The newest robots vs. monsters film Pacific Rim: Uprising, a sequel to the first one, Pacific Rim, has arrived and I’ve been very excited for its arrival since I was a fan of the original. My review is going to take a bit of a different direction from what I’ve seen other reviewers doing. The first part we need to discuss is the story. It’s a very simplistic, lean affair which does make sense but is very bland. Under that context my criticism would be much harsher, except that I don’t really care about the story. The movie is about humans piloting massive robots fighting giant alien monsters to save the planet. If you want a more complex story, look elsewhere. The movie obviously does not care about creating a great saga of deep characters; it just wants to have fun with the action. In that regard it is a success and I’ll be reviewing the film within that context, not the context of a good story. I will touch on plenty of points I would like to see changed or expanded upon in the story but consider that just extra info and a quick summary.
The intro was a typical review of the last film which was thankfully fast and painless. The main premise of the film is centered on humans who are preparing for a future Kaiju invasion, should it occur, but face a change in policy since the rich Shao Industries wants to replace human pilots with automated Jaegars which can be operated from anywhere and mass-produced. At a conference where Mako (a pilot from the first film) was expected to give her opinion on the drone program there were scores of what I can only refer to as environmentalists fighting for Kaiju rights. It’s pretty ridiculous when you consider that they’re artificially created, made as weapons to kill humans and have no mercy. Any sympathy for them is very odd to try and put into the film. It’s not even mentioned later either which begs the question of why they were included. When Liwen Shao, owner of Shao Industries was introduced, you begin to understand part of the film’s marketing strategy. She speaks a good deal of Chinese which is obviously meant to attract a foreign audience since Pacific Rim’s audience is heavily foreign. Check out the link below to see what I mean; China’s gross amount was greater than the domestic return. Shao’s character also brings up the intentions of corporate entities in the weapons industry as opposed to governments. Why should they have the strongest weapons? We don’t let outside companies control the manufacture and storage of nukes so why would we change this with Jaegars? If they all fail for some reason is the planet doomed?
After, we learn that the drone Jaegars are Kaiju hybrids and were sabotaged so that they could open portals to let in more Kaiju they are swiftly destroyed. It would have been more interesting if they were kept alive though. Killing them too quickly was a wasted opportunity. The extension of the rift as a method of mind control was interesting since it does involve going into someone’s mind so logically it makes sense that it could be used to manipulate people’s minds as well. In the story though, the Precursors (I’m not even going to go on about that name choice) used this to brainwash one of the scientists through a Kaiju brain. Unless they are able to use it remotely, I don’t really see how they could turn him into their personal tool. Another very obvious issue was that the new cadets training to become the next generation of pilots clearly lacked enough time to develop their characters, resulting in almost no emotional investment from me let alone attempting to remember their names. I shouldn’t just focus on the negative though, what were some positives?
I appreciated how they finally incorporated Japan into the series. For you younger readers, monster movies came from the U.S. first as The Mummy, Frankenstein or Swamp Thing and gradually developed over time into the giant radioactive animals in the 50’s. Japan also leaped on giant monsters but made the infamous Godzilla, giving their monster or Kaiju genre more depth and longer success. From toys to video games and birthday parties, if you were a kid you remembered these monsters. Each was unique, had their own movie and formed part of a larger universe which meant video games were essentially a bygone conclusion when it became a possibility in the 80’s, the earliest being Godzilla for the Commodore 64 in 1983. Likewise, giant robots are also a familiar idea to Japan, where the likes of Gundam and Evangelion Genesis were more modern examples of the older ides that had been kicked around for decades. Since the inspiration was heavily influenced by the island it’s no to see credit where credit is due and honor a major influence. While Gundam was referenced quickly in a shot in Tokyo I didn’t see a Godzilla reference but I like to think of the Mega Kaiju as a tribute since its appearance looked similar to Godzilla.
