Let’s Get Ready 2 Rumble
Rock’em-Sock’em Robots vs Godzillas 2: Electric Boogaloo
The first Pacific Rim was a purely joyous love letter to Japanese anime and giant monster movies courtesy of monster-lover (figuratively and very literally) Guillermo del Toro. And while many took it to be a much more enjoyable alternative to say, the abysmal Transformers series, I personally fell in love with the odd duck of a film for being both entertaining to watch in the action department and having a surprising amount to say about globalization and unity among nations in a way not seen since the original Independence Day. While some may scoff at such analysis, as indeed many in America did when the movie under performed severely, the film nonetheless found success overseas in China and so we have major investors from the country backing a sequel starring a fresh new international cast to appeal to as wide a demographic as possible. And seeing how it’s the first film in six weeks to dethrone Black Panther from the top of the box office (barely), it only makes sense that I talk about it today.
So we have Charlie Hunnam conspicuously absent to be King Arthur (poor bastard), so we have John Boyega as the son of Idris Elba’s Stalker Pentecost, Jake…and man what a boring name for a kid when your parent has such a badass name for 12-year-olds. Any who, Jake is a scavenger living in a world that has been free of giant monsters (kaiju) from another dimension for the ten years since the events of the last movie when he’s forced by his stepsister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) into rejoining the Pan-Pacific Defense Force as an instructor for a new generation of pilots to the Jaegers, giant robots necessitating multiple minds in order to function correctly. Jake has little time to train newest recruit Amara (Cailee Spaeny) and makeup with his former partner Ranger Nate (Scott Eastwood) before a new threat rises from the Pacific Ocean in the form a dark Jaeger sowing chaos among the nations. Before long, the young pilots find their world at threat once again from kaiju due to the actions of someone on Earth’s side seems to be aiding the monsters in the other dimension. Also, a powerful Chinese AI-inventor named Liwen Shao (Jing Tian) seems to be involved with the sudden appearance of the mysterious Jaeger.
And if my description sounds awfully familiar, that’s because it damn well is eerily reminiscent of Independence Day: Resurgence; you remember, a terrible sequel to a beloved piece of nostalgia that only existed to cater to Chinese audiences by cramming in as many subplots involving China as possible. And while Pacific Rim: Uprising certainly borrows more than a few elements from that disastrous wannabe blockbuster, don’t worry the filmmakers also decided to curb the theme of The Great Wall while they were at it. See, that movie was all about making a big-budget spectacular tailor-made for Chinese audiences sensibilities by providing a hero’s journey all about learning to become less selfish and contributing to something far greater than one’s self.
While it didn’t work for The Great Wall on account they had a lifeless Matt Damon to tell that particular arc, Boyega is by far more excited and committed to his own lead role with an arc that feels like a natural extension of the themes established in the first Pacific Rim. On paper, this should have worked fine, especially since Boyega brought a ton of much needed personality to his own role; but the problem is that he’s the only one who had decent material to work with in an ensemble cast, with each character crying out for more fleshing out.
Much like A Wrinkle in Time, I feel like there’s an extra 45 minutes of character that was chopped out of the movie entirely. While Uprising at least flows much better than Disney’s high ambition jumble, it left me wanting more development half the time and left me scratching my head the other half of the time. You see, both Boyega and Eastwood’s characters find this one member of PPDC played by Adria Arjona to be super attractive, but neither guy talks to this woman and there’s a scene towards the end that felt like she was supposed to have known them for such a large amount of time that they both were excited by her signs of affection…except we didn’t see or knew if either Boyega or Eastwood was even interested in her.
Also, I should Eastwood’s personality in this movie is an interesting Styrofoam because it’s flat, light, and disposable. He’s got his daddy‘s looks, but by God he needs something else to separate himself from the old man. Also, Jing Tian’s (also in The Great Wall) character is initially presented as having some dark secrets, but then the movie blurts them out of the way to rush back to the action instead. Only Cailee Spaeny walks away as the only other character besides Boyega that we get to know, and the movie rushes through her character arc in multiple awkward ways that don’t remotely feel satisfactory. I saw the beginning and ending of many of these characters’ arcs, but the movie was absolutely hellbent on sidelining any dialogue that wasn’t exposition-based to get to the big punch ups with robots.
At least on that end, Uprising serves as a major improvement over its original, by embracing a far brighter color palette with much more clear fight scenes than the first which limited the kaiju battles to pouring rain at night. All action scenes involving giant robots take place in the middle of the afternoon with nary a cloud in the sky so you can see everything unimpeded. And to the movie’s credit, it looks solid. The monsters look distinct from the robots, so you don’t have the Transformers issue of watching piles of garbage fight other piles of garbage; and the camera is not jumping around like a meth addict so you have an opportunity to appreciate every punch, shot, and swing of the multiple weapons. The director, Steven S. DeKnight, making his big screen debut from his days creating the various Spartacus shows on Starz, certainly has an eye for making big budget spectacles look great, but he seriously needs to remember he’s only given two hours at most to tell a story and not multiple episodes where you can pause to take lengthy breathers in between battles to flesh out your characters.
Because I genuinely saw that he cared about trying to flesh out these pilots in a way that reminded me of Gundam Wing for all the good and bad that entails. It’s cheesy teenage angsty drama at its heart, and such character dynamics can work fine in a film, but next to major spectacles of CGI, you need to weave it in better with what you’re witnessing. Otherwise, it feels like we are missing a big hole of context when certain character say or do certain things that feel like there was supposed to be more emotional weight when these moments occur.
At the very least, the film’s cast of thespians do fine with what they’re given even if it’s not that much and if all you want to see are giant robots fight giant monsters…well then you’ve come to the right place. Because the action really is the focus here, and what’s presented is pretty damn cool to look at that I could reasonably justify a visit to the theater. But just barely, because there the narrative had a ton of potential that was just ignored in favor of big budget effects. And then the film has the cheek to throw in a post-credits sequence promising a sequel that was VERY close to Independence Day: Resurgence, that I had an immediate vitriolic reaction to what was presented. Granted, considering the movie’s box office success in China already, I’m now certain we will indeed get a third Pacific Rim, but I still have to take that ending as a knock against it.
So I’ll be nice and give this a solid…
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