Pacific Rim Uprising (2018): The Great Old With the Bland New

I’m a fan of the “Pacific Rim” universe. I also think the last film was perfect for what it was, and didn’t need a sequel. Now that a sequel has been made… I enjoyed it. But, this is a very flawed film brought down by child actors that can’t act; contrasted with some beautiful action, expansion of the “Pacific Rim” universe in intriguing ways and solid leads. I wouldn’t call it good, but if you are looking for an escape, my thoughts are, it is worth checking out.

This was a film that had a lot of people involved in its creation, with Steven S. DeKnight directing the film and being one of the 4 writers. Guillermo del Toro and John Boyega were producers, along with 5 other people. On paper, this looks like a film designed by committee.

The story picks up 10 years after the end of the first film. Jake Pentecost (Stacker Pentecost’s son, played by John Boyega) is living as a scavenger until he is picked up, and forced back into being a Jaeger Ranger. He must train new recruits as the world prepares for the return of Kaiju. All is not as it appears to be, though, as a new drone program is implemented, and a mysterious Jaeger arrives. The new Jaeger starts attacking people rather than protecting them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I love this universe. Since middle school I’ve been a fan of monsters and mechs. The world del Toro realized is so rich in character and mythology. The mythology this time around doesn’t disappoint. We get solid world building, as we learn more about the Kaiju, The Precursors, and how humanity has changed after the Battle of the Breach that ended the first film.

The Jaegers and Kaiju – The Jaegers and Kaiju look great, as always, and the introduction of drones, which are later shown to be Jaeger/Kaiju hybrids, are a treat that add a lot the action. These two things, along with del Toro, are what drew me to the first film, and it was the mechs and monsters that kept my interest through the times where this film fell short. As both their creative designs and action scenes brought to life the world when the characters weren’t up to it.

Jake Pentecost and Nate Lambert – The main character drama is between Jake Pentecost and Nate Lambert. Jake is the party boy who becomes responsible after facing his trauma. Nate is the one who has to trust Jake, once again, if they are going win. Boyega’s charisma continues to make his character intriguing, even if the script doesn’t always help. Nate Lambert is a battle hardened veteran who was shaped by the war in such a way, he has trouble connecting to people. It gives him a level of mystery, as if he is holding onto some past trauma, which gives him a way to relate to Jake. It is their core relationship that kept the film going for me, as each of them grew over the course of the film, and it was a genuine challenge for them learning to trust one another.

Newt and the Kaiju – The main antagonist is Newt, who is being controlled by The Precursors, that also control the Kaiju. We discover he kept the Kaiju brain at the end of the last film, and it has corrupted him. Charlie Day hams the hell out of it, and is enjoyable to watch in his madness. He nearly wins on multiple occasions, and I can’t wait to see where they take his story.

Dr. Hermann and Liwen Shao – The two support characters who really drive the story are Dr. Hermann (he was around in the first film too), and Liwen Shao, owner of the drone program. Together they are able to save the world from the Kaiju, as each of their skills complement the surviving Jaegers and help them defeat the Giant Kaiju in its final assault on Tokyo. Which felt like a brilliant salute to all the mech and monster films that made this genre possible.

The Cons:

The New Recruits – These kids can’t act. I didn’t care about their story, each line of dialogue felt forced, and fake. These kids made the film feel like an episode of Power Rangers. If I had to describe them…it’d be difficult. We are shown how each of them are (the nervous one, the angry one, the inventor), but there isn’t enough there for them to be compelling. They brought the film down, and even making one of them a main character, in the inventor Amara, wasn’t enough to make me care about their story. 

The Death of Mako Mori – Mako Mori deserved better. She is killed by a rogue Jaeger, and it ends up being anti-climatic. She already existed primarily to give us plot (a disservice to the character), and even her great scenes with Boyega can’t change the fact that her death wasn’t dying in a fight against the monsters…it was in a copter crash. She never got that “moment of awesome” Stacker got, and there was so much more development she could have received with the re-establishing her relationship with Jake. Besides the child actors this was the worst part of the film.

Love Interest Woman – There is a woman named Jewel. Both Jake and Nate have a crush on her. She is an object in a contrived love triangle object. I couldn’t tell you her personality, her aims, or what she wants. She exists purely as “love interest girl” and is the worst part of the script. She wasn’t needed.

