Sunday, 3 June 2018

Now Watching: Pacific Rim: Uprising

I absolutely adore the original Pacific Rim. It’s a fantastic film, perfectly paced and perfectly executed – as perfectly executed as a film about giant robots punching giant dinosaurs can be. It understood restraint and it had focus, two things unfortunately lacking in this sequel.

I can’t say I was particularly excited about seeing Uprising. I didn’t feel like Pacific Rim needed a sequel – it told its story and it told it well. I was also wary when Guillermo del Toro stepped down as director – he’s listed as a ‘producer’ on Uprising, but we all know what that means – kerching!

He went off to make The Shape of Water – which was pretty good, but it’s no Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim was del Toro’s baby. His vision. His passion. So without him, what do we get?

We get a fine but forgettable sequel that didn’t need to be made. We get a film that’s messy and unfocused. During the film, one character comments that ‘bigger is better’ and that seems to be the approach they took to this sequel – toss is everything and make it BIG.

We get a lot of stuff, but none of it quite hits. You’ve got Jake’s story (John Boyega) combined with the cadets about ‘proving yourself’. You’ve got a story about the Jaeger pilots being retired by drone technology. You’ve got private corporate meddling, people building their own Jaeger from scrap, Jaeger vs Jaeger, Kaiju/Jaeger hybrids, a new super Kaiju and the End of the World. It’s just too much stuff crammed in – too many plot threads and too many characters, none of which are adequately developed.

After seeing the film I found an interview with the director talking about the script – ‘When I came on there were three other drafts of the script that were developed through the years,’ DeKnight revealed. ‘I read them and there were great elements of each one, so I cherry-picked the best parts of three scripts, which was fantastic to have that opportunity.’

In other words, they took three plots and rolled them into one, which explains why the film is so unfocused. When one character died I didn’t even know who it was. I didn’t know any of their names aside from Jake and those returning from Pacific Rim. The film just doesn’t have the time. The best thing I can say about it is that the pace is kept high and the action is fun, so you don’t really have time to stop and think about how none of it adds up.

So let’s talk about some more specific elements, without spoiling things. The new Jaeger are . . . okay, I guess. I don’t mind them being more agile than those in the original. The film does a decent job of showing how the tech has improved over the 10 years since Pacific Rim, but the original found a comfortable balance between being cool and being practical.

Why would they build a Jaeger with a giant wrecking ball? In the original, they took care to minimise damage, but in the sequel, the destruction is dialled to 11. Bigger is better, remember? I did really like the design and fight style of Saber Athena though. At one point in the film it was starting to lose my attention, but then that theme kicked in at just the right moment and I was back onboard to the very end.

Overall, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a fine but forgettable sequel. It doesn’t have any of the heart or soul of the original. It has an unfocused plot and underwritten characters, with none of the wonderful world building, attention to detail or production quality that elevated the original. But if you’re a big fan of the original, I’d still say it’s worth checking out.


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