Monday, March 26, 2018

Review: "Pacific Rim: Uprising" reaches for greatness, but can't quite touch it.

Pacific Rim: Uprising Review
I loved the original "Pacific Rim" by Guillermo del Toro. It's a movie that was much superior than what was expected. I remember when the movie came out, it was dubbed "Transformers vs. Godzilla in a bathtub." While I personally laughed at this designation, it's also oversimplifying what del Toro did. Guillermo del Toro made a fun action movie with a personal edge and a little more to it than the regular summer action movie. I loved that we were thrown into a world where monsters came out of the ocean floor and attacked us. I love how the world adjusted to these invasions. I love the glimpses of the black markets and religions that generated out of the kaiju invasions. Del Toro put his personal signature on the movie, and as with all of his movies, he made it delightfully weird.

It's a tall order to make a sequel to any Guillermo del Toro movie without him writing the script or sitting in the director's chair. He is so delicate in the way he mixes the weird with the personal and the emotional that it's a very difficult task. Steven S. DeKnight made a name for himself, for me personally, at the beginning of the decade. "Spartacus" is delightful, yes it's also vulgar and vile, but its delightful. I take pride in owning every single season and go through a power run each year. I loved the show. And for all the sex, violence and cursing, it's a show that still had heart and soul. DeKnight also went on to create the first season of "Daredevil," a very different show compared to "Spartacus," but he did the same thing he did to "Spartacus" that he did for "Daredevil." Something the movie never got right, he gave Matt Murdock a soul, a reason to be a hero, a conflict to overcome. Now, in 2018, DeKnight makes his movie directing debut with this sequel.

"Pacific Rim: Uprising" is a movie filled with some good ideas. I am actually a little surprised by what works here. There are some story threads that were actually ripe for a good story for a sequel to this, and DeKnight is talented enough that he almost runs with it. He isn't afraid to get his weird on here, and if you are even going to attempt to imitate Guillermo del Toro, getting your weird on is a necessity. He's got a great cast to work with here, all of whom bring their A-game and the visuals are pretty good. Though I will say that they weren't on the level that they were in the first film. The thing is, once DeKnight feels like he's revved up his engine, he abruptly decides to turn off the car altogether and go back in the house.

"Pacific Rim: Uprising" takes place roughly a decade after the first film. John Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, who is the father of Stacker Pentecost from the first film (AKA Idris Elba). The war is over, and Jake hits the black market, designing and selling Jaeger parts. The Jaeger was the big machine used to fight the kaiju. The kaiju were giant monsters that came out of the ocean floor after an underwater rift occurred. Jake accidentally runs into Amara (Cailee Speaney) who is building her own Jaeger. They are both captured and given a choice, prison time or Jaeger trainer. It's an easy choice, and they are off to the PPDC in order to train pilots of Jaegers.

The movie surprisingly takes its time setting up the characters and motives. There is no action in the first half hour or so of movie, which also wasn't something I expected. I expected a big, visual treat-fest all the way through. But the movie does take some time to set things up. John Boyega at this point, has perfected the reluctant hero and it seems like he's almost type cast as the guy who doesn't have the heroic courage until he can no longer make his own choices. He does it well though, can't take that away from him. He has good chemistry with Speaney, who surprises big time here and also Scott Eastwood, who seems to be willingly morphing into his father at this point. Charlie Day returns for this one, the only returnee from the first film. But he's much different here, as a corporate shill trying to create drone Jaegers that will make the original ones obsolete. He's completely different here, yet he still made me cackle.

Things get crazy when they start introducing rogue Jaegers and alien brains and in the middle of the movie, it seems like things are really starting to get going. But the film reaches a certain moment where it wants to stop telling a story. It gets to a point where it wants to stop dropping details. Where it wants to quit putting together ideas. Once the film reaches this point, it becomes your standard sequel. The movie boils down to a louder, bigger version of the first film, but always remaining a pale comparison of the former. The thing is, they had good ideas here, so why not explore them? Why introduce these ideas, then seemingly drop them for a "cashgrab" style sequel. Why set up a threequel when you already shot yourself in the foot?

It's always hard when people try to make a sequel to something they had no part of in the first place. But in this situation, I give DeKnight minor credit. He did what he could here, and he even strung up some good ideas. I am just a bit baffled that he didn't explore them in any significant way. Sadly, "Pacific Rim: Uprising" stands a good chance of just being another sequel, and that's disappointing all around.


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