In the end, what holds up this film and keeps it from sucking are: the old characters and those tied to the old characters from the first film, Newt and Hermann were wonderful, Pentecost and Lambert had a great relationship, and Liwen Shao (the new character) shakes the story up in ways that only enrich this universe. I loved her character arc, and hope that she is a major part if they make a third film. This is a film that largely exists because of success in the international box office, specifically China. In the end I’m glad it was made.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10

The Dark Knight Rises (2012): A Fantastic Film Exploring the Power of Ideas, Consequences of Lies and Finding Resolution

The Dark Knight Rises

     “The Dark Knight Rises” is the most controversial of “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” This is both because of how people see the villain and some of the story choices that were made in regards to the timeline leading up to the film and some story choices during the film. This is a movie that you’ll enjoy more if you fill in the blanks and take it from the logic of the past films. For this reason for me it is a favorite, though I understand why people hate it, while for me…I enjoy it more than “Batman Begins” as I found the structure for this a lot better and the emotional payoff much more rewarding. This is an ending and a great ending is hard to pull off and I believe this film does it, and I’m also biased in that I loved Bane as a villain…which I know many people did not. This film is about bringing some of the character arcs we have followed the last 2 films to a close and first and foremost it does that, and it does it well, even with all the flaws.

      The film was directed by Christopher Nolan who also wrote and produced it. Jonathan Nolan was one of the co-writers and the other producers were Emma Thomas and Charles Roven.

     The story takes place 8 years after the events of “The Dark Knight” and organized crime has been taken down by Batman (Bruce Wayne) and the Police Department through the Dent Act, formed after Harvey Dent’s death. A lie hides over the city though as the truth behind what Harvey became is hidden by retiring Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) as Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives in Gotham to destroy it forcing Batman out of hiding as he must deal with this new threat and others.

The Pros: Cinematography – Wally Pfister is once again great in casting shots. From the fights with Bane that contrast his strength and power, to the shadows that Batman fights from and Gotham Occupied with the snow showing us a dead city devoid of hope and embracing despair.

The Soundtrack – Zimmer once again creates an amazing score! From the chants of Bane’s theme to the beautiful piano piece for Catwoman that shows the mystery of the character. His score has always succeeded in elevating the story and this is no different as we see Bruce Wayne go from his lowest point of despair to rising beyond the identity of Batman.

Narrative and Pacing – Narrative and pacing are the best they have ever been in the Trilogy. The story never drags and there is a clear ending rather than a bunch of climaxes. The clear beginning, middle and end compliment the story and characters and create a fantastic resolution to the story.

The World – The World is fantastic! This is a world where I don’t believe Batman ever really fully retired…as long as organized crime was around he was fighting and he had to give something for the police to chase at the end of “The Dark Knight.” Just like the League of Shadows will never ever fully go away, neither will Batman as a character or identity others can adopt. Both of these things are ideas and this movie fully captures that. Any person can adopt ideas greater than themselves and use it for good (John Blake taking up the mantel of the Bat) or Bad (Talia and Bane seeking to destroy Gotham to end it’s corruption).

The Characters – The characters continue to be one of the richest parts of the series and what will keep me coming back and even finding inspiration in them for my own writing.

Daggett and Stryver – These two were meant to show the corrupt Business world and that even without organized crime that is with the black market and drugs, Gotham is still just as corrupt…it has just become White Collar. They are fun and they clearly had fun being bad guys and in these roles who were presented as mini-bosses but were just Bane’s patsies as he was the one with the real power all along. They were the ones rules by fear and money.

Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow – Crane is back and when Gotham breaks everyone out of Gotham and Arkham he becomes one of the judges in the Kangaroo Court. This guy is awesome and there is even the chance he escaped in the end. This character is a survivor who embraces the madness in himself and around him.

Lucius Fox – Freeman continues to own this role and is there to help Bruce Wayne heal, from his coming back as Batman to helping Batman save Gotham and giving him hints he survived at the end. Lucius is the stalwart ally who is always there and is the only person not to betray Bruce’s trust.

Alfred – Alfred loses Bruce and learns how important it is to face the truth. He shouldn’t have burned Rachel’s letter about her marrying Harvey Dent as it hit Bruce in the worst place, leading to his being asked to leave…only to return believing Bruce Wayne to be dead. Luckily he finds that Bruce does grow beyond his role as Batman which is what he always wanted. Michael Caine does a great job once again.

Miranda Tate / Talia Al Ghul – Marion Collitard does a good job as Talia. Bane is the great villain (Talia is just good) and I think this is largely because she is too much of the classic League of Shadows. She uses a clean energy generator as a weapon which has bringing people back to their base nature and back to nature…calling back to the eco-terrorist roots of Ra’s Al Ghul and his League. She breaks Batman’s heart too and we learn that she could have truly been a friend and lover and been changed had they met much before this movie. It is the death of her father and his rejection of Bane that inspire her quest and identity as Bane and her had been shown the worst of humanity and saw that in Gotham. It was the pit that needed to be cleaned.

