It’s not Pacific Rim Surprising that I like Pacific Rim Uprising

DUPoyAKV4AEM5TrIt’s crazy to think that it’s been nearly five years since Pacific Rim debuted in theaters.  While it got a middling-to-positive-ish reaction from mainstream audiences and critics, it spawned a small diehard cult following and made a big ol’ splash overseas (mainly China).

As for me, I loved it (with the exception of Charlie Hunnam’s inexplicably lame performance) and eagerly kept up with news of a sequel (or really any kind of follow-up–I take it the proposed animated series was shit-canned?).  As the years wore on, the sequel (temporarily named “Maelstrom”) looked less and less likely to happen, and with the excitement for Godzilla 2014 (and its associated MonsterVerse) building, I wrote a second Pacific Rim off as a potentially cool movie that we just weren’t likely to get. Fucking Grown Ups 2 beat the original at the box office, after all.

But Wanda Group and John Boyega have cancelled the apocalpyse, snatched Pacific Rim Uprising from the gates of Development Hell, and launched it into theaters last week! But is a Pacific Rim without Guillermo del Toro in the director’s chair really a Pacific Rim at all?  Find somebody that’s drift compatible, initiate your neural handshake, and make sure you’re war ready, we’re re-opening the breach!

It’s gonna be a spoiler festival from here on, so back out now if you care! Here’s my short, spoiler-free review before you go though:

It’s a wild sci-fi romp that cleverly and effortlessly expands the monster vs. machine toy box that the original movie built. Guillermo del Toro’s absence from the director’s chair is definitely felt, but there are enough plusses (likable characters, crazy action+visuals, and a cool, weird story) to help make up for the loss of his magic touch.

Wanna refresh yourself on the trailers?  Take a gander!

The song.  I think I’m the only person in the universe that liked Tupac’s “Untouchable” vocals over the music (which starts out as a take on Ramin Djawdi’s main theme from the first movie).  Everybody else was either very angry or meme’d it into an ironic grave. I get being pissed about using a dead artist’s music to pimp a popcorn movie, but ignoring that, I’ve always liked rap and kaiju together in small doses.  Tons of rap is about larger-than-life personalities with seemingly infinite swagger kicking ass and taking over, and that’s like, Kaiju 101. But hey, to each their own! This weird mash-up doesn’t appear anywhere in the movie itself, so the internet’s probably forgotten about it already.

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When Legendary calls me up to direct their Dagahra origin movie, I’ll have Tupac’s ghost score the whole thing.

Other than a controversial song choice, the trailer gives us a refresher on the world of Pacific Rim, serves up a smorgasbord of action nuggets including a jaeger vs. jaeger fight, and shows off a LOT of eye candy from the movie’s climactic big city showdown.  It also inadvertently shows us that this movie will look kinda flat and cheap compared to the original. That’s something I’ll come back to later in greater detail.  Here’s trailer 2!

So Tupac’s back, but this trailer zeroes in more on John Boyega’s character, his co-star Cailee Spaeny’s character, and a slightly more dramatic vision of the film’s story.  Both trailers are true to their source material without spoiling any of the movie’s twists.  Yeah dude, twists.

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This movie even having twists is a twist unto itself.

We’ll get into those twists too, but here’s a taste of the movie’s (Tupac-free) score:

That’s the main theme by composer Lorne Balfe.  Maze Runner and Netflix-Marvel composer John Paesano was originally set to score the film, but for whatever reason he got the giant titanium rocket-boot in favor of Balfe.  I had never heard of Balfe (or Paesano, honestly), and it turns out the dude’s pretty prolific. He started doing music almost exclusively for video games before scoring a wildly varied smattering of movies: a slew of different animated family films, Terminator Genisys, the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmeses, The Florida Project–he’s been all over the place.  If you listened to the main theme up above, you already know his Uprising score is way different from the first-pumping, life-affirming power cheese Ramin Djawdi and Tom Morello skillfully served up:

Lorne’s compositions for Uprising are still orchestral and bombastic, but the “fuck yeah, humans are rad!” electric guitars are gone, replaced by some eerieicy synths and strings.  It sounds bad-ass and suits the story really well.  The original Pacific Rim was about humanity’s last hope coming together, overcoming their differences and saving the day, whereas Uprising is about the tense uncertainty that’s built up in the 10 years since we last had any good reason to come together as a global family.

