Pacific Rim: Uprising

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Steven S. DeKnight

Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Rinko Kikuchi, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Tian Jing

 

In 2013, when the first Pacific Rim was released, the film was a breath of fresh air. Guillermo Del Toro showed the bloated Transformers franchise how giant, fighting robots  should be done. I loved the way the film transported me back to being a kid, playing with action figures, and watching Saturday morning television. The first film wasn’t an out and out hit, but it made enough money, especially in China, for a sequel to be green lit. Del Toro returns with a producers credit, but the man calling the shots this time around is Steven S. DeKnight, fresh off of ushering Daredevil to the small screen. John Boyega is also taking a more active role in production as a producer. I went in hoping I was going to get more of what I loved from the first movie, and I left pretty happy.

Pacififc Rim: Uprising is set 10 years after the events of the first movie. The breach which allowed the Kaiju (giant monsters) to enter our world from a parallel universe has been sealed, and the world is attempting to recover now that the threat has gone. Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost who sacrificed himself at the end of the first movie. Jake is a drop out from Jaeger academy, a self-professed hustler who steals junk parts to sell to those who are building their own Jaegers (giant robots). When he meets Amara Namani, played by Cailee Spaeny, a young girl who has built her own Jaeger, they draw the attention of local law enforcement and are soon arrested. Facing prison, Jake decides to re-enlist in the Jaeger programme, and train a new batch of recruits, which now includes Namani. He tells his sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and old frenemy Nate (Scott Eastwood), that the programme is waste of time, but soon a new threat emerges.

This film is heaps of big, dumb, fun. Of course, it’s all complete nonsense, that’s part of the point. It’s the simplicity of the plot which allows you to just lean back and enjoy yourself. The world building of the first movie was done so well that you enter this movie believing the world you’re in, and buying into the premise. It’s giant robots fighting giant robots, and giant robots fighting giant monsters. It’s essentially Power Rangers on steroids. There’s a human element to the story too, which drives the plot, and gives the spectacle enough personality that you can connect to the humans inside the robots, and therefore connect to the robots. It’s a similar trick to what Jon Favreau pulled off with Iron Man with the inside the helmet shots of Tony Stark. It’s this balance of spectacle and character which really puts the Transformer franchise to shame.

The film looks fantastic too. The CGI has improved, and by giving the robots distinct looks and traits, you actually know which one is which. DeKnight handles all the action incredibly well, and every time a fight broke out I had a huge grin on my face. The returning cast are all brilliant; Rinko Kikuchi returns as Mako Mori, in a brief but effective turn. We also have the return of Burn Gorman and Charlie Day, as Dr. Herman Gottlieb and Dr. Newton Geiszler, respectively.  These two are great fun whenever they’re on the screen, and their chemistry together is a joy to watch. The newcomers do well too. Cailee Spaeny injects an equal amount of bravado and vulnerability into a character which could have easily been too precocious. Scott Eastwood doesn’t stretch himself too far, but is charismatic and likeable. The real star of course is John Boyega. Oozing charm, and natural star power, he easily own the movie.

The main problem with this movie is that it isn’t quite as good as the first one. It gets off to a wobbly start. The first twenty minutes feels too forced, and I worried that I was going to be annoyed by the new characters. The jokes don’t seem to quite land, and the voice over felt too heavy handed. It also lacks the gravitas of the first film. Boyega’s speech isn’t as good as Elba’s cancelling the apocalypse speech, which the film kind of acknowledges. It also lacked the weight of the first film. When the pilots are moving the Jaegers in the first film it felt laborious, as if there was more of a tangible connection between man and machine. The movement in Uprising felt too light and nimble. The biggest thing of all it misses is the Del Toro touch. When I think of the first movie I think of young Mako in a blue coat walking through the wreckage of her city holding one red shoe. It was such a striking image, and sadly Uprising offers nothing as profound as this.

