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Why Pacific Rim: Uprising Doesn’t Work

Pacific Rim: Uprising is arse. 2/10. Here’s why. Spoilers ahead.

-The movie opens with a somewhat similar recap like the first movie, just not as cleverly edited. You’re going to read ‘This was a good idea they did nothing with’ a lot, and it starts with the idea of people squatting in derelict mansions left over from the destruction of the Kaiju. One of my favourite aspects of the first movie was when they moved away from the main plot and explored the world created by the Kaiju attacks, and this great concept is abandoned after the initial set up. To be honest, I’m not really sure why it’s still in here in the first place. Maybe they liked the image of the Kaiju skeleton embedded in half the mansion that they used twice?

-Our protagonist is Jake Pentecost. He’s Stacker Pentecost’s son. Which is interesting as, even with how secretive Stacker is, his son never comes up at all in the last movie? Huh.

-Jake himself is…interesting. They play him as this devil-may-care Jaeger junkyard diver trying to leave his past behind, but he’s also a well respected former pilot who has to teach these kids the way. It’s not that you can’t mesh these characteristics together, but he really feels like he’s going through two character arcs at the same time, living up to his family’s legacy and finding purpose in his former life again. I just feel that they should make these two characterisations coalesce, especially as the junker stuff never comes back into play at all (he does want to go back to his old life, but that could literally be anything and is never specifically relate to living as a mansion squatter).

-I’m also of two minds of him being Stacker’s son and Mako’s stepbrother. It’s contrived and just a way to keep the presence of Elba’s character somewhat alive given his popularity in the original movie, but it really should have worked to marry Jake’s wayward nature with his being a celebrated Jaeger pilot. As it stands, he has one conversation about the pressures his dad put on him, and that’s it. He’s such an undercooked character that, even with the wonderful John Boyega playing him, I could never get a good grasp on who he is and what his arc brings out of the story. Not to mention his dialogue is kind of annoying.

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-We get this insanely groanworthy scene where Jake manoeuvres his way around a group of criminals in order to obtain a key part of Jaeger’s functionality for himself. It’s full of pratfalls and extremely dumb convenient moments. It’s quite similar to that chase sequence in another John Boyega movie, a little-known flick called The Force Awakens, the difference is at least that moment in TFA felt tonally true to the world. Nothing like this happened in Pacific Rim, and nothing like this happens in Uprising again. You could make the argument that his sweet moves gets reincorporated into his fighting style later, but it’s a small pay off for a sizeable scene that could be used to develop literally 80,000 other plot threads going.

-We’re introduced to Amara Lambert, who’s essentially the Mako Mori of this story. She has also managed to build a one-person piloted Jaeger out of scrap parts called Scrapper. Another great idea, homemade Jaegers. Another wasted one as this adds nothing to the story outside of Scrapper being used as a plot dodge at the end. Though, I guess, if you want to rip off Transfomers movies, why not do it from Age of Extinction and The Last Knight, the two movies even Bay can’t even pretend to care about. Hell, even with that, Marky Mark wasn’t building a Transformer in his shed!

-Amara has arcs, I guess. One is her becoming a part of her teen team of trainee pilots, in particular one girl who is hostile to her because…stock bully cliché. The other is her moving past her emotional issues of having Mako Mori’s angst, and keeping her composure in the Jaegers. This never comes up when she’s piloting alone, I might add-I know these are bigger and cause more significant strain, but still. Anyway, arc one has three scenes devoted to its resolution and it’s about as unrewarding as you can imagine, and arc two has the initial flashback and a pep talk from Jake. There we go.

-Hey, remember when drifting was an essential part of the character building and helped move their individual arcs forward? Yeah, me too.

-I may as well take this time to talk about the dialogue in this movie, as it particularly characterises how Jake and Amara talk to each other. It’s a lot of tired snarky one-uppers and non-sequiturs that so desperately wants us to see these guys as cool and young and hip and down with their funky selves. It’s obnoxious and trite, and I really hate it when movies try to do this. The original’s dialogue was not without its charm, but it’s nowhere near this forced and try hard. It also kind of dates the movie, not that they reference pop culture stuff all the time (well…most of the time), but the tone and rhythm of the dialogue is very much of its time and doesn’t endear us to anybody.

