Movie Review - Pacific Rim: Uprising
Pacific Rim: Uprising commits, for me, two cardinal sins of cinema that makes reviewing the movie difficult. You see, all the robot on robot and robot on kaiju action we see in the trailers is indeed just as awesome as you’d hope…but given that the first of the aforementioned sins takes place within the first 15 minutes of the movie…ugh. As a viewer, I had to fight to get through this one…or at the very least, just hang on with all I could until another action scene took place. I don’t want to liken this to torture…because that’s a little harsh and unfair to the film…but I think the critic-speak terminology is that it makes for an uneven cinematic experience.
Enough beating around the bush, let’s get those sins out of the way. YouTuber Brandon Tenold calls this ‘pulling a Kenny’ in his Gamera film reviews…and no, that’s not a South Park reference. Disney is probably the biggest offender of this sort of thing in American film…it’s introducing or forcing a plucky sidekick kid into a storyline for the sole reason of trying to appeal to as broad a demographic as possible. While not a Disney example, Transformers: The Last Knight was guilty of this with the Izabella character. Here in Pacific Rim, it’s Cailee Spaeny’s character…Amara Namani, who…say it with me now…just happens to be a wiz at Jager mechanics (she built her own mini-Jager, Scrapper). So of course she gets recruited into a bunch of new Jager cadets. This sets up cardinal sin numero two-o: anyone wanna take a guess at who ends up saving the day at the end of the movie? Yup. It’s Little Miss Sunshine here. This kind of shit really boils my bottom. [Easy there grandpa. – Ed.] Look, you’ve already got the late-childhood/early tween audience because GIANT-FUCKING MONSTERS VS. GIANT-FUCKING ROBOTS. And don’t try to level that ‘you’re just a guy that feels threatened by a female protagonist’ crap at me either…because female protagonists, when done right, are freakin’ great: Wonder Woman, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, Dunan Newt, Sarah Carter in the Descent films…heck, even Rey…although I know that opinion will get me into trouble in the Star Wars community. But the Amara character? As she’s presented in this film? Ugh. I won’t levy the accusation, but I will say that if anyone were to say this character is a candidate for the ‘Mary Sue’ label…I would not object to that sentiment. The time used on this character also gives rise to minor flaws in the film. We’re supposed to believe there’s a friendship between John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost and Scott Eastwood’s Lambert…but we only catch a glimpse of it here and there. We’re supposed to believe that these two are vying for the attention of another Jager pilot…and we get maybe a scene or two to establish that? But we can always count on der Wunderkind showing up EXACTLY right when she’d be the most annoying and detrimental to the pace of the film.
That’s actually kind of a shame, because the time not spent on her actually develops some great twists and turns in the Pacific Rim universe. The plot opens on the potential mothballing of the Jager program as a Chinese company is creating automated Jager drones. The initial presentation is thwarted by a rogue Jager, Obsidian Fury, in an attack that wipes out much of the Jagers sent to bring it down as well as the Pan Pacific Defense Corps leadership…including Jake’s adopted older sister and heroine of the first film, Mako Mori. As the mystery around this rogue Jager, we learn who the real villain is and the looming unstoppable danger at their fingertips. This aspect of the film comes off extremely well, with clear references to the anime that inspired the franchise…including the closest we may ever get to seeing EVA units in live action. As I already mentioned, the action here is top-notch and definitely scratches that Monsters VS Robots itch. And that’s the rub with this film…if there was more of a focus on what’s here in this paragraph, the movie would get my shining endorsement. But as I mentioned above, just as you’re enjoying stuff like this…sure enough Amara enters the scene and pretty much kills it all.
Given the strength of the visuals and what the plot does right, I do end up falling on the positive side with this film…especially with the teaser they give at the end for a potential third film. Sadly, the existence of this sequel is thanks more to the international market than the American one…and it looks like the studio used that to their advantage to force their ‘notes’ into becoming reality…which is where I suspect the damn kid came from. I can’t help but wonder if that will end up sinking the franchise…because in Guillermo del Toro’s original film, there was this intangible feeling of heart. You knew this material connected deeply with the director and that somehow made it onto the screen. You really don’t get that with this sequel…or if you do it’s sporadic at best. And it’s that lack of heart which may end up dooming both this sequel and the franchise. I hope not…because, again, the setup for a third movie is there and it would be awesome…but it wouldn’t be the first time a movie left its audience hanging. So, if you’ve had any inclination to check this movie out, I’d certainly encourage you to do so…but with tempered expectations. It’s not the greatest…but if we don’t get the grosses up on this one, we may never get the potential awesome of what a sequel promises. Sure, that’s not the best reason to go see a movie…but it’s not like there’s nothing here to like…there is…but, well, this movie does commit some sins that it, and the franchise as a whole, need to atone for.