 In it’s quieter moments, it sounds like Dexter, Hannibal, and Blade Runner had a beautiful, critically acclaimed murder baby. So while it’s aurally awesome, it also put me on edge sometimes.  Which again, actually fits the story really well.

Fucking cool as it is, Lorne never quite cooks up melodies as iconic and anthemic as Djawdi did for the first movie.  That’s a pretty apt critique for the movie as a whole, but let’s parse this baby one piece at a time.  The other major creative players are director Steven S. DeKnight and writer T.S. Nowlin.  DeKnight and Nowlin also share story by and screenplay credits, so I assume Uprising is mostly their baby (though Kira Snyder and Emily Carmichael also have screenplay credit). I don’t know who none of them people are.

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This could be them for all I know.

Well, that’s not totally true: I’ve been following DeKnight on Twitter for a while now. Shit, I also follow Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt Roberts and Michael Dougherty, who’s slated to helm Legendary’s Godzilla King of the Monsters (he’s also directed the delightful holiday horrors Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus). I used to follow Adam Wingard, who’s set to direct Godzilla vs. Kong, but he understandably bailed after social media trash goblins started spewing death threats at him because they didn’t like his live action Death Note remake. This accidentally became a beefier tangent than I planned, but having this kind of direct access to the people making the gigantic blockbuster movies I’m the most excited about is surreal.

Now if only they would just listen to my very very good ideas!

But Tweetery aside, DeKnight’s known for his work in television: he’s written and directed for shows like Daredevil, Spartacus, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Smallville.  Of those, I’ve only seen Daredevil all the way through, but it was great (well, season one was)! DeKnight’s also done time in the short-lived and almost assuredly insane  Transformers Cinematic Universe writer’s room, so go ahead and make of that what you will. Nowlin’s worked almost exclusively on the Maze Runner movies. The only thing I remember about those is that the entrance to the maze itself was awesomely ominous looking:

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I guess I was hoping Maze Runner would be Maze Funner.

Nowlin must be doing something right though, because he’s wound up in the MonsterVerse writer’s room! Guillermo del Toro is still in the Uprising mix too, but only as an executive producer.  I imagine when Uprising was delayed he must have moved on to make The Shape of Water, and it’s very obvious that’s where his full creative attention was focused.  So with all this in mind, let’s dissect how a Pacific Rim movie without del Toro’s passion and vision operates.

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Uprising kicks off with narration over reused footage from the original film.  It gets you up to speed on the wild world of Pacific Rim, the events of the previous movie, and what life is like ten years later.  It’s also incredibly nostalgic to see a giant monster movie kick off with stock footage.  It instantly made me feel like I was watching an old school Gamera movie or 70s-era Godzilla flick.  It’s a minor and presumably budget-conscious choice, but it really worked for me.

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Though that opening and this Nerdist video make me wish they would have just said “fuck it” and leaned into the the 70’s-era kaiju/tokusatsu tropes and aesthetics.

Ten years after the Battle of the Breach, the world has mostly moved on. Without kaiju to battle, jaeger production and training has (understandably) been scaled back to almost nothing, with some of the still-active jaegers operating as little more than gigantic security guards.  The cities that could be salvaged were, and the ones that couldn’t are left abandoned… Abandoned except for the thrill-seeking squatters that live there like our hero, John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost.  Jake is the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the badass that helped save the world in the first film. Jake’s forsaken the life of a jaeger ranger, opting instead to pay his way by mining wrecked jaegers for their most valuable parts and hocking them to the highest (and usually sketchiest) bidder.  It’s the big colorful fantasy version of meth-heads pawning the copper wiring they’ve ripped out of abandoned buildings in Flint and Detroit (and every other rust belt city), which is a perfect mix of exciting, funny, and depressingly relevant.

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It’s totally fair to ding Uprising for lacking the soul and focus of its predecessor, but the immersive world building is absolutely as strong here as it was the first time around.  Both films take some time and care to answer the question: “What would it be like to actually live in a world where kaiju and ginormous robots once did battle?” I REALLY dig that.

After the recap, the movie proper opens with Jake securing some pricey jaeger guts for his clients… while they hold him at gunpoint.  Turns out Jake is almost as big of a shit-heel as the crooks he sells to and it’s finally caught up with him.  We get a fun chase sequence as Jake deftly navigates the jaeger’s giant tum-tum, thwarting his murderous buyers but also coming up empty handed.  Turns out a fellow scrapper ganked his million dollar macguffin first!  Said scrapper is Amara Namani, played by Cailee Spaeny.