-Jake and Amara are taken in by a Jaeger on behalf of the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps. This scene was kind of odd by it’s more implicit leanings towards militarised police forces. I’m not saying that normal police could have taken down Amara’s Jaeger, but the protocol it had implied that these things were used for other police proceedings when necessary. I’m not saying any of the writers or creative team on this film were pro-militarised police forces or something, this feels entirely unintentional, what I am saying it’s not not there and it rubbed me the wrong way. I’ll go more into the way military is framed in this movie, especially in comparison to its predecessor.

-Do you like seeing Mako Mori? Hoo, boy, are you gonna regret that! Her character feels very flat and hollow-a lot of the spark in her personality and Rinko Kikuchi’s performance is just not here at all. I severely have to question why they convinced her to come along to this outside of being able to say that Mako was in this movie, especially considering how they treat her.

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-So Jake is brought in because of only way him being Stacker’s son is used in the plot (and that still doesn’t really justify it-he could just be a talented pilot), as well as Amara for the only way her Jaeger-building prowess is used in the plot.

-There’s a new thing added to the Jaeger training that recruiting them when they are younger makes them bond easier with the robots. I don’t ever remember this being brought up in story, but it’s another weird way the pro-militarisation and global conflict themes are brought up in the story. But let’s not think about that-LOOK AT ALL THE COOL ROBOTS!!!!! LOOK AT THEM ALL AS WE SPEND, LIKE, 10 MINUTES PANNING OVER CURRENTLY MOTIONLESS MACHINES!!!!!

-I guess I should bring this up as it may be a point of contention, yes, Pacific Rim could be seen as being pro-military and pro-globalist conflict as well. The difference is more in the framing, and it’s subtly done so I can understand the DeKnight missing it. The emphasis in Pacific Rim is globalism, but it’s solidarity, not general warfare. While I’m not a huge fan of the Kaiju being made by destructive aliens-it’s one of the weaker aspects of the film for me-they don’t have a general plan outside of ‘Swim to thing’ and ‘Destroy thing’. They’re a force of nature, and the only way we can defeat them is by pooling our resources together and combining our experiences and trauma to heal rifts and be a stronger unit. That’s the whole deal with the mind-melding thing. In this movie, the Kaiju do have a specific plan, and a heavy amount of emphasis is on recruiting teenagers into war, and this militarised force being together as a family, despite this technically being peace time. All of this is (presumably) preemptive. Again, I’m not saying the creative team planned for all of this to come across, but it is here and it flies in the face of the straightforward but very humanistic message of the original.

-Moving onto a point that actually *is* upfrontly political, the drone subplot. It’s one of those things where I get the set up of it, but the context kind of lets it down. Why are drone-piloted jaegers bad? No, seriously, they are framed as the wrong thing, and the film never actually justifies why. Pilots still have to connect and fly them, it prevents mental fatigue and getting killed in combat. Drones are a very topical issue, but that’s for their usage, not their application. In-universe, piloting these honking fuckers via remote communication doesn’t seem like a terrible idea on paper. What’s worse is that it’s mostly here to make Shao a red herring for who the villain is. This conflict is then dropped when it’s found out she isn’t the villain, her drone Jaegers were going to be manipulated by the main villain, and she uses her tech for a last-minute save of the good guys anyway, so…yeah. Compelling stuff, guys.

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-Newt and Hermann are back. Their characters have very expanded roles here, but for now they come away a bit more faithfully than Mako’s. Though Newt asks if Hermann should come over to meet his girlfriend Alice. Considering what we find out about him and Alice later, I have to question why he would make such a suggestion because any scenario here would fuck him over dearly…

-Yeah, Newt. I remember Idris Elba’s speech too. It was one of the most iconic moments in the last movie. This flick really desperately wants you to remember how good the first movie was, doesn’t it? Thank you for convincing me to watch a good movie, I guess?

-I completely forgot about Scott Eastwood’s character. I’m keeping it as such to prove my point that he’s bland and fucking forgettable. Nate Lambert is kind of like a hodgepodge of Herc and Chuck, except he’s now the main co-pilot until his last-minute switch for Amara, and he’s a painful reminder that the characters in the original are really well defined even if they’re not the most complex. Jake and Nate’s beef is undercooked and dull, and they focus a lot more time than needed to be on it. I was hoping they’d actually just make them ex-lovers or something, though I like the idea of macho guy Jake being comfortable with his sexuality enough to admit another man is attractive without, you know, being gay.

