Pacific Rim: Uprising Review

This was doomed from the start.

Pacific Rim: Uprising‘s fate was sealed the moment the news came out that Guillermo del Toro, director of the first Pacific Rim, would not be directing the sequel. He produced, sure, but him not being the main creative force behind the film ultimately ends up being the reason it fails. This isn’t to say that Steven S. DeKnight, the new director, is bad. He’s fairly well known for producing a good amount of superhero television, including the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil, and most (if not all) of Smallville. He wrote and directed episodes for both series, and those episodes are generally regarded as good. So what went wrong?

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. Charlie Day is a blessing; every time he was on screen, he increased the quality of the movie. John Boyega was charismatic and usually fun to watch. The score sounded like Tron: Legacy at one point, which made me remember how that movie was better than this one. The world’s design is pretty good. There are a couple cool moments during the monster fights.

And that’s about it.

This movie has four writers. There are times when having too many writers works, but they all have to have a unifying vision for the project. If they don’t, the movie ends up as a jumbled, unfocused mess with a laundry list of plot-related issues and poorly thought out characters. Unfortunately, the writers of this movie clearly did not have a singular vision for this project. It is not good.

The biggest problem with this movie is easily the story. Every aspect of it. Now, I’m not gonna act like the first movie was a masterpiece in terms of storytelling, but it got the job done. It was nice, clean, and entertaining enough to transition between the monster fights. This movie makes the mistake of introducing an inordinate amount of loosely related off-screen action before the movie starts, and then attempting to explain all of it. There’s nothing wrong with having a story that needs some explanation, but you shouldn’t explain absolutely everything. Visual storytelling is a lot more effective than boring the audience to tears with a mound of exposition. In this movie, if two characters are talking, there is a seventy billion percent chance that they will be wasting minutes explaining something that would have taken seconds to show.

Take this character arc, for example: John Boyega and the other guy don’t like each other and have some kind of rocky past. Cool. It’s a good base for a potentially heartwarming bro moment later in the movie. Why didn’t they let their initial hatred be conveyed through a funny little scene where there’s some kind of stiff physicality between them as they struggle to work together, or have some kind of malfunction happen in a Yaeger because they were busy squabbling about something meaningless? Instead of anything resembling this, one of the two guys literally says “you have a problem with me” to the other. Then they talk it out, resolving the conflict they introduced not three scenes ago. You know, my favorite type of movie conflict is the inconsequential type, the ones that have no influence on the overall story in any way. Really makes me feel like I’m not wasting my time watching this movie.

None of the characters progress as characters in a way that feels wholly earned. Charlie Day comes close (mostly because of GDT’s work in the first movie), but the movie was too busy telling and not showing everyone’s development to make any of the changes feel natural. It’s downright painful to sit through this movie’s pitiful emotional moments. While they’re acted mostly fine, the significance they had with me and to the story was nonexistent.

Something else this movie fails at is comedy. There is approximately one funny moment, but the trouble came when they unsuccessfully attempted numerous times to make us laugh. The theater was dead silent throughout. The movie lacks excitement as well, succeeding in only a couple of cool moments. Part of this is due to the movie’s dehydration of tension. I never felt like any of these characters were in any danger, but not because no one died. No, this was because of the tonal problem.

The movie takes itself seriously, but forgets to convince us to take it seriously. I was never invested in the fights because the movie was too focused on comedy. It would break a moment to make way for an unfunny joke or cringe-inducing one-liner that only made me miss GDT even more. This is not to say that a funny action scene has no ability to be investing, that isn’t the case at all. Baby Driver has a similar dilemma; it’s a movie that’s trying to be funny while also having investing action scenes. The reason Driver succeeds where Rim fails is all in the tone. Edgar Wright knew where to have jokes and where to keep it serious. The movie’s joke frequency goes way down by the end of the film, which suits the increasingly grim circumstances the main character finds himself wrapped up in. Here, even as the world’s gonna end and there’s an eighty story tall monster hulking over them, they refuse to hit the brakes on the one-liners and the wisecracks. It doesn’t work at all. Characters will die in gruesome ways and within three seconds they’re cracking some stupid joke.

Keep in mind, there are movies that succeed at having the tone this movie tries for, where any number of Earth-destroying things can happen and the characters won’t take it seriously. This can work, but Pacific Rim: Uprising is not good enough to do it. The emotional scenes aren’t compelling enough to warrant their existence, and the jokes aren’t funny enough to balance out the grim circumstances. The end result is nothing short of awkward.

This movie lacks in the visuals as well. There are hardly any examples of creative cinematography or anything of the sort, it’s all very bland. The effects were mostly good, with the exception of a few terrible greenscreens. I wish I could give them credit for the design of the robots, the kaiju, and the world in general, but those and the few half-satisfying character arcs are there due to the seeds GDT planted in the previous movie. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many seeds left. Most of the interesting stuff from the first movie is completely abandoned in favor of new things they have to spend an entire movie introducing and developing before they can even do anything with them.

After all this, you’re probably wondering if any of the things I’ve mentioned really matter for a movie like this. It’s a monster movie. We just want to see the fights, dang it. Are they any good? No. The fights aren’t even good. They aren’t investing because there’s no tension and we don’t care about the characters, and they aren’t passively entertaining because there aren’t even that many cool moments. It’s a chore to sit through this movie, because the characters aren’t interesting, the writing isn’t funny, the plot is boring, and worst of all, the fights suck.

Also it had the trololol meme. Why.

3/10.

Up next: A video gaming adventure.

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