Uprising is an entertainingly stupid watch. A proper popcorn movie which asks you to leave your brain in the foyer, and just enjoy yourself. It’s a rollercoaster ride. It’s not going to stay with you for long afterwards, and it’s not going to change your life. It’s not even as good as the first film, but the charming cast, and the briskness in which it has been directed all amounts to an enjoyable experience. Another film is teased at the end, and I, for one, would certainly buy a ticket for that.

 

7/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Rian Johnson

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio Del Toro

 

Star Wars isn’t a movie. It’s an event. It takes grown ups back to their youth, and ignites the imaginations of young children. There were kids with lightsabers running round the cinema, as well as actors in storm trooper outfits patrolling the foyer. I watched the original trilogy religiously as a kid, enjoyed the prequels at the time (I was the right age), grew up and realised they weren’t great, and really liked The Force Awakens. Where The Force Awakens did fall short was originality, and it received a lot of criticism for rehashing old story beats. The expectation on The Last Jedi was in taking this story somewhere new. Boy, does it deliver.

 

The Last Jedi starts exactly where The Force Awakens left off. Rey has found Luke Skywalker, and is trying to coax him out of his self-imposed exile. Meanwhile, the rebel alliance are on the run from the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke, and a battle scarred Kylo Ren. To say much more risks running into spoiler territory, and this really is a film which is best seen with as little spoiled as possible.

 

There are so many great moments in The Last Jedi it’s hard to know where to begin.  It’s probably the best looking Star Wars movie so far.  From the costume design, creature effects, and visual grandeur, it tops them all. The performances throughout are superb, with top credit going to Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. The original cast members really get a chance to stretch themselves, and deliver sides of their characters not seen before. Adam Driver is similarly terrific, his Kylo Ren is more nuanced here than The Force Awakens, the struggle between light and dark played out constantly on his face. If any performance is slightly off putting it’s Benicio Del Toro’s codebreaker DJ. Del Toro over acts, with voice tics, and odd hand gestures. He chews the scenery in all the wrong ways.

 

As I said before, The Force Awakens was criticised for just re-heating the original trilogy, and The Last Jedi really does forge its own path. This is a story driven blockbuster, and I’m sure some fans won’t like where Johnson takes the story, but I loved it. Instead of coasting on nostalgia, throwbacks are used to service the story. The biggest difference between the two films though is pace. After opening with a superb aerial fight, the film slows down, and allows us to dig into the characters. It’s here where Johnson pulls off his greatest trick, and that’s by giving the series heart. It’s easy to feel sad when Han Solo dies in TFA, you’ve grown up with this character. The feelings that Johnson is toying with are far more complex, and he makes you feel for every character by showing the audience what they are fighting for. This isn’t just a fight of good versus evil, Johnson throws in shades of grey. We also get answers to some of the biggest questions from TFA. I was satisfied with these answers, although I feel they will be divisive.

 

There are are a few minor flaws in the film. It’s too long, there are a lot of story strands to follow, and not all of them seem necessary. Finn and Rose’s, newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, adventure to the casino planet at first feels like a mis-step, but is given more weight during the climax. It could have been cut down, but that would have meant less screen time for Boyega which would have been a crime. The logic of the main chase sequence of the film is also questionable, but I feel this isn’t too hard to overlook, as the story is so captivating. The dialogue isn’t too great either. It sometimes feels like exposition overload. There is also a character death with felt a little wasted. After so much build up, it was hard not to feel a little like “Is that it?” It’s hard to judge whether all the decisions paid off, after all it’s the middle film of a trilogy, and I think that whether you have more negatives depends on whether you liked where the story went or not.

 

Overall, the film is great. The best Star Wars movie ever, that’s hard to say without knowing how it will stand up in thirty years, but I left the cinema feeling like it was. I loved the characterisation, how it raised deeper questions about this universe. There was also a subtle animal rights message which I enjoyed. The action was some of the best in the whole series and it was by far the best looking film of the series. It felt new, and fresh, and there was an emotional under current previously missing. Where the story goes from here is anyone’s guess, but that’s the great thing about Star Wars now, it’s regained the element of surprise.

9/10