-Oh, and they have this really weird love triangle thing between Jake and Nate and…this girl. Jake is openly flirtatious to her and Nate is annoyed by that. She barely appears in more than 2 scenes, then it’s implied they get into a ménage-a-trois. I am not even joking. This character isn’t even a sexy lamp, I think a lamp would have been used more! This feels like a cutting room floor thing, where most of the development for this ‘romance’ was excised, and considering the multitudes of plot cul-de-sacs in this fucker, they really should have cut her out entirely.

-Ooookay, now we’re onto the big one. To keep this brief, the UN are meeting in Sydney to vote on authorising the drone program. Mako is the one with the deciding vote, however her helicopter is attacked by a rogue Jaeger and, despite Jake’s best efforts, it crashes, killing her instantly. Mako’s death is both deeply insulting and utterly pointless, as the info she relays just leads the team to find the abandoned facility. It is insulting that the heart of the previous movie, one of the most important and beloved characters in Pacific Rim, dies in such a throwaway, senseless way. What’s even worse is that Jake grieves for her for about two minutes and that’s it. That’s all the impact her death has on her stepbrother. This is pitifully poor and disrespectful writing for such an important character.

-Moving on, we are introduced to the Kaiju-infested Jaegers, a really cool idea which (surprise!) goes nowhere. I’d have honestly been so bold as to not reopen the breach and have these things be the enemies. And they’re used as a plot point to get our real baddies here. You could have played around with this idea, have Jaegers mutate because of the Kaiju influence, it could have added something distinctive. But, people paid for giant robots and giant monsters fighting, and that’s what this movie will give them. Cause fuck satisfying your audience in a creative way!

-Amara’s flashback is a desperate attempt to recapture the magic of Mako’s, but ends up being really fucking funny watching her family get stomped Monty Python style. Jesus Christ, we were supposed to take that seriously?!

-Here we get to the big twist villain. It’s Newt. The Precursors are mind controlling him. After drifting with the Kaiju brain in the first movie, they’ve been slowly manipulating him in order to enact their plan to open new rifts and destroy the world. This twist is great, though a little telegraphed. It uses an element from the last movie cleverly, and while that one didn’t exactly hint that anything like this would happen, it’s easily forgiven by just saying it took a while for Newt to be subjected to mind control. Then he’s just forgotten about for most of the movie while we have the most mind-numbingly boring extended fight scene of all time! What’s worse is I’d actually love to see Charlie Day play this up. But oh well, give the hogs their slop! Yet another great idea not properly utilised.

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-As we get into the fight, one of the kids plays the trololo clip from a millenia ago in internet time. A clip I excised from a previous review because I felt it was seriously outdated pops up in this multimillion dollar franchise. Got nothing on this, make of it what you will.

-I think what will make or break your enjoyment of this film is the action, and it just doesn’t work for me. These fights lack any of the scale and physicality of the original, and in general the tone is really off. It’s going for a more anime-esque aesthetic compared to the neo-Tokyo punk tone they had prior, and it just feels too clean and too inorganic. Everything’s rendered fine, they look like they’re there, but it loses that sense of murkiness, which helped build tension and excitement in the fights. It’s just not as interesting to watch big things beat each other up for me without the technical working in tandem with a story, unless it’s just really silly or ridiculous. This isn’t, it’s just really substandard and dull, and nothing in the cinematography or camera work gravitates me. So boy am I out of luck because the last third of this is one long ass fight sequence. It’s not Man of Steel levels of painful to sit through, but damn is it a punishment.

-One of the teenagers dies. I refuse to look up his name, because fuck you you did nothing to make me give a shit about him.

-People must have really loved that scene where they fly up out of Earth’s atmosphere, because it’s done here to finish the climax. Also, convenient save from Shao to redeem her character.

-Sequel bait do you really care?

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That was Pacific Rim: Uprising. One of the worst movies I’ve seen all year. More self-indulgent with its self-referencing than Kingsman: The Golden Circle. As confused and overthought as The Book of Henry. It’s got characters I don’t care about, situations I don’t care about, characters I like getting shat on, a plot that takes way too long to get going and is really convoluted when it does, and absolutely zero of that creative spark of madness to not make this just a cynical, corporate cash grab. If this is what happens to sleeper hits, methinks they should stay asleep.

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