Gundam Month 2018: There's a UNICORN In Pacific Rim 2--Non-Spoiler Review
How much dumb fun can one movie have? Ask F. Gary Gray, James Wan, and Justin Lin--the directors of the six most recent Fast & Furious films. And although Guillermo del Toro is raking home the "big" awards with his refreshing inventive fantasy The Shape of Water, cinephiles, otakus and comic enthusiasts alike can't forget that it was he who was sitting in the director's seat for fun flicks like Blade II, Hellboy, and the 2013 tribute to 70's giant robot anime and Toho monster movies--Pacific Rim. Without del Toro at the helm of this new film--replaced by Steven S. DeKnight in his directorial debut--Pacific Rim: Uprising misses a few steps and falls short of its predecessor, but still holds enough charisma from its leads and its undeniably worthy action pieces for a film worth the price of admission, as long as you're honest to yourself about what you already know this film will be.
John Boyega is the new lead of this sequel, which takes place a decade after the previous film. He plays Jake, a former Jaeger pilot-turned-thief, carrying the legacy of his father--Stacker Penecost (Idris Elba in the first film)--in his blood. After running into 15-year-old junkyard genius and orphan Amara, the two of them find themselves being recruited by the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps as, respectively, instructor and recruit for the future of Earth's defense in the form of next-generation Jaeger robots. Reuniting both with old friends and traumatic memories, Jake and Amara find themselves on a journey to prove themselves in the battle for Earth's survival as they're caught in the middle of experiencing the dangers of the latest unmanned drone tech, and witnessing the return of the Kaiju--the giant monsters from another dimension, once thought defeated ten years ago.
Fast-paced and blindingly colorful, director DeKnight ditches most of the gloom and depth del Toro pressed into his first film and goes straight for the destruction of urban cities, monsters clashing with robots, and childlike wonder complete with constant humor and daylight battles that inadvertently foil the physical threat of the Kaiju. The action is a flurry of cheesy laser sound effects--even for non-laser weapons--holographic touch-screen cockpit technology and brightly colored weapons too obnoxious to be bothered by questions such as, "How does that even work?" Even the franchise's psychic-link subplot--the famed "Neuro Handshake" which connects the brainwaves of two human pilots with their Jaeger to function physically in unison--is downplayed drastically in this sequel to provide a highway to the inevitable anime-style super-violence.
Thankfully, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Anybody expecting this film to be as socially responsible as Toho's Godzilla films or as disturbingly reflective and honest (see: depressing) as Evangelion is not in for a treat. Indeed, this film is all about the fights, and fights are what we certainly do get.
Jake and the younger Amara, played by Cailee Spaeny, hold the film together with their wide-eyed big brother/little sister chemistry. Unlike the first film's hero Raleigh, played all-too-seriously by Charlie Dunham--notably absent here--Jake is funny, quirky, and just self-serving enough that you appreciate his honesty. Amara is a tough underdog who, if a third film necessitated it, could probably hold it down on her own as the franchise's new main character. Rinko Kikuchi reprises her role as Mako Mori, evolving from simply Raleigh's girlfriend to a woman in her own right, as does Charlie Day as Newt Geiszler, who has the most interesting evolution of a character of anyone present, new or old. Burn Gorman doesn't miss a single beat, returning as Geiszler's friend and partner, Hermann Gottlieb.
Ah...and then there's Scott Eastwood.
Legacy aside, Eastwood is about as charismatic as a wet tombstone, and as promising as a Valentine's Day dinner for one. Sadly, Eastwood as Jake's old friend Nate Lambert pushes Eastwood to do absolutely nothing he hasn't already done in any films he's already been in. He is disgustingly handsome--youthful enough for the teenage crowd, and yet rugged enough to appeal to granola college kids--and he might possibly be the worst actor in Hollywood this side of Sofia Cappolla in The Godfather Part III.
But where Eastwood does his darndest to ruin this movie and his career with every line he mutters, the giant CGI Jaegers strike with whips and swords, shatter buildings, and rocket-punch monsters in the face to match that. Any basic anime fan will appreciate the absurdity of the plot and the fact that Tokyo, Japan plays a huge role in the film's final scene. On a more personal note, Uprising earns extra points with me for an undeniably charming and quite explicit Gundam reference. It just goes to show further what DeKnight was going for with this film.
(Considering all the recent appearances of Gundams in Hollywood big-budget pictures like this and Ready, Player One, I'm beginning to wonder if the 40-year-old anime franchise is in the genesis of a new renaissance on the American silver screen...?)
I'd be lying to myself if I said as a whole, this film were better than the first. But, if we ever got to see Pacific Rim adapted for the small screen in the form of a Netflix cartoon, we would be able to tell right off the bat which of the two films it would take after, and that's where this sequel succeeds. It's a dumb film, with dumb jokes and a dumb plot. But again, what did you expect? You can't honestly spend $12 on this at the theaters and expect to have an experience akin to The Dark Knight on opening night. You knew what you were getting, and you're lying to yourself if you believed otherwise. This is a dumb film...but boy, is it fun.