James Gordon – Gordon like Alfred deals with the consequences of the lie in “The Dark Knight.” He loses the trust of his only ally on the police force (Blake) when it is revealed and we see that. He became corrupt and the consequence was Bane faced no resistance from the populace and the populace embraced his revolution to take Gotham apart. He finds resolution though when he learns that he inspired Bruce to become Batman and helped Bruce to heal when he needed it most. We also see him becoming a healer again at the end as he is one of the few leaders left in a city torn apart by war. Gary Oldman truly inhabited this role.

The Dark Knight Rises Catwoman

Selina Kyle / Catwoman – Hathaway is fantastic and is my favorite Catwoman! She is a character who does what she wants but also seeks to become more as she wants freedom which we see she never had due to her financial state and being trapped where she lived and in how she dealt with it by becoming  a thief. She shows virtue though as she comes back to save Gotham and saves Batman from Bane before Bane kills Batman. It is partially thanks to her that Gotham is saved. She becomes a hero and in it finds freedom.

The Dark Knight Rises Bane

Bane – Tom Hardy is awesome in this role! Bane is one of my favorite villains in this series along with Two-Face, the Joker and Scarecrow. He is threatening in both body and how he carries himself and psychologically. His arc is showing his ideals are true, that humanity will destroy itself and to fulfill the League’s quest to destroy Gotham. He gets this perspective from his time in prison and the price that was taken on him for saving Talia from the mob who killed her mother. He loses everything and is stronger for it as all he has to live for is Talia and the ideals of power. It takes Catwoman shooting him with the Batpod. I wanted to spend more time with this character. There is so much depth and threat to this guy and so much unknown, even with all we learn. Like the Joker there is mystery there…and it lends power to the character.

John Blake / Robin – John Blake is my favorite Robin (Robin is actually in his full birth name) he is the orphan who discovers Bruce Wayne is Batman when Bruce visits his orphanage as a kid. This inspires him to become a cop and we see that he is the one with Gordon fighting against the occupation by Bane and having the most success. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is awesome in this role and if more films had been made of him in the role as Batman or Nightwing working with Batman I’d have been there, or read them had they made comics about it. This character has depth and isn’t a punk but an idealist who loses the idealism and goes his own way, becoming the new Batman.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce Wayne’s arc is moving on from the loss of his parents and Rachel as the truth of both when he loses everything (his company, identity as Batman and being unstoppable, Alfred and Gotham) and after losing everything he finds Bruce again and is able to transcend the Batman identity and grow. Bane breaks him and it is in the breaking that he can heal from the scars he never addressed. The Pit is as much in his mind as it is a physical Pit and it is only in rising from both that he manages to save Gotham and himself. This is Christian Bale at his best as we see his full range of anger, despair, hope and content. This film is the much deserved resolution Bruce has been seeking since he lost his parents so long ago. Now he can be Batman and Bruce Wayne. The world is his and whatever he chooses to do it will no doubt be to help others as before but as a truly healed person, not the broken vigilante he was before.

The Breaking of Batman – This scene is powerful as Bane shows that he inhabits the idea of the League of Shadows and Batman better than Batman. He is the manipulator from the shadows who fights psychologically and physically. He breaks Batman totally and leaves him to suffer while Gotham is destroyed. It is powerful scene as he knows how small Bruce Wayne is in his identity in the end.

Climbing the Pit – The Pit is there to remind Bruce Wayne that he is more than Batman. He had gotten beyond fear and in doing so had nothing to live. In becoming an ideal he had trapped himself inside the ideal. It is only when he leaves room for fear to fail that he rises about it and finds Bruce Wayne again, which is the identity he lost the moment his parents were shot. Climbing the pit is healing both physically and mentally and becoming more than he ever was before.

What Desperation Can Breed / Revolution – Gotham is separated between the extreme rich and extreme poor. This leads to the revolution that Bane incites that leads to the easy occupation of the city and letting the city eat itself before it’s inevitable destruction.

The Cost of Batman’s Victory in “The Dark Knight” – The cost of victory is the occupation and death of Gotham. The mayor and all areas of authority get destroyed over the course of the war. Even though the city is saved from the bomb, the scars Bane left on the city will probably never be healed…which I think is something both Blake, Bruce and Selina realize, which is why they’ll be around to help. They have left the city, but everyone returns to Gotham.

