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Pacific Rim: Uprising (Movie Review)

Pacific Rim: Uprising (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: Ten years after the Battle of the Breach, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) must reluctantly face his past, accept his fate, and spearhead a counterattack against an epic new Kaiju invasion.

REVIEW: So what do you get when you take Guillermo del Toro’s worst film to date, unnecessarily franchise it, then pass the sequel off to a far inferior filmmaker in Steven DeKnight? On the upside you get THE SHAPE OF WATER, which del Toro wisely chose to make instead, paying off prestigiously with a Best Picture Academy Award win. And damn are we all grateful! The downside is the inconsequential PACIFIC RIM UPRISING – a big, dumb, bloated, empty caloric happy meal of a mega-movie spectacle meant to reach the widest possible audience. Here’s the thing though. While del Toro’s 2013 predecessor demonstrated a higher filmmaking aplomb, it’s tone was a bit too grave and its indiscernible rainstorm action too muddled to fully enjoy. By contrast, UPRISING is a much lighter, campier, more buoyant action onslaught, but it hardly reaches the overall quality of craft the first film did. The net result? Despite an impressive international ensemble, despite the notion of much needed global unity, in the end, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING isn’t the kind of coup either Fox or fans of the original hoped it would be!

It’s been a decade since the Battle of the Breach ended. Humanity has restored order, reparations have been made. Jake Pentecost (Boyega), son of fallen soldier Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), faces his own personal existential crossroads. Wasting time by infiltrating private property, looting and pillaging scrap metal lifted from junky Jaegers, Jake is soon called back into action when a new Kaiju invasion is on the brink. While mining precious metals, Jake meets Amara (Cailee Spaeny), a young orphan girl who, after being captured and recruited into military duty by the PPDC, eventually becomes one of Jake’s trainees. Upon reentry to the Ranger program, Jake not only accepts his fate as Stacker Pentecost’s son, he also unites with Nate (Scott Eastwood), as the two of them spearhead counter-insurgence against a grand-scale Kaiju incursion. All the while, a Chinese corporation, in cahoots with Dr. Geiszler (Charlie Day), is intent on dispersing a global drone program to protect the planet.

And it’s this latter subplot that is most gallingly transparent. Little effort is made to shroud the fact this movie is fostered for, catered to and pandering almost explicitly to a Chinese audience, functioning as little more than a venal, geoeconomical cash-cow meant to cull as many ticket sales as humanly possible. This is also why the tone of the first film has been supplanted here in favor of a much sillier one, as well as a more cartoonish, ridiculously excessive slam-bang action blitz meant to appease the desired expectations of far eastern audiences. The motivation here feels misguided by money and money only, which is cynical, yes, but also dictates how the overall package is presented. By appealing to a Chinese audience, the overly-gravid tone of del Toro’s film is nixed, favorably in my opinion, for a breezier, jauntier, more colorful endeavor. UPRISING is a paradox in that regard, it doesn’t quite reach the quality of the first film, but tonally, the sequel is far more enjoyable.

As for the action itself, there’s plenty of it. For those in the market to simply see a massive marvel of obvious CG robots clashing with CG monsters, UPRISING will barely pass muster. Thankfully, as opposed to PAC RIM, here the fighting action is framed far clearer, in the day, with radiant color palates emanating throughout. One of the big complaints of the first film was how difficult it was to see what was actually happening and to whom, during those dreary rain-dappled action sequences in specific. Wisely, DeKnight went the opposite route here and comported the action set-pieces in a way that is not only bigger and more bountiful, but far more visually intelligible as well. Too bad that is where the intelligence ends, as the film largely hews to a TRANSFORMERS-like, comic-book tableau instead of the threatening doomsday parable del Toro was getting at. In a way, UPRISING echoes the old refrain of a trend major studios have cottoned to with their tent-poles over the past 15 years or so: flicks are for kids!

But one of the things I really dug about UPRISING was the large ensemble of international actors, and the insistence on global unity as a means of quashing a monstrous existential threat. Boyega and Eastwood do just fine in the leads, as do holdovers like Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). But the real standouts here are newcomers like Tian Jing, Caliee Spaeny, Adria Arjona, Jin Zhang and the others who give the movie a worldlier purview. Alas, why is it we can only coexist as a human race when a larger existential threat gets posed? It’s sort of a sad and unfortunate commentary the movie is boasting, that we can really only ever come together as a planet when faced with eradication. It need not nor should not take such an extreme to call for such global unity. Still, this kind of allied teamwork and the cast of characters resulting from such is one of the things I enjoyed most about UPRISING.

Considering all, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING is a slightly inferior sequel that suffers from absent mastery of Guillermo del Toro’s missing presence. While its action scenes are at times more enjoyable than its predecessor, they’re certainly more discernible, but the drama on which they rest isn’t nearly as compelling as in the original. While the steroidal production is more swollen this time around, leaning on far more cartoonish tone and mega-scaled spectacle meant for the broadest appeal, the result feels reduced to the lowest common denominator. Further, its open and obvious appeal to Chinese markets makes the movie feel like a prioritized commercial product than a piece of artistic expression. And so, I’m afraid only the preteen crowd and diehard fans of the original will be satisfied by UPRISING. For the rest, its diversionary pabulum at best!

Extra Tidbit: PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING opens wide Friday, March 23rd.

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