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Namani is a scrapper who pilots a cute junky lil’ homemade single-seat jaeger named Scrapper.  He just needs a makeover and he’d be a dapper Scrapper.

I was super worried about Scrapper, mostly because it really looks like a Michael Bay-style Transformer in the trailers.  Of course it’s not a Bayformer because:

  1. You can actually process what’s happening in the scenes it’s in
  2. By the end of the movie it has a surprising amount of personality and generates the movie’s biggest, most genuine laughs

Jake catches up with Amara, they fight, an entire fucking actual jaeger comes to arrest them, and we get more breathless action as Amara and Jake try to escape in Scrapper.

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Emphasis on try.

It’s not our first action sequence, but it is our first jaeger action sequence, and it’s an effervescent entrance into the film’s giant robot/monster smash-’em-up stuff .  The stakes are low, Scrapper’s teeny stature and ping-pong abilities are chaotic and comedic, and it’s something wildly different from anything we’ve seen in Pacific Rim up til now.  It’s a great goof that doesn’t overstay its welcome or get too silly.  The fact that it goes down in a more-or-less uninhabited quarantine zone makes all the mayhem guilt-free too.

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So it’s the cinematic equivalent to those Olestra chips from the 90s, but without the constant, explosive, oily diarrhea!

Jaeger on jaeger action (😉) like this does a damn fine job of filling the (temporary) void left behind by the kaiju.  I’ll always be a monster man first and foremost, but these big ol’ ‘bots do have the story-telling advantage of being piloted by relatable humans with easy to understand wants and goals.  I’m glad Uprising explores this concept a little bit further, but I think if they were feeling extra gutsy they could’ve gotten a whole fuckin’ movie out of it.

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Yes, I am absolutely saying this could have been better as a big budget version of Robot Jox.

Robot Jox is an ambitious 1990 cheapie that posits a future where nations don’t settle their disputes with soldiers, tanks and planes, but single, gigantic robot gladiators.  These gnarly machines are piloted (by jocks, or uh, “jox”!), And holy shit Robot Jox invented Pacific Rim’s iconic gesture:

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I forgot Jox existed when the original Pacific Rim came out, but Uprising’s jaeger vs. jaeger throwdowns dragged this VHS gem out of the dustiest back corners of my brain.  Jox’s mix of rock’em sock’em action and political intrigue deserves a second chance. That second chance isn’t Uprising, but I’d love to see somebody take another crack at it someday.

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Of course Jake and Amara get busted, and Jake’s adoptive big sis Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi reprising her role from the first installment) gives him an offer. Train new jaeger pilots or go to fucking jail.

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Smash cut to Jake greeting the new recruits at the Hong Kong Shatterdome.

Of course Jake (and Amara) can’t just stroll in like big swingin’ dicks and expect everyone to happily accept them.  Jake and his former Gipsy Avenger co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) have some sort of vague bad blood (alluded to be lady trouble, maybe?), and at least one of the young cadets is pissed that Amara just got to fall ass-backwards into the most prestigious, high-stakes gig on the planet.  It’s a pale retread of similar interpersonal tensions from the first movie, but it’s a perfectly serviceable micro-plot that segues smoothly into one of Uprising’s beefier subplots.

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Uprising is basically a bunch of micro- and sub-plots that build together to the final showdown.  This method usually results in some real sloppy bullshit (Spider-Man 3 and Iron Man 2 spring to mind), but Uprising’s lil baby plots are woven together tightly enough to not feel like an accidental anthology movie.

So while some Shatterdome homies (Shatterdomies) have personal reasons to be salty about Jake and Amara, morale is pretty low all around in general.  Jaegers are redundant enough without any kaiju to fight, but now Shao Corporation is getting ready to roll out a whole army of remote-controlled jaegers, making the physically-piloted jaegers a thing of the past.

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DEY TOOK UR JERBS… and looked fucking fresh to death doing it.

That’s our boy Newt (Charlie Day) in Shao’s entourage! Since the Battle of the Breach he’s been working closely with Shao to help develop the drone jaegers.  He’s also morphed from lovable punk rock nerd to mildly coked-up techbro douche.  It’s a bummer, but it gives Day a chance to nibble the scenery and his personality shift ends up being part of a major plot point.

