The anticipated sequel sports an all-new cast of the best up and coming actors in Hollywood and about $150 million dollars worth of action-packed battle scenes, but is it worth watching?
When the original Pacific Rim film came out and I got a chance to see it, the only word I could use to describe it was forgettable. It wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t good. What it did provide was something of an interesting, albeit somewhat confusing, universe in which stories could be told. Getting to witness a reality where mankind looks past one another’s differences to fight a common enemy in massive monsters using giant robots is an instant winner. So, I was little excited to check out the sequel, hoping this could build upon the already great and established universe and make a film worth watching. However, what little hope I had was dashed in the first couple of scenes which featured rather blatant product placement and was uncannily reminiscent of the opening captain’s scene of the very unwatchable Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It was a very weak start to a very weak film.
The director of this film, Steven S. DeKnight, excels at shooting action sequences that utilize a great deal of effects and CGI, but when it comes to shooting anything else, you can tell he’s clearly not playing to his strengths. When shooting an action sequence, some techniques such as quickly cutting between cameras and angles is expected and welcome, but it just doesn’t work when you do that in dramatic, character building scenes. I’d love to get invested in John Boyega’s character, or his reluctant student Cailee Spaeny, but the camera would never stay in one place long enough for the scene to breathe and build up tension. It’s as if there was a rule on set or in the editing that only shots that could be cut down to under 5 seconds would be used. There were moments where Boyega would be in an expository moment for his character and the camera would cut several times to three different angles within a 30-second span for no apparent reason. It takes away whatever life Boyega’s trying to breathe into this dry role. This film actually has great actors, but DeKnight doesn’t give them more than 5 seconds to actually act. If you’re not getting anything from their performances, it’s because they can’t stay on camera long enough to actually have an impact on you and it’s by no means the fault of the actors.
These quick cuts and changes affect the film more so than just ruining tense moments. With any action film, if there’s no differentiation between moments of rest and moments of action, you get this one gear experience with no special emphasis anywhere. That is exactly the case. I’m sure the intended result was to create an “on the edge of your seat” experience with non-stop action, but it’s just a bland, monotone experience that proves that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing. High-intensity action sequences after a quiet moment of rest is what gives films a rollercoaster-like experience. Those moments of rest make the subsequent action feel like a whole new thrill that never gets old. Now, when the ride is just one big fall, you lose the excitement halfway down before the climax and that’s exactly what watching this film felt like.
DeKnight’s true shortcomings with this film don’t fully lie in his directing ability, but rather in his writing ability. From a milestone standpoint, this film has a pretty great roadmap. However, the moments in between those big and shocking milestones are some of the dreariest moments you’ll find in a film in the last few years. A film lives or dies in the day to day motions, i.e the regular scenes that aren’t meant to be remembered in the halls of history and change the way we think of film, but in fact, make up the majority of the film in between those shocking moments between acts of the story. Look at just about any film from Jim Jarmusch, who consistently makes brilliant films with no big shocks or turning points between acts, but just solid day to day, regular storytelling. If an ounce of that was present, maybe this film would be more enjoyable, but the reality is this script ticks off almost every red flag on the poor script checklist. From clichés and uninspired dialogue to paper-thin characters, this script was ridden with screenwriting red flags. Some moments, especially the ones with the kids, could easily be mistaken for something from Disney Channel or some low budget TV movie due to the low quality of the dialogue. Every potentially great moment in this film ends up being something you’ve already seen before or worse, a missed opportunity.
After watching this film, I had to ask myself, “When did storytelling in film become optional”? If you were to ask me what’s the plot of this film, all I could say is this movie is about human-controlled robots fighting massive monsters, nothing more, nothing less, and that is such a shame. There are so many little things in this universe that could be emphasized and create an amazing story to frame all of this action, but the story here is just an afterthought. This film is more interested in building its own lore than it is at actually telling a story. For example, when the film opens, you get this amazing glimpse into a world in recovery, where massive Jaeger parts and pieces are lying around as the leftover remnants of war and cities which were destroyed, never recover and fall into shambles. In those ruins are people who make a living hustling by any means possible, including profiting off of the former tools of war in the abandoned Jaegers. Our leading man in Boyega is one of those survivors with a gritty background. However, the filmmakers here decide to just mention it, add a B-roll shot of colorful ruins, and speed up the plot so they can get him into a Jaeger as fast as possible so he can start breaking big things in a chase scene. Just 10 minutes showing him in his natural habit so we could learn who he is and why he is the way he is would’ve gone miles to help the viewer feel invested in the film, but honestly, you couldn’t care less about these characters.
This film does remind me of Power Rangers, which I liked. There’s nothing wrong with a film with a focus on mindless action, but it can’t only be mindless action. Power Rangers is mostly action sequences as well, but it also spent a great deal of time building up each ranger Breakfast Club style. Pacific Rim: Uprising does not and instead just serves to feed your desire to watch big robots fight big monsters in big cities that lead to big destruction. If you want to watch massive action sequences like the ones in this film, watch Japanese anime instead, which this film tries really hard to emulate. Unless you’re a big fan of this franchise, there’s not many redeemable qualities to find here.