REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (2018)

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PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (2018)

Convoluted sequel takes place ten years after Guillermo Del Toro’s fun original with the world healing, yet still making use of the Jaeger technology. Fallen hero Stacker Pentecost’s son Jake (John Boyega) is a failed Jaeger pilot now turned black market Jaeger parts dealer. He crosses paths with teen Amara (Cailee Spaeny) who is building her own Jaeger and the two find themselves arrested and pressed into service by the PPDC. This reunites Jake with former co-pilot Nate (Scott Eastwood) as they are to train a new generation of cadets. At the same time a Chinese corporation, headed by beautiful CEO Liwen Shao (Jing Tian from Kong: Skull Island), is planning to unleash a squadron of Jaeger drones that will not need the services of internal co-pilots. Still with me? Soon Jake and company are embroiled in a battle with not only rogue drone Jaegers, but a new Kaiju invasion triggered by a familiar face.

Sequel brings the noise, but forgets the fun as directed by Steven S. DeKnight from a mess of a script by he and three other writers. What results is a very by-the-numbers film that has a lot of silly ideas, yet never takes the time to really develop any of them. Del Toro’s film was goofy, but had a big heart and was lots of fun. Some folks didn’t get what it was trying to do, but those of us who grew up watching Japanese monster movies got exactly where he was coming from. DeKnight, however, forgets that the first film was a loving homage and forgoes the love for a formula, generic and cold blockbuster that has too many subplots and doesn’t do anything interesting with them. Jaegers infected with Kaiju technology is enough for one film in itself, but here takes up maybe a half hour of screen-time before we fall back on the familiar monsters versus robots schtick. There is an interesting plot point that gives purpose to what the initial Kaiju attack was attempting to accomplish, which here only seems to serve to get our final throw-down nostalgically in good ole Tokyo. The special FX are top notch, but none of the action sequences have any of the intensity, suspense or emotional investment they need to make them resonate. It’s just, loud set-pieces that lack any weight, even when our massive Kaiju nears it’s objective with our heroes all down for the count. At no time are we ever involved in what is going on, because it’s all so paint by numbers. With Del Toro producing, I’m not sure how he allowed this unnecessary sequel to be handled so poorly.

The cast never seem to be emotionally invested either and just seem to be going through the motions. Boyega has a natural presence, but is fed such lame dialogue that even his awkward smile and roguish charm can’t makes us endear to Jake as we should. Cailee Spaeny really tries hard with a generic teen rebel role. She’s cute and spunky and with a better script, she’ll probably make a good leading lady. Eastwood tries to channel his legendary dad, but comes across more as a lesser Chris Evans clone. Too bad, he also has charm, but is given some of the worst lines. Jing Tian is fine as the Chinese CEO who overcomes her cold exterior to become a more heroic figure, obviously to appease Chinese audiences where the first film did big business. Returning from the first flick is Rinko Kikuchi as Mako, who is now a commanding officer and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as scientists Newt and Gottlieb, respectively. Both scientist become once more embroiled in the plot in some of the more interesting story elements.

In conclusion this was a loud mess of a sequel that lacks the original’s heart, soul and sense of nostalgic homage. It is a cold, by-the-numbers popcorn flick that forgets that cinematic popcorn is supposed to be fun, even if incredibly dumb. DeKnight, a veteran of TV, seems way out of his element here and even his actors look bored and a bit lost. The script by four writers has a lot of ideas and yet doesn’t properly develop any of them, some of which could have been the bases of an entire film. A sadly disappointing follow-up that probably won’t produce the second sequel it so cheerfully sets up…then again, the first film’s moderate box office didn’t seem to foretell the coming of this colorful but mundane mess.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 (out of 4) Jaegers.

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BARE BONES: THE GREAT WALL (2016)

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THE GREAT WALL (2016)

Two mercenaries, William and Pero (Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal), looking for gunpowder in ancient China find themselves prisoners at the Great Wall. They also find out why the wall was built as they are currently under siege by an army of reptilian creatures known as the Tao Tei. As Pero tries to find ways of escape, the noble William finds himself drawn into the struggle at the side of a beautiful woman general (Jing Tian).

Action/fantasy is directed by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero, Raise The Red Lantern) from a script and story by no less than six western writers. There is plenty of action and spectacle, though Yimou directs with a somewhat more moderate pace than one would expect from such an action and FX heavy epic. It is still enjoyable, even if not all the CGI is as effective as we’d like and fans of this type of Asian period fantasy and/or monster movies should have a decent time of it all. It’s amusingly over-the-top at times, as most of these Chinese flicks are and there is a nicely sci-fi origin to our creatures. The script could have been tighter and Zhang Yimou’s background in drama doesn’t serve the pace, but it’s not as bad as it was made out to be. Also stars Willem Dafoe as a knight who has been a “guest” at the wall for over two decades.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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