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Josh Reviews Pacific Rim: Uprising

March 29th, 2018
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I wasn’t expecting that much from Pacific Rim: Uprising, and yet, the film still managed to underwhelm me.  The film isn’t bad; it’s perfectly unoffensive yet instantly forgettable.

I was super-excited for the first Pacific Rim, back in 2013.  Any new film from Guillermo del Toro is cause for excitement, and the film’s giant-robots-fighting-giant-monsters concept looked delicious.  And yet, I didn’t love that first film.  It was gorgeous-looking, beautifully designed and conceptualized; the action was tremendous; the cast was great. And yet I found the characters to be flat and the story-arcs superficial and predictable, so I didn’t invest in the story nearly as deeply as I felt I should have.

I was surprised when a sequel was announced, as the first film was not much of a hit.  (Apparently it made money overseas.)  But I was excited by the potential for a second film to take this great concept and take another swing at doing it justice.  When it was announced that Guillermo del Toro would not be directing, I was bummed, and as glimpses of the sequel started to be released (posters, trailers, etc.), I was not that taken by what I saw.  Still, I had hope.

The sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising is set ten years after the first film and centers around Jake (John Boyega), the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first film.  Jake used to be a Jaeger (those are the giant monster-fighting robots) pilot, but he washed out.  Now he is drawn back into things and forced to mentor a group of younger cadets, including the young technical wizard Amara (Cailee Spaeny).  The world thought that the Kaiju (the giant monsters) threat was finished, but, wouldn’t you know it, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

There are a lot of characters in this film, but the film completely fails to allow the auidence to get to know or care about them, at all.  John Boyega is great, as always, and he does his best to elevate every scene he’s in.  He is loose and funny and a pleasure to watch.  But his character-arc is painfully thin.  It’s clear from the first second of the film that Jake has a heart of gold and that not only will he quickly be drawn back into the Jaeger program but that he will save the day in the end.  There is nothing remotely surprising or interesting to be found.  (Mr. Boyega’s charming turn as a leading man is failed by the film around him in almost exactly the same way that Charlie Hunnam’s performance was failed by the first Pacific Rim.  It’s weird!!)  But at least Mr. Boyega is fun to watch and I knew who his character was.

I couldn’t remember the names of any other character after seeing the film.  There was the super-smart girl (her name turns out to be Amara — I looked it up, as I did all the other names I am about to mention).  The actress (Cailee Spaeny) does a fine job, but I just didn’t care about this character.  She has a tragedy in her past (just as Mako Mori, the female lead in the first film, did) that factors into one scene and then is quickly forgotten.  Amara is, for some reason, many years younger than all the other Jaeger cadets, which is weird.  Actually, I am unclear as whether she is supposed to be so much younger than the other cadets.  According to wikipedia, Ms. Spaeny is twenty years old, which is I think about the age the other cadets are supposed to be.  But watching the film, I thought her character was about thirteen.  That apparent age difference between her character and the other cadets, and also her friend/mentor/eventual Jaeger co-pilot Jake, gives many of her scenes a weird vibe.  (Like when one of the other cadets, who is much bigger than she is and who looks years older, bullies her after she first arrives.)  But I guess if Amara was supposed to be around twenty, those scenes retroactively make a little more sense.

Anyways, speaking of those cadets, I didn’t know any of their names and, when they have to step into battle at the end — which is the point at which we really should be rooting for and caring about all of these characters — they were all cyphers to me, so the drama fell flat.

Jake’s co-pilot, meanwhile, is a handsome man named Nate, played by Clint Eastwood’s son Scott.  Mr. Eastwood is perfectly fine in the film, but again, we don’t get to know him at all.  There is a thinly-sketched notion that he and Jake had a falling out years ago, but they seem to buddy up as partners again very quickly.  There’s no drama to be found there.  There is also female who seems maybe to be attracted to them both, but I never knew her name nor did the film ever allow us to know anything about her or her story, or even what her job is.  (I had assumed she was a Jaeger pilot like Jake and Nate, but at the end when they are desperate for pilots, for some reason she just stays behind in the command center.  So I guess she has some other job…?)  There is a scene when she kisses both Jake and Nate on the cheek that is amusing, but it feels like a piece at the end of a story that the film forgot to ever give us.

