Pacific Rim Uprising represents the kitsch of our times but corrects big mistakes made in its 2013 prequel
Pacific Rim Uprising, despite being highly unoriginal by borrowing heavily from the ideas of its prequel, corrects some big mistakes made in the first film.
Let’s start off by admitting that both the Pacific Rim movies, as entertaining as they can be at times, are not good films.
Both Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013) and Steven DeKnight’s Pacific Rim Uprising are all about fulfilling some cartoonish fantasy about a fighting contest between giant robots and giant aliens. Even though there is nothing wrong with that premise, a good action film can’t just be about giant brawls. Otherwise, wrestling matches would be great action films.
And because even the usage of words like ‘character development’ and ‘complex story arc’ in connection with the Pacific Rim films is laughable, both are prime examples of the kitsch of our times.
But the good news is that Uprising, despite being highly unoriginal by borrowing heavily from the ideas of its prequel, corrects some big mistakes made in the first film.
The most crucial among such improvements is the action and visual effects, undoubtedly the most important aspect of science fiction monster films like the Pacific Rim movies.
A lot has already been said about DeKnight smartly shifting most of the action to daytime, unlike the action scenes in Pacific Rim, which were blurry and confusing because they were shown taking place during nighttime and rain.
But there are other aspects about the action scenes in Uprising which make them far superior to the ones in its prequel. The jaegars (the giant robots) in Uprising come in different shapes and sizes. The best example is Scrapper, the jaegar built by Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), which is a much smaller but more agile jaegar which can be controlled by just one person, as opposed to the other jaegars which need two people to operate each of them.
Each jaegar in Uprising also has its unique arsenal of gadgets and weapons. And all of them are faster and fight with much more finesse. This brings much-needed quality and unpredictability in the action scenes in Uprising and is a big improvement from the 2013 movie, in which all the jaegars were the same dull and slow giant robots with fewer and less creative weapons.
The action in Pacific Rim mainly involved the unimaginative idea of bashing the giant robots against the giant aliens, reminding one of a kid bashing two action figures together in a pretend fight. But the action in Uprising is much more intelligent, and hence, more entertaining and visually spectacular. Daredevil showrunner DeKnight clearly put a lot more thought into the action sequences than del Toro.
The protagonist in Uprising is also much better than the one in Pacific Rim. John Boyega has shown viewers, in the Star Wars movies and Pacific Rim Uprising, that he has the potential to become one of the next big Hollywood stars.
It is only because of Boyega’s charm and raw energy that the hollow and overused archetype of the reluctant hero is still likeable.
Let’s remember that Charlie Hunnam portrayed the same archetype in Pacific Rim, but his performance should be the very definition of cliché.
Boyega’s comic timing is also excellent, and he and DeKnight have used that to include clever humour in some scenes, something which was completely missing in the 2013 film.
The other characters, like the ones played by Spaeny and Jing Tian, are also slightly more complex. Tian’s character especially has a hidden surprise. This is again a welcome deviation from the cookie-cutter characters from Pacific Rim. In fact, the most annoying scenes in Uprising are the ones in which the characters from the prequel are present, like Charlie Day’s character, who – as this Independent article so aptly puts it – “behaves as if he is a villain in an Austin Powers spoof”.
Despite these improvements, there are still some absurdities in the Pacific Rim films which need to be fixed. For example, the concept of the ‘drift’ (a sort of mind-melding process which allows the two jaegar pilots to share each other’s memories and emotions) is still vague and oversimplified. Moreover, it looks absurd when two people who have access to each other’s minds still need to shout instructions to each other about what they need the jaegar to do.
There is probably going to be a Pacific Rim 3. But that is probably bad news for cinema. Because it is unlikely that the Pacific Rim filmmakers will shift their focus from simply making big bucks to actually caring about creating good cinema.
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Lorenzo Soria was in the administration of the Hollywood Press Association for more than 25 years.
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