To clarify there were some other aspects of the films story or concept that I did like. The idea of mind control using the drift was one example I mentioned above but the process of Kaiju fusing together to make larger Kaiju was even more exciting to see. Watching the fight between this behemoth and the little, by comparison, Jaegars was very enjoyable. Burn Gorman as Gottlieb was excellent and returned with the same eccentricity and quick dialogue I enjoyed from the first. Using Scrapper as an assistant Jaegar to the larger one was an idea I wished that they had expanded upon since it was a very interesting idea. The inclusion of Mt Fuji was a nice touch since it gave the Kaiju a purpose in the film apart from just attacking random cities. However, despite these small portions of intellectual curiosity don’t forget what I said at the start. This is an action movie with robots and monsters. If you wander from this scope, you’re going to have a bad time. Robot fight monster, monster roar, boom boom, monster dead. Anything more and you’ll begin thinking of the film as more than it was made to be. You could easily have a film which had both rich character development and beautiful CGI battle sequences but this is not what Pacific Rim is. It’s a light hearted action (nearly comedy) film about robots fighting monsters. I know at this point that might seem repetitive but I can’t state it enough. Any diversion from this thought, ANY, and you’ll be debating about a story that doesn’t care what you think about it.
Now that my thoughts are there for all of you to see, and criticize, I’m going to touch on some other subjects. China was a major goal for the film and it needed to do well there. It has already proved its potential there since its opening weekend did better than the previous film.
Pacific Rim: Uprising was also the film to finally knock Black Panther off the top slot, a testament to the strength that film had. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long and the film quickly slipped down the ranks, at least in the domestic office.
I am concerned with what they plan to do with the series going forward. Will they keep the cast or just scrap the characters each time? Another issue is scaling. This film raised the ante with more Jaegars and bigger Kaijus so will this be something they need to increase again for the next film? They only have so much money for CGI. Another issue is negative reviews. I didn’t scour the Internet endlessly for reviews but from the crop I have some were good, others even and some others bad. In each one though there is no doubt that the story is not loved in any way. This leaves me wondering if these reviews will essentially doom the franchise under wave after wave of bad public perception and eventually collapse the series. I suppose time will be the testament to that concern.
These were the good ones:
These reviews were more even in their tone:
These are the bad reviews for the film and they did not hold back:
The Root’s bad review takes the typical approach of supporting the movie because there was a black star and setting distance records for missing the point of the film. They also set a record for being ridiculous by stating Mako’s death was sexist since she had to die to motivate Jake while also forgetting to mention that she was his adopted sister and only living family member. The comment section under the article speaks for itself. The Verge was much closer to my interpretation of the film by titling their article, “Pacific Rim: Uprising is only interested in the giant-robot fights”. I do agree that the story can be a bit distracting and perhaps it really should be scrapped but you need some filler in between bouts otherwise the audience would become fatigued by constant battling. If they’re not going to work on a proper one, perhaps they should change the characters so that they can actually focus on the fighting.
I’ve also seen the Transformers & Saturday morning cartoon comparisons multiple times and there is an issue with it. Transformers really tries to develop its characters but fails progressively worse every time. It’s trying to be serious and also became very dramatic. Pacific Rim knows it’s goofy and ridiculous and embraces it for a fun time. The film also embraces this vibe by resembling those cartoons you used to watch where a new villain would pop up to be defeated. The fun was in watching the fight, not the story. Critics have also been pointing to John Boyega as one of the few redeeming qualities but keep missing the point. Who do you think the chief demographic of this film is? Middle aged parents with college degrees and a mortgage? It’s for kids, teenagers and young adults. The toy and video game tie -ins should clue you into that alone. It is not supposed to be sophisticated or deep, it is supposed to entertain and I think that it accomplishes this.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is a very flashy action film showcasing the latest in CGI animated combat and brimming with ferocious monsters. If you want to enjoy a story, please exit left. If you want to watch a spectacle comparable to an MMA match in all of its melee fury, you’ll enjoy yourself.
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