Importance of Truth – Bane is able to so thoroughly break Batman and the city by revealing the truth of Harvey Dent which riles up the city against the rich and authority. There is only a small resistance and the mob turns on itself showing that the lie to save Gotham did nothing as eventually the city did turn on itself. The city’s base self was laid bare.

The Ending / The Power of Ideas and Growing Beyond Self – I felt this was done beautifully. Gordon realizes the child he comforted whose parents were shot (Bruce Wayne) became Batman, his friend and ally. Blake becomes the new Batman as he realizes the structures of Gotham are ones he can’t work with and he sees the corruption that Gordon saw but chose to work within to change and Selina and Bruce transcend their past identities becoming fully free…off the radar and the map and free to be whatever they want to be. Batman becomes Bruce Wayne which can hold both identities and more. Alfred get’s his happy ending finding that Bruce found happiness too.

Okay: The Writing – There are awkward dialogue moments and some extremes that shouldn’t have been in here (Batman having no cartilage in his legs, and his “retirement”), but the strengths of the characters and other moments like any moment with Alfred or the fight with Bane elevate it. So I’m putting it as okay.

The Cons: Talia’s Death – This wasn’t done well. She didn’t have to say anything…we knew her father’s dream was done if the bomb went off.

Dialogue Moments – There are some awkward dialogue moments in this…for example in the finale fight as Batman and Bane stare awkwardly at each other. It is stilted, but once they get fighting it is fine. There are other moments of wooden dialogue too, luckily they are only moments and not consistent.

   This is a film that ends the Trilogy really well. Batman moves on and at the very least becomes International. This film captures the idea behind “Batman Inc.” in many ways as we see him abroad but setting things up for Blake to inherent the mantel of the Bat. Bruce Wayne is both Batman (fixing the Bat Light) and Bruce Wayne (his living openly abroad). This is something he never had in any of the past films. Bruce Wayne was only Batman in the past films as he was unable to live beyond his obsession. It is only in realizing that Gotham will always have problems and need protecting but that can happen and he can live too. He takes Alfred’s advice and stays true to himself. In that way Batman dies so that Bruce Wayne who inhabits both identities can rise and there is something beautiful in that. I get why people hate it, but our heroes shouldn’t stay static. Let Bruce Wayne grow as all characters should so he can be more than just the traumatized child lost in fear. Bruce Wayne deserves better than that and this Trilogy is his story, his growth, his rising.

Final Score: 9.9 / 10

Pacific Rim (2013): Giant Robots, Monsters and a Fantastic World

Pacific Rim Poster

     What a way to kick off the new year with one of my favorite films, that still holds up now, even after 3 viewings. This was an interesting time to watch it as the first time I missed a lot of what was great about it but only enjoyed on a viserol level versus the second time where I caught the little details Del Toro put in that made his world spectacular and on the third viewing the issues I had through the first two really came up to the surface. This is still a favorite movie mind you, and I’ll explain why in the review, but though it is a favorite, it is in no way perfect.

   “Pacific Rim” was directed by Guillermo del Toro who also was one of the writers of the screenplay and a producer. The other writer was Travis Beachan who wrote the original story and the other producers were Thomas Tull, Mary Parent and John Jashni.

    The story begins with setting the stage. We expected alien life to come from the stars, but instead it came from a rift beneath the ocean. The creatures were the Kaiju and the only way humanity figured out how to fight them was constructing giant Jaegers (Robots) to defeat them. Humanity begins winning but things change when Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother fight a Kaiju and Raleigh’s brother is killed. This leads to him going into hiding and the Jaeger program declining, to the point that when Raleigh is pulled back into the war against the Kaiju, the Jaigers and their pilots lead by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) are nothing more than a resistance.

The Pros: The Premise and World – The idea of giant monsters coming from an alternate dimension and choosing to fight them with giant robots is a cool one. What is especially cool is how desperate and lived in the world feels like. We see tons of people from all over the world forced to live in cramped spaces because all along the coasts Kaiju are forcing people to run and move and when rebuilding happens it is usually around the remains of a Kaiju. This world feels lived in and it’s all the better for it.

The Soundtrack – Ramin Dwajadi did a fantastic job with this soundtrack. It has a large epic feel and is great at adding tension and action to the fight sequences between the Kaiju and Jaegers, as well as being reflective when it has to be as well. I hope he does the soundtrack in the sequel.

Cinematography – Visually this movie is a beautiful and has some of the best CGI I have seen in any film. You tell how much Del Toro is a fan boy of giant monsters and robots and it comes out in the designs of both the Jaegers and Kaiju are unique and a joy to see on screen.

