Reviews: Pacific Rim Uprising
I can sincerely say I have never hated a movie quite as much as I hate Pacific Rim: Uprising. The original Pacific Rim was a fairly dense, yet bite-sized little movie. It jumped right into the middle of a toku-inspired war between giant robots and giant monsters, and focused on the teamwork and personal growth of those people who had to unite to save the world. There was mystery and intrigue as we found out what the kaiju truly were, personal development as the pilots figure out who they are and how to operate together, and a sense of real camaraderie among very different people. The robots had style, the kaiju were scary, and despite the reveal that they were weapons, they still felt like individual characters, with a strong presence. Uprising does the following things with all of this:
- Neuters the colorful, painting-like visual style in favor of a Bayformers-esque surface look.
- Forgets to have characters with story arcs, chemistry, or really anything to work with.
- Introduces a subplot that ends up going nowhere and meaning nothing.
- Introduces nonsensical retcons of the first movie.
- Waits until the last fifteen minutes to actually bring in any kaiju.
- Stuffs one of the best characters in the original into the fridge, in what is unambiguously a sexist move.
- Turns one of the other best characters into the main villain. This one in particular pisses me off because Newt's interest in kaiju is framed as the reason for his being the villain, to the point where the movie seems to be saying "If you're in this for the monsters and not the robots, then fuck off."
- And of course, turns a story about hope, teamwork and personal growth into a military-fetishism piece.
Enjoyable, but not a patch on the original.
Going in to Pacific Rim: Uprising, I knew in advance that it wasn't going to be as good as the original Pacific Rim. And it wasn't. It wasn't even close. I consider the original film a 10/10, and I think this film is lucky to rate a 6/10 from me. Now keep in mind that 6/10 is still a fundamentally positive score and I think the film is worth seeing because it's often very enjoyable. But it's seriously flawed in many places. The plot is full of holes and wracked with Fridge Logic, most of which I can't mention without covering this review in spoiler tags, and a major subplot is forgotten and left to die once one aspect of it takes over the rest of the story. Mako Mori provides a sterling example of I Let Gwen Stacy Die (happens so early and so obviously it's not even worth spoiler tagging), killed off solely to further Jake's character development. The action scenes aren't nearly as good, neither are the Jaegers designs, and the Kaiju (when they finally show up) are almost completely forgettable compared to the likes of Otachi and Leatherback. There are way too many direct retreads of things from the original movie, like characters walking through a Jaeger hanger naming all the ones that will be relevant later, two of the characters having a short fight when their dislike of each other boils over (only this time gender flipped) and Amara's backstory is basically a discount version of Mako's (and told in almost exactly the same way). And the climax stretched suspension of disbelief far, FAR beyond breaking point, to the point where I spent the last 3 minutes of it saying to myself "that's ridiculous" rather than "that's awesome". Still, it's enjoyable in a dumb sort of way, the final confrontation brings the Sequel Escalation over the original at least (one of the few flaws in the original was that Cherno Alpha and Crimson Typhoon were basically fodder while this one makes Jaegers other than the new Gypsy actually matter) and there are some good bits outside of the action scenes, such as John Boyega's Jake and his interactions with young Amara, particularly when he talks about his father. I've never been a fan of excusing a bad film just because you can "turn off your brain and enjoy the explosions", but I feel the film is just good enough that with an open mind you can just enjoy it flaws and all. Hopefully the possible 3rd one teased by the Sequel Hook can redeem the series and bring it back up to "great" status again.
Bad as a movie and as a sequel
Let's get straight to the point: I think this movie is trash. Not even good, enjoyable trash: it's boring, plodding, shoddily-acted, clichéd trash. All the new characters barely have five personality traits between every single one of them: they're universally fairly bland, and only John Boyega manages to coast through the movie on sheer natural charisma alone (seeing him play opposite the charisma vacuum that is Scott Eastwood is interesting in that regard). The returning characters give pretty okay performances, but their presence really drives the new protagonists' blandness home: I wished I was watching a movie solely about them instead. A movie that any of them was enthusiastic about doing, preferably, because I could feel Burn Gorman and Charlie Day wished they were in something more worthy of their talent. The plot is... well, it would be passable if not for the world's biggest and most dumbest Ass Pull that it decides to tack on the story in order to set up its climax. As it stands, it's purely and simply insulting to anyone who even remembers anything about the first film. It blatantly contradicts it and makes most of the characters look like complete morons. So yeah, big thumbs down on that. As for the robot fights... The first movie made an effort to set its fights in interesting locations and to give a real sense of weight to every movement through careful direction and sound design. Most of the fights here happen in boring-looking locations in broad daylight, and the robots don't really have any sense of weight and scale to them: they zip and jump around far too much, and their designs are utterly unimaginative and unremarkable compared to the first movie's. Same goes for the Kaiju. The climax is a big mess. I give it a 3/10. Only go see it if you absolutely must see giant robots slapping each other in live action. But I bet there'll be a compilation of the fights on Youtube in a few months, so maybe wait for that instead.
