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

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 2, Episodes 18-19 – “The Zillo Beast Arc” – Star Wars Tries Going Kaiju

Zillo Beast

     “The Zillo Beast Arc” was trying to do a really cool idea, sadly so much of it didn’t work. Kaiju films have a lot of tropes, there are the soldiers (Clone Troopers and Jedi) those who want to use the Kaiju as a weapon or kill it (Palpatine and Anakin) and those who want to save and protect it because it is last of it’s kind (Padme, Mace Windu and the Scientist Sionver), it was also awoken by the equivalent of an atomic bomb in the Star Wars Universe, so these episodes are going full Kaiju. They even have the “Monster Destroys the City” and “Monster is Intelligent” tropes in full swing. Sadly it doesn’t really work, even though all the things that need it to work are present.

    “The Zillo Beast” was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Craig Titley while “The Zillo Beast Strikes Back” was directed by Steward Lee and written by Steven Melching.

    The story involves the Republic uses a Super Weapon on Malastare which awakens an ancient Zillo Beast which they have to defeat and later take to Coruscant for containment, from here it escapes after Palpatine orders it killed and the Republic Heroes race against time to stop it and the Chancellor.

The Pros: Palpatine – Palpatine Palpatines this episode as we see him wanting to use the Zillo’s Beast armor to upgrade the troops and later wants it cloned after it’s defeated. The creature stares him down when he orders it’s death on multiple occasions and you never see him fully give into fear. He truly is the future Emperor. Ruthless, intelligent and a bit bad (cloning the beast is a wonderful, terrible idea).

Anakin – Anakin is the middle road on this where he sees why Palpatine needs to kill the beast (it keeps doing damage and can’t be contained). He also sees the ends justify the means in regards to the war and is Anakin and Padme’s main protector during the beast’s rampage over Coruscant.

Mace Windu – Mace Windu has a soft side, especially for nature. We this in his advocating for the life of the Zillo Beast and the ends he goes to to save it. I liked this even though it make him a bit lawful stupid.

Okay: Malastare – The Dugs are alright but they were pretty weak and we never get to know their world.

Dr. Sionver – She is fascinated by the beast but helps design the weapon for it. She is mostly a pawn of Palpatine because she values her job so much. This character had potential but didn’t have enough interaction with anyone outside of Palpatine which limited her development.

The Cons: The Zillo Beast – The design looks like plant meets reptile and could have been really cool, but it was way too lanky and hands were too papery to feel like a threat. I liked the ideas behind the Zillo Beast, just not the execution, much like the episode.

Lost Potential – We have the factions…those who want to kill and save the beast, but no one attempts to save it when it escapes and it starting on Malastare was bad given how boring the planet was, even a nuke and Separatist army couldn’t make it interesting. There should have been Dr. Sionver’s faction and Palpatine’s faction with the military being the ones in Sionver’s role of trying to weaponize the scales of the Beast. So much potential was lost this episode.

   I liked the ideas of this episode, but not the execution and so many characters had potential that was never truly explored. For this reason I can’t recommend it. The two episodes are okay but aren’t good or great.

Final Score: 5 / 10. Average adventure.

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.