I was pleased to see Charlie Day and Burn Gorman back in the film, reprising their kooky scientist roles from the first film.  I especially enjoyed the direction the film went with Charlie Day’s character — I didn’t see that coming.  I was also pleased to see Rinko Kikuchi back as Mako Mori.  I like the idea that she now has an important governmental role, though I did not like how quickly and stupidly the film took her character out of play.  The film mentions Raleigh once, but doesn’t tell us anything about what happened to him, which is a bit of a bummer.  (Charlie Hunnam declined to participate in the sequel.)  I guess they wanted to keep their options open should they make any more of these.

The action is great and beautifully realized.  The look of the film lacks that special something that Guillermo del Toro brought, but this is still an impressive visual effects spectacle and the action is a lot of fun.  The score is solid, though I was disappointed that the terrific main theme from the first film (one of the best things about that first film!) was barely used here, relegated to one “fixing the Jaegers” montage towards the end of the film, and the end credits.  Why abandon such a great and memorable musical theme?

While I’m complaining, let me ask: why such a meaningless subtitle?  I am sick to death of films with the word “Rise” in the title (Rise of the Planet of the Apes; 300: Rise of an Empire; Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines; Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer; G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra), and “Uprising” is similarly meaningless and boring.

Just as I wish the character arcs were more compelling, I have the same wish about the film’s story.  Now, there are some interesting ideas in the film.  I was intrigued by the idea that, 10 years after the end of the Kaiju war, there might be rogue Jaegers in play around the world.  I was also intrigued by the idea of Jaegers controlled by Kaiju brains.  But the film didn’t delve too deeply into any of those ideas.

This film suggests that the Kaiju’s goal all along was to get to Mt. Fuji and force a massive explosion that would cover the globe in dust, thus wiping out humanity and terraforming the planet for the Kaiju invaders.  But that doesn’t jive with what we saw in the first film, in which Kaiju menaced the planet for YEARS, and yet none ever seemed to head to Mt. Fuji.  If they all wanted to go there, every Kaiju who came out of the breach would have headed in exactly the same direction.  But that’s not what we saw at all; Kaiju seemed to go in many different directions after they came out of the drift.  There is a brief shot in this movie of a map of all Kaiju movement, that shows Kaiju coming from all different directions around the globe towards Mt. Fuji.  But Kaiju didn’t appear in spots all over the globe!!  They all came to our planet from the one, same, place: the “breach” on the floor of the Pacific Ocean!  So, again, if they all wanted to get to Mt. Fuji, every Kaiju to emerge from the breach would have gone in a straight line in that direction.  But that’s not what the map in this movie shows, and it’s not what happened in the first film.  So none of that makes any sense.  (This film has a lot of problems with geography, as there is also a map at one point of the three Kaiju all heading towards Mt. Fuji from different directions, and yet when the Jaegers arrive in Tokyo to stop them, all the Kaiju are approaching the mountain from the same direction.  Oops.)

I wondered at the end of the last movie how blowing up the breach would stop the Kaiju for long.  If they could create one portal to our world, why couldn’t they just create another?  In this film, we see that the Kaiju/Jaegers attempt (and actually succeed in three places) in opening up new breaches to allow Kaiju back into our universe.  So again I ask, if the portals are so easy to create, why couldn’t the Kaiju back in their universe have done this five minutes after the heroes blew up that first portal at the end of the first movie?  I guess we’re not meant to think about any of this for too long…

The first Pacific Rim was a fun romp, just not nearly as emotionally compelling as I had hoped.  This sequel is, sadly, an even blander version.  I really wish I could recommend it, but this truly is only for the die-hard Pacific Rim fans.  The film’s final scene (which feels like a post-credits “stinger” but, weirdly, is just dropped in as the last scene before the credits) gives us the set-up for the next film, but I find it hard to believe that will ever actually get made…

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