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Et tu, Newte?

The drones are ready to roll out, pending Mako’s final assessment. She’s scheduled to  deliver her report to the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) council in Sydney, Australia, escorted by the newly reinstated Gipsy Avenger, piloted by Jake and Nate.  Surely this will all go fine, and no other conflict will happen in the film.

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Aw fuck.

That double fire-Chainsaw wielding brat is Obsidian Fury, a rogue jaeger that crashes the Aus-fest and assassinates Mako.

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So two of the best characters from the original movie return… only for one to get turned into an asshole and the other to get turned into a corpse. Newt’s transformation hurts, but Mako’s death is especially damning.  It comes and goes way too quickly, with almost no fanfare, and is plainly just a call to action for Jake.  That’s brutal, and not in a good way.  It definitely surprised me and bummed me out though!

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So… mission accomplished?

I mean I went in with a strong inkling she’d probably get got, but I was hoping for a late-stage heroic sacrifice.  Her arc was the most emotional one in the first movie, she deserved a more meaningful (and less bureaucratic) send-off than this.  Mako shoulda gone down swinging, driving a jaeger and kicking ass like her old man.

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It’s okay, they’re together again punching monsters in heaven.

To take the sting out of Mako’s death, we get some more brain candy in the form of Gipsy Avenger and Obsidian Fury wailing on each other in Sydney.  Of course the context and combatants mean that this won’t be a laugh-tastic goof-fest like Scrapper vs. November Ajax:

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Again, DOUBLE FIRE-CHAINSAWS

They tangle for a bit, giving us a taste of the giant-sized urban battles we’ll get at the movie’s climax.  We see some wild new toys and tricks here, like Gipsy’s gravity sling: a funky doo-dad that lets the jaeger fling anything that’s not nailed down at opponents. It’s all exciting, well choreographed, and well shot, but it doesn’t have the heft and visual drama of its predecessor.  It’s entertaining and spectacular, but you don’t feel every hit way down in your bones like the last movie.  A lot of this has to do with Uprising’s choices in staging.  All of the first film’s fights take place at night, in a storm, both, or underwater.

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I’m sure it was at least partially a budget thing, but goddamn it looks epic.

You’d think partially obscuring the mayhem with weather effects like this would mute the impact of every footfall and right hook, but somehow it’s the opposite! Crashing waves and torrential rain cascade over the giant monsters and machines, reinforcing their colossal scale and dramatically spraying water everywhere when they collide.  It puts a big splashy (heh) exclamation point on everything these titans do, including existing. Meanwhile only one of Uprising’s special effects set pieces happens at night, and even then the weather is crystal clear.  It’s all still a fuck-ton of fun to look at, but in a different way.

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The first Pacific Rim is an apocalyptic opera, a gorgeously bombastic oil painting come to life, while Uprising is a meticulously-detailed, pixel-perfect Saturday morning cartoon.

I get what Uprising is going for: they’ve got sick-ass robots and creatures beating the piss out of each other spectacularly, so of course they want to show off the goods as clearly as possible. Regardless of how crisply the Sydney fight is presented to us, it still ends with Obsidian Fury slinking away in one piece.  Giypsy’s failure seals the fate of the jaeger program, and Shao’s drones are given the okay by the PPDC.

Before Mako died, she sent out some cryptic data to her Shatterdomies.  Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (our third and final recurring character, played by Burn Gorman) decodes it, and it turns out to be coordinates to a defunct jaeger factory way out in Buttfuckski, Siberia.  Nobody can really guess why that would be Mako’s dying wish, so they send Gipsy Avenger to investigate the site. They’re about to be replaced by drones, so it’s not like they have anything better to do!

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I mean it’s not like they’d run into anything way out–OH

Yep, it’s that little shit Obsidian Fury again! Obby immediately nukes the old production facility, and the two jaegers brawl in the wintry wastes.  We get to see those sweet sick nasty DOUBLE FIRE-CHAINSAWS get a little more play, and the two mega machines take their fight above and sometimes below the arctic ice. Their brawl is exciting and kinetic, and it’s got a flavor that’s distinctly different from the series’ usual jaeger vs. kaiju fights.

