When the bully insults our hero and then struts away in step with his beloved bulldog, sharing a smirk, then guess who the audience admires? Here’s a hint: the audience is always going to be on the side of the dog.