Pacific Rim Uprising
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Pacific Rim Uprising

It is only reasonable for a movie studio to nurture a popular movie into a continued investment by extending the story. The first step is the perennial favorite, the sequel. Although a substantial number of movies conclude leaving the audience eager for more about the favorite character or discover what happened after the closing credits. The inherent problem becomes evident when there is either insufficient material to extend the character development or situations. The other pitfall is when it is not feasible to reassemble enough of the elements that contributed to the original success. That is the case with the follow up 2013 hit, ‘Pacific Rim.’ That movie featured an extremely popular star from a mega-hit television series, Charlie Hunnam, a member of the MCU, Idris Elba and directed by Academy Award-winning director, Guillermo del Toro. None of those exceptionally talented people chose to return for the sequel, ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising.’ It is evident that the story featured in this sequel was unintended. The original film was written as a standalone story with a reasonable enough conclusion. ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ was added on in hopes of generating additional revenue after the lackluster box office of the original. The fact that this movie was an afterthought is clear. It lacks the focus and drives afforded by the synergy fostered by the original cast and creative minds behind the camera. According to interviews with Mr. del Toro, he did some preliminary work on a subsequent story but went on to projects better suited to his talents, most notably a certain ‘fish out, of water’ movie that earned him his pair of Oscars. There is a distinct feeling that the script for this movie, largely derived from stay paged from the original supplemented by action sequences considered, and subsequently rejected by its, predecessor. Between the lack of originality and the reliance on numerous plot contrivances, the best this film can aspire to is a Friday night popcorn flick.

The story resumes in 2035, a decade after the climactic events of the first film now known as the Battle of the Breach. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of the hero of that historic confrontation, Stacker Pentecost, the character portrayed by Idris Elba. Jake followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming one of the most skillful Jaeger pilots in the Pan Pacific Defense Corps but unfortunately lacked his discipline. As the film begins, Jake left the Corps unwilling to put up with the expectations to live up to his father’s legacy. His fall back career of dealing in black-market for illegally salvaged debris from the original Jaegers. Upon being apprehended Jake is given a choice, by Secretary-General Mako Mori (Rinke Kikuchi), either rejoin the Corps as an instructor for the Jaeger pilot cadets or go to prison. His last foray into illegal reclamation has him attempting to recover a very valuable piece of equipment, a disabled Jaeger's power core. To his shock, there is another interested party, a fifteen-year-old girl, Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). Despite her young age, Amara is a natural engineering genius who managed to design and construct her own Jaeger. While much smaller than the official models it had the distinct advantage of requiring only a single pilot. As she attempts to escape the authorities, it is evident that her novel design had capabilities unimaged by the official designers, including several tricks pulled straight from a Transformer’s script.

Although the movie ultimately comes up short, a few aspects worked. A requisite component of a creature feature, the monster motivates the story. When trying to rise above the bare minimum, a complex impetus is needed. The inclusion of dramatic conflict based on the human characters proves to be among the best ways from the filmmaker to proceed. When Jake arrives at the Jaeger cadets training facility the Shatterdome, he is confronted with more than just the responsibility of the next generation of pilots. His co-trainer is his estranged former co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood). The infusion of human-based conflict into the narrative permits a deeper level of audience relatability.

A third source of tension is provided by a proven antagonist, the powerful military-industrial complex. This meme became popular during the Vietnam war as many believed the merge of corporate and military influence drove the goals of the nation. The individual is reduced to grist for the corporate mill with profits the sole factor in decisions. Shao Corporation's drone program threatens the Jaeger program which can mass-produce Jaeger drones. Less expensive than the cybernetic battle-bots, the need for workforce and the associated support is almost entirely removed. These autonomous drones were developed by the head of Shao, Dr. Liwen Shao (Jing Tian). She was a former Jaeger pilot, stating her reason for the drone program is to save the lives of the Rangers on the front lines. She is joined in this endeavor by Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), the former Kaiju-Science authority who joined Shao as its Head of Research and Development. After a sudden death derails the plans to place the drones into production, a new Kaiju appears. Through a series of plot contrivances, Jake and Amara are pulled into front-line service.

There is little rationale for making this movie other than milking a few more dollars from a near financial miss to justify the executive decision to greenlight the first movie. It typically bodes ill when the first movie declines even a cameo in the sequel. Besides, the studio had a considerable number of ideas for elaborate special effects extravaganzas. Audiences have come to expect loud, overly complicated, special effects-driven action sequences. The inclusion of the illusion of depth through the modern ‘Real 3D’ technology, only compounded the muddled presentation of a storyline. Barely any attention to character development or furthering the narrative is given in this sequel. It comes across solely as an excuse for a throwaway fun, afternoon. There is nothing inherently wrong with that if the studio is honest about their motives and the audience is not misleading to anticipate anything more. To their credit, Universal eschew such common placed deceptive practices. As one of the founding film studios for the entertainment industry, they certainly have accumulated a significant number of historical productions. Their reputation is well established, able to remain despite projects that are little more than special effects company’s financial security. While I readily admit that I fund nothing intellectually or emotionally engaging about this movie, it was fun with some friends, a few slices of pizza and a beer. Modern action films, most notably the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has considerably raised the demands of the audience in their movie standards. In the MCU, effects are fully integrated as a part of the narrative. They serve more than providing excitement; they bring the viewer close to the story and characters. Even 3D effects in this franchise are infused into the essence of the saga, not, as is the case here, added on to boast ticket price.

Posted 08/07/2018

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