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It seems crazy that even a super thick layer of ice can support their weight so easily and for so long, but that goes back to the fight staging issue I talked about earlier.  This is a cool, satisfying duel, but it would have really stuck with me and drove home the jaegers’ god-like presence if they were trudging their way through the terrain, sparking avalanches and breaking off glaciers with every step, every blow.

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WHY DID YOU LEAVE US? WE NEEDED YOU AND WEREN’T THERE

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Flat staging or not, a giant robot samurai duel is still a fucking giant robot samurai duel.

Siddy-Fures puts up a helluva fight, but Gipsy eventually knocks it the fuck out and rips its face open, revealing the culprit behind Mako’s assassination.  I gotta give Uprising credit here: this twist (which I had even known about for years from reading del Toro’s interviews) totally surprised me.  Shao is steadily and obviously positioned to be the villain of the movie.  I knew they would yank that faceplate off and find a super computer in there, identical to the technology that drives Shao’s drones.  It seemed laughably, even embarrassingly obvious.  BUT THAT AIN’T WHAT’S IN THERE!  IT’S GOO!

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FUCKING GOO, MAN

Well not just goo, but a big gross floppy kaiju brain! OH SHIT!

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Basically this.

A quick scan reveals that even though it’s a kaiju brain, it was grown right here on Earth.  DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN

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Here’s a picture of Newt for absolutely no reason. 😉

Hey Shao’s sending out her shipment of drone jaegers! Since we know she wasn’t using Obsidian Fury to push her drones through approval, this should all go totally fine.

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NOAP

The drones were stuffed full of kaiju brains, which all activate, integrate with the jaeger, and just start tearing shit UP.

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These bad boys are the most uh, aggressive Neon Genesis Evangelion homage yet. You could (very understandably) make the case that they’re just a straight rip-off, but this feels more like an appreciative nod to NGE than some misguided attempt to outdo or replace it.

Gottlieb rushes to Shao HQ to try and shut down the compromised kaijuified jaegers (kaijugers?  kaijaegers?), and luckily he runs into his old pal Newt! Good ol’ Newt!  The old science buddies are back together again, ready to save the world one more time!  Newt says he has a plan, and goes and diddles with some consoles.  Good ol’ Newt!

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Newt commands the kaijugers to open the breach.

Newt commands the kaijugers to open the breach.  CRAP. Crap crap crap crap. Turns out good ol’ Newt is BAD NEW Newt!  He’s been fuckin’ a kaiju brain after work every night!

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Well, not literally doinking it, but drifting with it.  Also he’s named it Alice and talks about it like it’s his significant other. It’s heavily implied that drifting with the brain is pleasurable in some abstractly sexual way.  So Newt’s not like, doing awesome in life.

Mind-porking the monster brain every night has allowed the Precursors (the devilish aliens responsible for all the kaiju) to take over Newt, hence all the uncharacteristic douchebaggery and world-ending evil.  It’s kind of hilarious that this twist surprised me, because this idea is as old as the kaijuger one, and I’d known about it for just as long.  I think there was a del Toro interview where he talked about ditching this idea (largely because Day was so damn likable as Newt), but deep down I’m probably just bummed to lose the Newtster.

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It’s a double-downer (not the sandwich) because Evil Newt never goes full-batshit like I know Day is the fucking king of.

So Newt reveals that he’s the mastermind behind all this madness, and then Shao reveals she’s secretly been a totally decent person this whole time and shuts down all the kaijugers!  We even see a kaiju climbing out of the breach near the Hong Kong Shatterdome get cut in half when it closes! Poor little fella! But hey, we did it! APOCALYPSE: CANCELLED!

…Except these three assholes (clockwise from left, Raijin, Hakuja, and Shrike Thorn) made it through the breach off the coast of Japan and are making a beeline for Mt. Fuji. OOPS All Berries

Why Mt. Fuji?  Because Gottlieb’s research shows that not only is kaiju blood highly toxic, it’s super-duper reactive with rare-earth elements.  The magma inside Mt. Fuji is chock full of those tasty rare-earth nuggs, so they hypothesize that the kaiju are going to suicide-bomb the Fujster, igniting the entire PACIFIC RIM.

They even hypothesize that this is what the kaiju in the original movie were trying to do, which is super interesting to me.  I’m gonna see how well that idea holds up the next time I watch it.

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Lord knows I’ve been yammering about it enough during this review!