The Kaiju – The Kaiju are like the Zerg in that they are a hive mind that adapt and shape themselves to deal with whatever weapons the Jaegers and humanity has. We see this when Otachi can fly and has a long tale that functions as an arm, as well as Leatherback having an EMP charge to shut down Jaegers too. They are a great threat and I really liked their designs which were aquatic and at the same time reptilian.

The Jaeger Teams – There is the Crimson Typhoon with a team of Chinese triplets, a Father and son Australian Team with Striker Eureka, a Russian Married Couple Team with their jaeger Cherno Alpha and Mako and Raleigh in Gipsy Danger. Sadly Otachi and Leatherback destroy most of them in the coolest battle in the film. We do see them all get a chance to shine though, even if it is only briefly. Of the Jaeger’s outside of Gipsy Danger, my favorite one is Crimson Typhoon.

Hercules Hansen – This guy is a minor character who is actually pretty cool. He served with Raleigh and Pentecost and is constantly dealing with his angry and unstable son. They have a pretty strong connection though, which in the EU exists because they are survivors of a Kaiju attack where Hercules lost his wife and Chuck lost his mother. They have some great moments, though I attribute that more to Herc who is truly an interesting character who should have got more screentime. Max Martini  did a great job.

Hannibal Chau – It’s one-eyed Ron Pearlman wearing sunglasses, a red suit and golden shoes while running Hong Kong’s blackmarket. There is nothing not to like here.

Stacker Pentecost – If this movie had only had Idris Elba to carry it, it would have been a good film. Not a great film since so much of everything else elevates the rather poor script further but Elba is by far the best actor on the screen. His character is complex having adopted the orphan Mako when she lost her parents in a Kaiju attack and he never stops fighting for the survival of humanity. He is the character who make Raleigh finally give a damn and is the one who fights off the Kaiju in order so that Raleigh and Mako can close the rift. He never stops being a compelling character and I wish he’d been the one going through an arc rather than Raleigh who is really forgettable. He goes out fighting though and is my favorite character in the film.

Mako Mori – Mako is the rookie pilot who deals with the trauma she faced as an orphan both in her mentorship and adopted by Pentecost and through her becoming partner with Raleigh. She has a great arc and personalized Gipsy Danger in great ways, giving it a sword for example, which it never had before. You can tell she loves the Jaegers and revenge is a great drive for her against the Kaiju. She is also one of the more reserved characters and much of her action is watching or in subtle ways advocating for herself. I’m really curious where they’re going to take her arc in the sequel, cause I hope she returns. Rinku Kikuchi is wonderful and her character is one of the more compelling characters in the film.

Gipsy Danger AI – Ellen McLain who you may know as the voice of GLADos from the “Portal” videogame series voices the AI! What an awesome decision. She does a great job and adds elements of humor to things as especially early on, Mako and Raleigh are messing up big time on drifting together. I hope she returns for the sequel.

Newton and Hermann – These two together have some great banter as Hermann is the scientist obsessed with numbers and theory while Newton is obsessed with Kaiju. Over the course of the film they come together and end up drifting with the Kaiju which in turn helps humanity defeat the Kaiju. Charlie Day as Newton is one of my favorite characters in the film and Burn Gorman owns it as the prim and proper British gentleman scientist who is opposite in personality to Newt.

Okay: Raleigh – The main character is pretty forgettable and could have been played by anyone. He isn’t a bad actor but I can’t really mention anything unique about the actors performance or what defined the character. This is a shame as even some of the minor Jaeger teams have more personality going on.

The Script – There is quite a lot of telling and some lines are pretty simple. It’s okay though since it reads like a comic book, but it’s not great dialogue.

The Cons: Chuck Hansen – This guy was an unstable prick for most of the series and I could never care about his story. It took learning about the loss of his mother after the film to give any sort of damn about this guy.

The Council of World Leaders – These guy are idiots and once they shutdown the Jaeger program and go for the wall that is useless at keeping back Kaiju, we never hear from them again. So much for humanity’s resistance being lead by the world’s leaders.

        “Pacific Rim” remains a favorite and a movie I’d recommend to anyone who appreciates Giant Monster movies and robot mechs in television or cinema. This film is solid all the way through, with a diverse cast and character arcs and a genuine love of what is being done with the story. There is hope and loss, there battles that mean something, and it is all presented in a visually stunning way to boot. If Michael Bay’s “Transformers” or “Ninja Turtles” franchises were like this film in any way they’d actually be elevated to the level of good. Sadly, you will not find that quality there that Del Toro brings to his projects and the passions of his childhood. Definitely check it out.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. Not higher because of script issues and how forgettable the main character is.