MECH YOUR MIND UP

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (12A)

Director: Steven S. DeKnight

Screenplay: Steven S. DeKnightEmily Carmichael

Starring: John BoyegaScott EastwoodCailee Spaeny

Review: David Stephens

Whilst Guillermo del Toro is floating on clouds of happiness after the reception afforded to “The Shape of Water”, the follow-up to one of his less cerebral directorial offerings has hit cinema screens in the US and UK. “Pacific Rim” was an unadulterated blockbuster and very much a salute to the Japanese Kaiju movies, although the focus on mind-bogglingly huge robots was also part of the canny blockbuster formula. The film had plenty to like; Jaegers using battleships as baseball bats, edge-of-space sword-fights, Idris Elba “cancelling the apocalypse”, etc. The film certainly wasn’t perfect or even near the best of del Toro’s work, and the story (which was co-written by him) only really came to life during the more crowd-pleasing and outrageous moments. The characters or incidental details didn’t exactly linger in the memory either. Nonetheless even with a large budget of $190m it grossed over $411m worldwide, so a sequel was soon on the cards, albeit without the direct involvement of del Toro (although he remains as producer and “visual consultant”). Directed and co-written by Steve DeKnight (Netflix’s “Daredevil” series), the new film picks up the story years after the original movie and uses the well-worn plot device of an original character’s relative picking up the torch of their predecessor. Now in screens across the UK and US, YGROY “drifts” into our local cinema for look at this monster beat-‘em-up…

It’s been 10 years after the cancelled apocalypse and the sealing of the inter-dimensional breach that released the Kaiju. But Earth remains on alert and the PPDC (Pan-Pacific Defence Corps) continues to build giant Jaeger robots and train their pilots. Meanwhile Jake Pentecost (John Boyega, clearly having a ball), the son of the War hero Stacker Pentecost (Elba in the first film), is an ex-Jaeger-Pilot who left the PPDC in disgrace. Making a living in the abandoned areas of America, where he lives amongst Kaiju remains and barters Jaeger parts, he makes one botched deal too many and finds himself on the run. He hooks up with young engineering genius Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny, far better than she needs to be), who has built her own mini-Jaeger. When they are inevitably captured, Jake is coerced into re-joining the PPDC as a trainer for the next generation of pilots, and Amara accompanies him as a cadet. No sooner do they report for duty than the world starts to experience new threats; rogue jaegers, malfunctioning drones, and the biggest Kaiju you have ever seen. The reason for the Precursor’s interest in Earth is also revealed…

Let’s be honest here; the majority of PC: U is absolutely ridiculous and dumb beyond belief. If you could compare “Independence Day” with the original “Pacific Rim” (not a huge stretch), then “Uprising” is it’s “Resurgence”. The same beats with ever more unbelievable plot developments and bigger beasts/enemies thrown at our younger generation of heroes. Happily though, “Uprising” isn’t quite as bad (or nearly as unwatchable) as that disaster of a film turned out to be. However, it still has plenty of criticisms that can be levelled at it.

The plot does away with most of the military posturizing that existed in the first film, but it adds a few other elements that don’t necessarily sit well within the story, and somehow loses some of that rich feeling of grandeur and sense of wonder that the first film had. At times the film threatens to enter YA territory, with yet another group of barely-developed squabbling teenagers given the task of saving humanity. The elevation of one particular character to super-villain status feels just plain weird and bizarre, especially with the slight sexual undertone to its inception. The storyline bounces all over itself with little coherence or sense of impact and it ties itself in knots to finally qualify the title (and the subtitle). There are few returning characters and one of those is criminally wasted. In fact, most of the characters are so under-written that you genuinely forget about them when they aren’t onscreen. Scott Eastwood is okay but you know nothing about his Ranger Lambert, apart from the fact that he has a beef with Jake and fancies another forgettable character.

Luckily Boyega displays his by-now trademark charisma and steals pretty much every scene he’s in. His accent may be all-over-the-place, but he drops some hilarious lines with panache (“Your top lip needs to meet your bottom lip and make friends fast”…”Don’t mess with ma’ damn toppings!!”). You get the impression there’s some adlibbing going on, and he brings some much needed warmth to the proceedings. Similarly Spaeny also brings a lot to her role, when she could have been just another child-genius-brat, the actress gives her some spirit and depth. Beyond those two (and maybe Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), you’ll struggle to recall the rest of the cast.

For those expecting immediate Kaiju/Jaeger beat-downs…you’re going to have to bide your time. Without being too spoilery, there are 4 major action sequences, and only one of those has consistent monster-bashing. But whilst the trailers may have misled slightly on that front, they also haven’t shown just how impressive some of the major scenes are in terms of scale and fluidity. Whatever else you can level at the film, the SFX is pretty much flawless. We have to admit that we were half-expecting upgraded “Power Rangers”-type sequences in strangely empty cities, but the battles are much better that that. In several scenes, puny humans scurry around beneath the feet of robots and monsters, and a couple of sequences show Jaegers protecting them or trying to prevent further death. In a very nice touch, one moment sees the citizens run into pop-up Kaiju shelters, a nice nod to realism in a world gone mad.

Another refreshing change is to see the climatic fights filmed confidently in broad daylight, with solid-looking damage made to buildings and combatants. The film also has the chutzpah to make the younger characters as susceptible to mortality as everybody else. And we don’t care how much of a po-faced serious film connoisseur you are… when you see a giant robot roundhouse-kick a massive monster to the face… your inner 5-year old is going to jump up and down and clap excitedly just like the rest of us. So credit where it’s due, just like its mech-driving heroes, the film hits the targets perfectly at certain points and you can see why the box-office takings are likely to greatly exceed the critical expectations. We’ll generously ignore those head-smackingly stupid final moments though…

So in a nutshell, if you expect some fun-but-dumb sci-fi fisticuffs, then you’ll definitely get some enjoyment from this. It does nail some sequences, but you’ll have to get through some paper-thin characterisation and weird plot developments. There is some real neatness and invention there under the surface (Kaiju skeletons on deserted properties, the underground shelters, etc), but along with some rushed exposition it’s never really developed. However, Boyega and the stirring FX and combat scenes make it worthwhile. Besides which, you can never really hate on a film that manages to somehow crowbar "Mr. Trololo" into a major scene!

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Stupendously daft and hilariously dumb in many respects, PR: U will test the patience and credibility of many viewers. But it does have the effortlessly charismatic Boyega and Spaeny to gloss over script deficiencies, and some flawless SFX to create some genuinely thrilling battle scenes. Certain sequences totally hit the target and compensate for the many questionable ones. Flawed but fun.
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