But what’s anybody supposed to do about this happy horseshit?! The other Shatterdomes all got porked by kaijaegers, and even though Hong Kong could get back up and running pretty quick, they’re way too far away to–OH MY GOD JET PACK JAEGERS

This is the whole reason why Gottlieb knew kaiju blood+rare-earth metals=ka-blammers in the first place, he’s been tinkering with the idea of fucking jaeger jet packs.  Gottlieb has gotten a lot cooler since the last movie.  Before Gipsy and pals can Iron Man it up, Amara leads an emergency rescue and repair montage effort, Gottlieb slaps together some rockets, and Shao rolls in to lend a hand too.  Uprising doesn’t have as much heart and soul as the original, but their shared core theme, the idea that deep down humanity is one global family still manages to sneak through and elevate the movie above its snubs and flubs.

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PLUS MOTHERFUCKING ROCKET JAEGERS WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Real talk: the final battle should’ve been on the Moon.  It would’ve been a fun mirror to the first movie’s ocean-floor finale, and an appropriate escalation of this movie’s over-the-top insanity.  BUT this franchise was overdue for a smackdown in the land of the rising sun, so I am A-OK with setting the finale in Tokyo.  I’m also okay with the the movie rolling out this ancient meme for a quick, tension-relieving, non-sequitur goof:

See other than Jake, Nate, and Shao the only other available jaeger pilots are the teenage cadets, all of whom are (totally relatably) freaked out about not only piloting a gigantic robot in a live combat situation, but about doing so after screaming through the stratosphere with an untested monster blood missile bolted to their backs.  It’s completely bonkers, so one of the cadets pulls up this video inside the jaeger during the launch to try and stay frosty. Maybe it’s a cheap laugh, but it got me! I’m still thinking about it too: mostly reverse engineering why this kid played this video in his jaeger. He says his grandma used to play it for him to calm him down as a little boy.  Uprising takes place in the nearish future, and its most astonishing vision of tomorrow is the simplest and most grounded: millions of kids are growing up with surreal, hyper-ironic memes as part of their artistic and cultural foundations, likely removed from their original meaning or context.

Somewhere in the world, there is a child that cannot fall asleep until he or she has watched this exact video.  Law of averages, baby!

This kid in Uprising is genuinely, unironically soothed by the fucking Trololololol guy–I have to assume there are kids out there right now forming meaningful bonds with stuff like Keyboard Cat or Gangnam Style.  Not teens and pre-teens, who get bored with memes as soon as they start to get stale, but elementary-age kids and toddlers who don’t give a shit about irony and are just having a good time with some funny pictures or silly music.  It’s trippy to think about… but on the other hand even I can point to the auto-tuned Double Rainbow song for legitimately helping me through a tough time in my life.  This tangent is too long, but memes are weird and this joke was weird and will age like an Austin Powers sequel (Jerry Springer jokes!) but it made me laugh and it made me think.

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Pretty good for a throw-away “lol so random”/”sick reference, bro” joke.

Enough Trolololol guy, the rockets worked and all four jaegers land in Tokyo, ready to rip up some monster ass!

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It’s the biggest, craziest spectacle in a movie stuffed with big, crazy spectacles.

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Look at this bad buncha rowdy boys here to have some fun!

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Raijin’s my favorite out of this kaiju trio, with his freaky, complicated multi-mouth-head.  He also takes a page from Black Panther‘s badass book, packing the ability to absorb and redirect kinetic energy.

Gipsy takes point, with the cadets piloting:

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Saber Athena (Swordsy McGoo)

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Guardian Bravo (Miracle Whip that drops a spicy double deuce)

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Bracer Phoenix (THAT BIG BALL BOI)

Bracer Phoenix is my favorite of the cadet jaegers, mostly because ball-and-chain flails are sick as fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

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Bracer joins the esteemed company of Go-Go Yubari, that one troll from Hellboy II, the early unused version of Gigan, and a whole shitload of video game enemies and RPG characters.

With every last one of the boys back in town, we see terrified Tokyo citizens flee for their lives (some ducking into comically adorable, high-tech pop-up shelters), and then all the kaiju and jaegers just go totally apeshit on each other.

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I like that Gipsy inherited Obsidian Fury’s DOUBLE FIRE-CHAINSAWS.  When Jake and Nate got back from Siberia they must have been like I want that.

