Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Pacific Rim: Uprising - Spoiler Free Review
Pacific Rim 1 this is not!
(It might get a little annoying, but I've got to reference the original movie in some respect.)
From the opening narration, which finds us introduced to the world of Jake Pentecost (Jon Boyega), estranged son of Stacker Pentecost, he assures us that he is not his father (it won't be the last time he reminds us either). Since his father's demise, and the cancellation of the apocalypse, Jake lives a carefree life of debauchery, and is something of a squatter; he funds his life by dabbling in some unsavoury barter trading, which eventually ends up getting him in trouble and forces him to choose the lesser-of-two-evils in order to earn back his freedom. (A nod to his father who was a strong believer in second chances)
The world of Pacific Rim has undergone a massive face-lift since the breach was sealed from the prior installment: humans have had an unprecedented period of peace during which they have been able to rebuild their cities; the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. (PPDC) is also undergoing a remodelling of sorts, with new technology being looked at as a way of leap-frogging the problems of training pilots and the weakness of Neural Bridge Compatibility (which allows 2 pilots to drift, forming the seamless bond that allows them to operate the massive Jaegers).
This movie plays out like a slow burn because a lot of the initial plot is just building up towards the story. It does not have the immediacy that the first movie had because by the time the opening exposition was done, we already had alarm bells ringing, and a quick introduction to the actual devastating power of the Kaiju. Here we witness a new world, get introduced to a new PPDC, and only by the end of the 1st third of the movie are we immersed into the beginning of a convoluted plot mystery which seems a tad more corporate espionage than straight out Kaiju invasion.
It was saddening to hear that Charlie Hunnam's Raleigh Beckett wouldn't be back this time around; however, the movie did manage to bring back Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and the wacky pairing of Drs. Newt (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). Guillermo del Toro, prior to this sequel, had initially hinted that the drift that Newt and Gottlieb shared with the Kaiju brain as well as possibly having dumped Gypsy Danger into the alternate universe, would be the spark for this movie; the writers honour that in some way, but it seems that most of that played out kinda like misdirection because they take the story down some paths that people haven't necessarily gelled with.
The original Pacific Rim was a beautiful movie which paid homage to Kaiju and Mecha lore; critics threw around references like Godzilla and Gundam, and in my case specifically, I would name "Saber Rider and the Star Sherrifs". This movie felt like it pays homage to yet another book/movie: "Ender's Game." I just haven't the faintest idea why the kids (teens) in this movie were considered so intricate to the plot. Looking back on things, I'm not certain if training the pilots very young was emphasized in the original movie (as much as it was in this one), but there certainly weren't any kid pilots in the original.
Some of the plot points from the original exist in this movie: again they find themselves tracking down the maverick ranger to help with their Jaeger program. In the original, we knew it was because Stacker Pentecost was facing limited funding and was leading an unpopular cause to help end the Kaiju threat. This time around, the situation is a little relaxed, but humanity still holds out some inkling of suspicion that the Kaiju will attempt to make a comeback; thus, rather than defund the Jaeger program, they're pumping in a technological upgrade (much to the chagrin of some of the pilots), but this does not excuse the dearth of adult pilots that we witness within the movie itself.
The only welcome addition to this movie would have to be John Boyega. He is charismatic and carries the movie, delivering the correct amount of sass when it's required. His Jake Pentecost doesn't seem to take most things seriously, probably opting to steer clear of a legacy well curved out by his father, which in all truth is quite eclipsing and engulfing. His character arc, which is the most fleshed out, centres on him coming to terms with this and learning to be his own kind of hero.
His foil for his misdeeds is his partner, Ranger Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood). Played as a by-the-book "army man", he gives a face to the strict Jaeger program's ethic, which was initially typified by Stacker Pentecost, but doesn't have as strong an archetype in top brass this time around (Ip Man III's Zhang Jin isn't given any real depth in his portrayal of Marshall Quan); He and Jake irritate each other to no end, and compete in more than a couple of ways.
The only other significant character worth mentioning is Jing Tian's Shao; the brilliant head of the Shao Corporation, she's portrayed as ruthless and demanding. The question about where her loyalties lie is what makes her the primary antagonist for the first part of this movie.
The rest of the cast was way too young, and again what makes me feel like they were trying to emulate "Ender's Game". This is that uneasy melding of characters into a plot in previous movies like Transformers, X-men: The Last Stand, etc. where you feel like they can't possibly be of any use to the world if it was required of them. It's the kind of thing that just exceeds a movie's "suspension of disbelief" quota and makes you feel shortchanged; it even detracts from the massive fight spectacles.
Speaking of the action, it is sprinkled in bits throughout the movie; while Guillermo del Toro took his time to emphasize scale of the Jaegers over their maneuverability, Steven S. DeKnight downplays this in some respect to highlight just how very human-like the movement of Jaegers can be. This is particularly true of the fighting style of Saber Athena, which is as sleek as that of a Kung Fu practitioner. DeKnight and the Vfx team still do a good job of establishing the great scale of the action and its set pieces.
All in all, this movie feels like a massive step-down from the previous installment. Some critics argued that the previous movie had a dearth of characterization, but this time around, the movie feels bogged by the convoluted story and non-relatable characters (somehow remembering that one cadet's Dad was a cosmetic surgeon specializing in "breast work" ensures me that nothing useful has been added to the mythos). It saddens me to say that you'd rather wait for this movie to come out on DVD instead of watching it at the cinema/theater. (C+)
P.S: Since they seem so set on making this a trilogy (if not a never-ending franchise), at least let them get Guillermo del Toro back in the driver's seat to course correct the next movie.