(Spoiler-free) A decent mecha film, but not a great sequel
By itself, Uprising would probably be a pretty good Super Robot B-movie. It's got all the hallmarks — scrappy young pilots, outlandish monsters, amazing effects, even a battle in Tokyo. It's bolstered by a charming cast (special mention to John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, and Burn Gorman, who carry this film on their backs) and dizzying fight choreography. It has an array of underdeveloped supporting characters, its fights sometimes drag, and it doesn't really bring anything new to the table in terms of character arcs or themes, but GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING OTHER GIANT ROBOTS, AND THEN GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING KAIJU. The problem is that it's not a standalone, it's a sequel. In Pacific Rim, much emphasis was placed on the Drift, which resulted in well-rounded characterization overall (except for Cherno and Crimson, RIP). This is all but absent from the sequel except for a couple of scenes with Amara, and the continuously escalating plot means that characterization is left behind, leaving all but a handful of characters two-dimensional at best. But a Super Robot film can forgive lacking characterization. The bigger thing Uprising is missing is the sense of heart that made the first film so surprisingly effective. There's little wondrous appreciation for the technology OR the monsters they're fighting (individual Jaegers and Kaiju are not really focused on), no curated shots of the environment (uh...they're in Sydney, then Tokyo, I guess?), no undercurrent of escalating tension in the fight scenes resulting in that "oh!" moment like the first film's "Sword" (in fact, moments that would be cool are drowned out by subsequent bathos). The result is largely impersonal. What heart the film does manage to produce between its protagonists is whizzed right out by the demands of the plot, which is...fine. It mostly amounts to a bunch of cool robots trashing things over and over again that by the end (especially in that long, blurry final fight) you're just kind of numb to it, although the villains might take you for a loop. The returning characters from Pacific Rim are also taken for a few swerves, but that's for a less spoilery day — YMMV if said plot twists are effective; I personally didn't think so. But all is not lost — the new relationships have potential, the worldbuilding of ten years later is interesting, the Sequel Hook is something, and, well, the Jaegers are cool, even if I couldn't tell them or their pilots apart. If a third film gets made, I'll probably still tune in. 5/10 (EDIT: First wrote this review the day I saw it in cinemas — I've soured on it since then, edited a bit to reflect that)
Nice film and satisfying sequel
I acknowledge I was wrong when I joked the original Pacific Rim took too much from Neon Genesis Evangelion. I realized that notion upon watching Uprising and literally losing count of the Shout Outs to said anime. However, neither then nor now I consider it to be a defect, as this franchise was born from a desire to make a tribute, and why could not it make as many tributes as it wanted? Anyway, despite what I had been told, I found this movie shockingly satisfying. The tone and treatment are very different to those from Del Toro's more operatic vision, but they carry enough grace, adrenaline and tension to please any viewer who knows what he is watching (read as robots, monsters and punches). Accustomed as I was to the familiar Otachi, Leatherback and Slattern, the new final kaiju had me actually scared, and I found myself interested in some of the new characters (I wish there was an extended cut that delved more in them). The main shortcomings of the film, which must be mentioned too, are strangely Marvelian: a villain too goofy to make any effect and some misplaced comedic moments that turn genuine sequences into absurd jokes. However, they don't generally detract from the main vision, which is, as I said, vibrant action. In general, recommended.
- Personally, I prefer the plot of the original film and characters. Of course this is just a matter of taste.
- There is inappropriate timing for the joke.
- The main villain is somewhat cartoonish.
- The villain reveal would be a nice plot twist had it not been blatantly shown earlier.
- Awesome action scenes, CGI, realistic-looking robot and buildings... what more do you ask? It is all very entertaining. Oh, and there's some minor drama too.
- Newt and Gottlieb's acting. It brings back memories.