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Each jaeger has a unique fighting style (influenced by their signature melee weapon) giving us a variety of delicious mini set pieces within this mondo set piece.  As much as I love Bracer’s ball and chain flail in concept, in practice I’d say Guardian Bravo puts on the most exhilarating show with that crazy-ass electro whip.  Especially because in the hands of these newbie pilots, it does as much harm as it does good!

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“oh shoot dang it whoops”

Like the other battles in Uprising, it’s crystal clear and thrillingly choreographed, but also floaty and light weight.  Other than being bigger and crazier, the main difference here is the wanton destruction.  This time around the jaegers intentionally pull down skyscrapers on top of their monstrous opponents and get smashed through the occasional high-rise themselves.  I mention this because it makes me think of how Gipsy Danger handled property damage in one of the first film’s biggest, wildest fights: specifically, the quietly unforgettable image of the huge mech daintily stepping over an overpass:

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On an unrelated note, I dig Uprising’s color palette of pale blues, cool grays, and washed out white, but damn the first one still POPS visually.  It’s like sour gummi worms for your eyeballs.

Make no mistake: I am 1,000,000% on board with city-smashing chaos… as long as the context is right and the film has earned its destructive decadence (and said chaos is fun to watch, but I’ve already established that I appreciate Uprising’s clean action and crisp presentation).  Uprising did its due diligence: bystanders were rushed to safety before the jaegers shotgunned their million-ounce cans of whoop-ass, and the story, even if it is episodic, has steadily ramped up the stakes to get us to this point.  And three of the four jaeger teams in this scene are super-green rookies, so of course they’re shaky their first time out.

I mean come on, who hasn’t had a tough first day on the job?

Evil Newt’s been watching the big city brawl from a neighboring rooftop, delivering the occasional catty quip or frustrated exclamation. When he sees the jaegers are gaining the upper hand, he deploys more monsters, secret reserve kaijaegers, a super-kaiju, a mob of small (well, small compared to kaiju, so like, Smart Car-sized?) robot bugs that climb all over and slice each of the three kaiju to pieces…

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“Oh… thanks?”

…And then the bugs take all the best bits and solder ’em together into one big gnarly conglomo-monster.

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Creatively named “Mega-Kaiju.”

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“Well shit.”

Mega-Kaiju’s a snoozer of a name, but I love that Uprising found a way to introduce a combiner/fusion monster into the story in a way that more or less feels like a good fit for the universe–I never thought I’d see something this wacky outside of kaiju-based TV series like Ultraman and Power Rangers/Super Sentai.

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Kudos to you, you big ol’ hunka monster!

Mega-Kaiju tears through the whole squad, killing a cadet, disabling every jaeger except Gipsy, and injuring Nate so badly he has to eject.  Satisfied with the thorough spanking it’s administered, Mega-Kaiju returns to its original task: suicide bombing Mt. Fuji. Jake desperately tries to pilot Gipsy solo, but it’s just too much for a single pilot.  Good thing Amara’s a tough cookie with a never-say-die attitude and a solid mental-emotional connection with Jake!

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They suit up and get Gipsy operational, but they’re still in no state to actually catch up with the long-gone Mega-Kaiju.  Well fuck! I guess that’s it! Game over!

BUT WAIT!  SCRAPPER WADDLES IN TO SAVE THE DAY! Shao’s piloting Amara’s sweet old little junkbot, and she’s packing a spare monster blood missile!  It’s a simple, perfectly timed visual goof that fuels the grand finale and adds in a splash of delightful, comical chaos.  Shao welds the rocket to Gipsy’s hand so they can just launch the whole mess at Mega-Kaiju, which in theory will be enough to blow it the fuck up.

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What’s so wacky about that?  WELL, Shao does successfully weld the missile onto Gipsy’s hand… but she also accidentally gets Scrapper’s hand stuck in the mix.  With MK well on his way up Mt. Fuji, there’s no time to try and fix it, so they launch the whole mess and hope for the best! It flops chaotically down the street before it gets airborne, our heroes bravely stay onboard long enough to line up their shot juuuuuuust right, then just barely manage to bail at the last possible second.  Actually you know what?…

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It’s the jaeger vs. kaiju version of this.

