Tag Archives: Kaiju

“PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING” Review (✫1/2)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

More like downsizing.

The biggest flaw with the first Pacific Rim was its third act, where its runtime extended so long with so much content packed together that it really could have been cut out and edited into its own separate movie. This flaw, unfortunately, carries over into its sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising, which descends into a classic case of sequelitus with all of its ideas spent. It has a stupid plot, dull characters, boring dialogue, and humor so unfunny that Adam Sandler could have done a better job at writing it. The movie’s one saving grace is its visual effects. Gee, I wonder where else we’ve seen that before?

Taking place 10 years after Raleigh Beckett, Stacker Pentecost, and the other Jaegers closed the Kaiju portal at the end of the first movie, Pacific Rim: Uprising follows Stacker’s son, Jake (John Boyega) living the good life in a post-Kaiju world. He parties, drinks, trades on the black market, swindles dangerous mob bosses, and steals any Jaeger tech that he can find.

Well like clockwork, Jake’s criminal activities leads him into the jail cell, and this time he can’t simply just bail himself out. Now faced with a potential prison sentence, his sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) gives him an ultimatum: come back to the Jaeger program and help train the new cadets, or rot in a cell for the next 30 years. Jake slightly prefers military service over prison. Slightly.

The problems with Pacific Rim: Uprising all starts with its writing, which is such a poorly-done retread of the first Pacific Rim that it feels more like fan fiction than it does a faithfully-produced sequel. The writer and director Steven S. DeKnight has had several television credits prior to his film debut in Uprising, including writing episodes for Warner Bros.’ “Smallville” and being the showrunner for series’ including “Spartacus” and “Daredevil”. Trust me, he’s definitively a talented storyteller. Unfortunately, all of his experience is wasted here in his first foray into film, and there is no evidence that any skill or talent exists behind his camera at all.

Case in point: the screenplay. It is essentially the exact same plot as the first Pacific Rim was, point by point. We start with a big, epic Jaeger fight, follow with an underdog hero who doesn’t believe in himself, suddenly recruited into a military operation, bonds with the girl in closest proximity to him at the base, a shocking revelation is made about the alien threat, and our heroes team up to disband of said threat.

That’s it. That’s the whole story in a nutshell, a preposterous copy-and-paste of the first Pacific Rim and adding Uprising at the end of the title. Granted, sequels don’t have to be original in every aspect of their storytelling. Shoot, even the most recent Star Wars movies are almost straight rip-offs from the original trilogy. The difference, however, lies in the extra details the filmmakers put into those movies to further their interest. Pacific Rim: Uprising’s mistake was thinking that the interest lied in its derivative plot, which of course, it doesn’t.

Look at the first Pacific Rim as evidence of this. It has the same plot, yes. Yet it succeeds so much more in being fun and entertaining to its audience. Why? It’s because Guillermo Del Toro knew which details to focus on and why. He knew that the size and scope of the Jaeger/Kaiju fights needed to be reflected in the buildings and environments around these monsters. He knew Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba needed on-the-spot, quick-witted dialogue to make them more than the average one-dimensional movie heroes. And (most importantly), he understood the movie he was trying to make. He knew he wasn’t trying to make some seriously out-there, psuedo-dimensional experience like Inception or Gravity. He was trying to make the next explosive, Transformers-esque action fest that overjoyed the inner child in him. That was the movie he aimed for, and he succeeded spectacularly in making it.

Compare this to the desperately confused approach behind Pacific Rim: Uprising. It has no idea what it wants to be. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a serious action movie, a silly Hollywood blockbuster, a complex science-fiction fantasy, or all three at once. All it knows for sure is that it wants to be like the first Pacific Rim, but it doesn’t know how to get there. That’s because the screenplay hasn’t earned the right to compare itself in its storytelling. The sad part is that it knows it too.

Yes, the fight scenes between the Jaegers and the Kaiju are cool. So what? The fight scenes were just as fantastic in the first Pacific Rim, and that was made over five years ago. The music’s electric jams sound fantastic, but again, there’s nothing there that you can’t find in the original already. The only thing to really set this movie apart from its predecessor is John Boyega, who brings such an oafish charm to the movie that he can make something as mundane as eating ice cream seem funny to us.

Even then though, his performance is plagued by the mediocre cast members surrounding him. Scott Eastwood fills out the generic stiff-necked soldier cliché to a “T”, and he demonstrates little personality outside of pure smugness. Newcomer Cailee Spaeny plays the movie’s second underdog, and she overacts so much that she fits better inside of a Disney Channel movie. And Charlie Day? God-awful. His character does such a forced 360 turn from his personality in the first movie that I couldn’t take him seriously or urgently. He felt more like a parody of a mad scientist than an actual mad scientist (and if you didn’t like him in the first movie to begin with, wait until you see him here).

All in all, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a haphazard, unnecessary sequel; one that would have added value to the franchise if it were never made at all. The first Pacific Rim was an epic love-letter to Japanese Anime and monster movies, a rock-em-sock-em creature feature that was loads of fun. Pacific Rim: Uprising is just clueless. At the end of the movie, the big baddie Kaiju monster grows three secondary brains to fight our movie’s heroes. Perhaps it would have helped if Steven DeKnight grew a few extra brains himself.

