Specific Whim: Review of Pacific Rim Uprising

While movies are my main obsession and preferred form of entertainment, I also like to enjoy Japanese animation, or as it’s commonly known as, anime. I’m more of a casual fan, not a true otaku (slang for someone who is a “die hard fan of anime”, or some other hobby), and I would also consider myself an “old-taku” (an anime fan who got into the medium through early 80s anime like “Robotech” or “Voltron”). I have my small collection of anime TV series and movies on DVD, a sizable amount of my Netflix watchlist is made up of anime, and I watch Crunchyroll on occasion, although I don’t have a full membership with them. And my all-time favorite kind of anime are the ones that feature mecha, which if you don’t know, are giant robots, either self-controlled or piloted by humans. Any kind of animation involving giant robots, fighting or otherwise, is like mother’s milk to me. After such offerings like giant fighting robots from outer space with “Transformers” in 2007, and a piloted mech armored suit from “Iron Man” in 2008, I wondered how long it would take for us to get a live action movie featuring giant robots piloted by humans. The answer: a mere 5 years later.

Needless to say, I was quite excited in 2013 that we got Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim”. As I mentioned in my review for “The Shape of Water”, I consider Del Toro to be one of the few creative forces left in the uncreative wasteland that is modern Hollywood. Granted, his concept of giant robots being piloted by two people in order to fight an alien menace in the form of giant monsters is influenced by an anime series entitled “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, but let’s be honest, Hollywood can’t do live action anime right, so we’re all better off that Del Toro didn’t make a full-on adaptation. For those of you who didn’t see the first movie, an interdimensional gateway opens within the Pacific Ocean, unleashing giant monsters named Kaiju (Japanese for “strange beasts”) upon the Earth. In retaliation, all of the world’s governments create giant robots called Jaegers (German for “hunters”) to fight the monsters. After hours of glorious and colorful robot versus monster fighting, the gateway was closed and humanity was saved. While the movie’s dialogue was a tad flat, and the character development a bit underwhelming, with the exception of one of the best written female leads in modern blockbuster filmmaking in Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), the movie was helluva fun. I will never turn down a chance to watch it whenever given the opportunity to do so.

Unfortunately, I’m in a minority of the American movie-going public, because it didn’t do well financially here in the United States, mostly because people wrote it off as Transformers rip-off, including Michael Bay (not that he’s any kind of expert on adapting mecha anime). Thankfully, the movie-going public in China loved the movie, where the the box office was large enough to consider the film to be a success. It also helped that the production company who produced the movie, Legendary Pictures, was bought by the Chinese corporation, Wanda Group, and making a sequel to this movie was among one of their top properties. As a result, some five years later, we have this, “Pacific Rim Uprising”. However, Del Toro was busy making “The Shape of Water”, so he didn’t have much creative control on this sequel, but then again, he just won two out of three Oscars, so don’t feel too bad for him.

This time around, the movie is directed by Steven S. DeKnight, who has worked mostly on such television series as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel”, “Smallville”, Starz’s “Spartacus”, and Netflix’s “Daredevil”. With a resume like that, I felt the movie was in good hands. For the most part, I was right. Our protagonist is Jake Pentecost, played by Finn from Disney’s “Star Wars”, er, I mean John Boyega. Jake is the son of the deceased Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the leader and war hero from the first movie. But rather than being a war hero, Jake would rather spend his time trading goods in exchange for money (this serves for most of the movie’s product placement and a fair amount of humor). Of course, spare Jaeger parts go for the most money, so Jake wants some of that, but is caught by the authorities, along with another thief, Amara Namani (newcomer Cailee Spaeny). Amara had been using the spare parts to create her own pint sized Jaeger, affectingly named Scrapper, who even has a morph ball attack, not unlike in the Metroid video games. Amara claims she did this because she wants to be ready for if or when the Kaiju return. Jake and Amara are both released thanks to Jake’s step-sister, Mako Mori, but in return, both have to join Pan-Pacific Defense Corp, in order to become Jaeger pilots. Jake and Amara are joined by a number of teenage recruits, although they could all be replaced by self-piloted drone Jaegers. There’s also returning characters in Dr. Newton Geiszler and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), and new characters in Nate Lambert and Liwen Shao (Scott Eastwood and Jing Tian).

I won’t go into further details than that, because it would be too spoiler-ish and I would really like you to go see this movie in theaters, where you can truly appreciate it. What I will say is that you will be entertained. Make no mistake, if like me, all you want to see is a live action version of “Mobile Suit Gundam”, than this is the movie for you (there’s even a little homage to the Gundam franchise). If you’re expecting something deeper than that, you’re going to be disappointed. Boyega certainly has a charisma to him, in fact, he’s better as Jake than he ever was as Finn in either of his appearances in the “Star Wars” movies. Spaeny is energetic and a promising actress as Amara, even though based on the character’s name, she probably should have been played by a Japanese actress. The special effects are top notch, and provide plenty of yummy eye candy to look upon. And the plot takes concepts and story arcs from the first movie, and expand upon them in logical directions. Oh, and much like the in the last movie, the soundtrack is rocking, especially during this one montage scene.

All that being said, there are a few downsides. The young Jaeger pilots have issues between each other, which are interesting, but are too easily resolved in time for the third act. While Boyega and Spaeny are full of charm and charisma, Scott Eastwood is like a block of wood (he must bless his lucky stars every night that he’s so ruggedly handsome and for who his father is). If you’re a fan of Mako Mori And Newton Geiszler from the first movie, you’re probably not going to like what happens to them in this movie, although in Newton’s case, it fits his character based on a certain aspect of his personality. While it is great to see that the number of female characters and international talent has doubled since the first movie, some of their accents are hard to understand. You have either British, Russian, Japanese, or Chinese accents being heard from scene to scene, and some of them are just too thick for the fast rate that they are speaking. Non-acting problems include the movie being just too bright and colorful and fast paced for its own good. Yes, it’s all beautiful to look at and it doesn’t feel bogged down, but with the first movie, the dark and grittiness made for great atmosphere, and the slower pace let you soak in all the amazing visuals. But this movie was designed to appeal to Chinese audiences, and they love their movies to be bright, colorful, and breezly paced. Lastly, this movie is meant to kickstart a franchise, as you can tell from a post-title card stinger. Too bad it’s rather hamfisted, and reminded me too much of “Independence Day: Resurgence”.

As I mentioned before, this is not a movie that you’re going to see for some deep or profound outlook on life or the human condition. You’re here to see giant robots and monsters punch each other in the face, and that’s exactly what you get. It’s foolish to complain otherwise. It would be like seeing an “Avengers” movie, and then complaining that there’s too many superheroes on screen at the same time, either interacting with or fighting each other. That’s the whole point! I’ll admit I’m totally bias on this one, but I give “Pacific Rim Uprising” 4 out of 5 stars. I wouldn’t mind this movie franchise continuing, preferably with Del Toro back in creative control. Now, if only we can get a descent live action movie adaptation of Voltron, but I’ll gladly settle for more seasons of Netflix’s “Voltron: Legendary Defender”, which you should also be watching, by the way.

Featured image source: Pacific Rim Uprising movie promo/poster

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