Gif and comparison/joke by swan2swan.tumblr.com, hopefully they don’t mind me borrowing it.  But yeah, our three heroes survive, Mega-Kaiju is reduced to ginormous piles of gore splattered across the face of Mt. Fuji, and Evil Newt is apprehended!  Mission accomplished, PPDC!

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You guys PP’d the bejeezus out of that DC!

That’s not QUITE all!  We also get a last-second… pre-credits stinger?  Evil Newt’s in PPDC custody, but he’s still talking a big game about how the Precursors and their killer kaiju will never let up.  Jake tells him that doesn’t matter, because the PPDC is going to take the fight to the Precursor’s doorstep next.  Sending a squad of jaegers to the Precursor’s homeworld to fuck shit up sounds super wild and entertaining, but that runs the risk of also getting pretty dark and pretty heavy.  It really depends on the true nature of the Precursors: they’re clearly intelligent, but are they also a society that we can comprehend? Would Jake, Amara, Shao and the rest of the gang be able to differentiate between a Precursor weapons factory and a Precursor day care center?  Would they give a shit?  Is that the thrust of the next movie?  Seems pretty deep and morally gray for a Pacific Rim sequel, but maybe I’m overthinking it.

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I was okay with them nuking the Precursor’s universe in the previous movie because that was more of a “blow up the Death Star” moment than the invasion/occupation hinted at in this scene.

Of course, the producers (including Boyega himself) can tease and plan a sequel all they want (including what sounds like an attempt to cross over with the MonsterVerse movies), but I haven’t heard about Part 3 getting greenlit just yet.  Uprising took the top spot at the box office on its opening weekend (dethroning Black Panther after an epic five-week run), but I’d be shocked if Ready Player One didn’t do the same to Uprising (UPDATE: RPO took #1, Uprising dropped to #5… and Black Panther beat it at #3).  Uprising’s had a better opening weekend than its predecessor, but it’s not nearly as well received by critics and fans: that could absolutely be enough to derail Pacific Rim 3.  Then again, none of that will matter if Uprising makes a shit-zillion dollars in China! I guess I’m back to keeping an eye and an ear out for Pacific Rim sequel news!

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Hopefully the production of 3 will go smoother than it did for Uprising!

I’m glad Uprising finally saw the light of day.  I knew going in that without del Toro directing, it was all but guaranteed to lack the first movie’s big passionate heart and bold cinematic vision.  I went in with my expectations adjusted accordingly and ultimately had a lot of fun with this gee-whiz, slam-bang, comic bookish, cartoony action adventure.   It makes some critical narrative errors (including but not limited to the disappointing turns for Mako and Newt), but it keeps its head above water with a variety of clever mini-stories, progressively bigger and bolder action sequences, John Boyega’s down-to-earth charisma, and a sense of unhinged chaotic joy that permeates the whole film.  Now we just wait and see if that’s good enough to cancel the apocalypse or just reschedule it.

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2 thoughts on “It’s not Pacific Rim Surprising that I like Pacific Rim Uprising

  1. “It’s okay, they’re together again punching monsters in heaven.”

    I want to believe in an afterlife where Stacker, Mako, and Heisei Godzilla are kicking monster ass together… for the Lord.

    “Mako shoulda gone down swinging”

    Fuck that. Mako shouldn’t have gone down at all; she should’ve had Shao’s part. At the end.

    I’m still not sure Nate wasn’t played by Jensen Ackles calling himself “Scott Eastwood.”

    Wait… when did Gipsy Danger become Gipsy Avenger?

    I’ll be honest. While I thought it was a fun movie and was entertained by it, I’d prefer to live in a world where this movie didn’t exist. **goes back to watching the happy ending of the first movie and grumbles the whole time**

    • Since Danger ended the first movie by being blown up in the Precursor’s home dimension, I assume Gipsy Avenger is an updated design based on/in honor of Danger’s design principles. And it’s Avenging Gipsy Danger (I’m just now getting this).

      I had to look up Jensen Ackles, but yeah holy shit the resemblance is UNCANNY. They should star in an age-inappropriate The Parent Trap remake.

      Bringing back Mako without even alluding to Raleigh’s whereabouts is just weird. They ended the first movie as (platonic?) soulmates, and now he’s just… what, back to working on the wall? Dead? In a biker gang? I think Uprising would have been better off taking Mako out completely (either out of the movie itself or maybe just have her retired from PPDC) and focusing on Jake and Amara. OH WELL

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