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“PACIFIC RIM” Review (✫✫✫)

Transformers meets a whole lotta Godzillas.  

Pacific Rim is an action movie for the action fan, a movie so overblown with giant-sized robots, monsters, explosions and destroyed buildings that I wonder how the planet is still intact by the film’s conclusion. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, that there’s this much action in a movie like this, especially with the release of Man Of Steel earlier this summer. It just means that this is a specific movie for a specific audience: one that is very stylish, visually stunning and hella lot noisy.

The premise is something of a Independence Day meets Transformers. These mythical creatures called “Kaiju”, who are the biological equivalent to the Godzilla monsters, come from a portal deep in the pacific ocean called “The Bridge”, and it is this portal where the Kaiju stem from to attack the human populace. They start at specific locations at first: San Francisco. Hong Kong. Amsterdam. The more frequent the attacks, the more the humans realize that they need a battle plan to counterattack the Kaiju.

Enter the Jaeger program. “Jaeger”, from what we’re told, is German for “Hunter”, and that’s exactly what this program is. It’s a military initiative designed by the world’s leader, combining their resources to make a weapon to fight the Kaiju with, which in this case, is an army of giant, imposing robots that would make Optimus Prime explode in his diaper.

I know what you’re thinking: “Why use the resources on a robot army instead of finding a way to close the portal?” Because then we wouldn’t have our movie, now would we? The most experienced of these Jaeger pilots is Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a retired Jaeger pilot who quit after losing his twin brother in battle. With their resources dwindling by the hour, however, Raleigh is recruited by Commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) back into the fray, to defend the earth before it is forever lost to the Kaiju army.

Sounds like a movie by Michael Bay, right? No? Well, how about Roland Emerich? Alexander Pryas?  Andy and Lana Wachiowski? All wrong. This movie is written and directed by spanish filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, who is most known for movies including HellboyPan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. What exactly, convinced him to step out of those realms to traverse into a science-fiction action movie like Pacific Rim?

Doesn’t matter. This is a good movie. A very good movie. How good, you might ask? So good that when you watch the movie, you can’t help but be blown away. It’s the sort of explosive, massive, beat-em-up action movie that functions as a sort of love letter to classic Japanese manga and anime, with shows such as Voltron and Gundam seeming to serve as the inspiration for these crazy monster fights. The fight scenes in the movie are big and boisterous, its level of scale and destruction so disastrous that it made movies like Godzilla and King Kong classics. I remember when I saw the 1939 King Kong for the first time five years ago and being impressed by what they accomplished visually despite the lack of technologies they had back then. Hear me, fellow reader: what Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack did with King Kong, Guillero Del Toro did with Pacific Rim.

In this day and age though, its easy to just focus on a film visually and forget to invest time in the story and characters as well. That’s where most action movies fail and what makes us frustrated by the majority of them, including the Transformers sequels and any Stephen Sommers movie. Here, Del Toro is smart enough to craft an actual story with his visuals, and for this I appreciate his effort. It isn’t just mindless action we’re watching on the screen here: Del Toro takes careful consideration in crafting a smart and interesting story to keep viewers interested, starting with the first day the Kaiju came to earth, to looking deeper into the troubled histories of many of these Jaeger pilots. There was one scene specifically that sticks out in my mind, a troubling and disconcerting memory of one of the female pilots recounting their experiences as a child when a Kaiju came and destroyed her home and her family, all while her male co-pilot tries his best to console her while crying helplessly like a lost child.

This is what turns the movie from good to memorable: the presence of these characters are rich, charismatic and dramatic, a nice combination of an involving, epic story with that of over-the-top stylish and exciting action scenes. Rarely do we get a combination this effective, and Del Toro does a great job delegating both parts of the story when the time calls for it.

It’s a shame, though, that Del Toro doesn’t keep up with that balance all the way through. There is a common problem this movie shares with many other action movies, and that is a final 30-40 minute action sequence that becomes repetitive, boring and predictable that loses all of the momentum and excitement it had at the beginning of the film.  What happened? It’s overstuffed, dear reader. The end sequence takes place in the pacific ocean with two Jaeger’s fighting against an army of Kaiju. There are two things I know for a fact here: 1) The good guys are going to win, and 2) The main character, Raliegh, is going to live. I know thats how its going to end because the film would receive backlash if it ended any other way.

I’m fine with a predictable ending as long as it emotionally satisfies me, but why drag it out this long with action that loses its momentum? I know its for the viewers that just like to see big things blow up on screen and nothing more, but the ending sequence dragged out way too long. It became less of a story about humanity and survival and more of a video game watching things punching each other and screaming.

Okay, now before any sci-fi die-hards pounce on me like a wildcat, let me wrap this up. There may be some problems with this movie. Nevermind that. Take out the huge explosions. Take out the prolonged action scenes. Take out the cheesy dialogue and any of the movie’s supposed faults and just look at the film from the action fan’s perspective. This is an action movie that is exciting, suspenseful, involving, visually stunning, and mind-blowingly spectacular. This is an action movie that has been done right, not that Michael Bay would know about anything like that.

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