You know what? The robots in this film are BIG. I don’t quite know what it is, they certainly aren’t better realised or animated than megastructures in other films. I weren’t even watching it in 3D, lol who even does that anymore, but however it is that you generate that elusive concept of bigness, Steven S. DeKnight pumps that through every frame. Like, the ‘exterior’ scenes are often pretty wonky, the lighting is off, the characters awkwardly composited onto the backgrounds. But way off in the back there there’s a big metal fella out of focus and despite the artifice there’s a little part of my brain still going, ‘Wow, so big tho.’
Would that the rest of the film able to capture this epic scope. It’s trying its best. It bagged a pretty big star in John Boyega who turns up with a neatly trimmed moustache and a mandate to have as much fun as possible. I ain’t sure if he’s rebelling against a boring script or if everyone was just real down with him but the man improvises so much through the whole movie. Maybe the Star Wars sets keep the actors on lock but he’s going buck wild here. Live wire.
Flick picks up from Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 original. The alien invaders have been driven back through the breach in the Pacific Ocean which got sealed behind them. The world is putting itself back together, but on the fringes, the still smashed up places where battles raged and robots were left where they fell. Too big to begin to move, there’s money to be made in scavenged tech and adventures to be lived.
Boyega is the deceased Idris Elba character’s son. Rebelling against the legacy of his hero father and sister, losing himself in the places it is easy to get lost. When things go wrong on a big heist and he stows away on an homemade, unlicensed robot, built and piloted by an underage girl (Cailee Spaeny) he’s given a choice. Go to jail at last, or enlist again and help a struggling group of recruits get through training.
He chooses the latter, obviously, and it’s into a rough and ready flick about a bunch of hardscrabble upstarts tryna make it. With cool dad, Boyega, and uncool dad, Scott Eastwood; tremendously boring in this joint, the script don’t help him but the everpresent charisma vacuum he carries around with him don’t either. The man only works when he’s the butt of the joke, it’s his face that dooms him. He looks too much like his father to take serious.
I mean, that setup could work fine for a little picture, one which keeps its ambitions small, but it had the misfortune of inheriting Del Toro’s ambition. No film with robots this big would be content being small. So the first problem is that despite everything the world has pretty much found its own peace. So the bonding of the feisty teens is cut up this incredibly laboured political stuff, which then hits a point where the film decides to be a mystery for a short while, until it can finally cut loose again, pull a big goddamn beastie outta the sea and set up a proper fight.
And by that point you just really don’t care. Boyega is talented, he can bring the fun, but where’s the heart? The first Pacific Rim, for its flaws was about pain and loss and broken people learning to trust and depend on each other again. This one is about, I dunno, the kid stuff is pretty pure but when it comes down to it they may as well be background. It seems to care about its original cast, but only as tools. How can we fuck this shit up? What would be the most extreme twisted things we can do to destroy the status quo?
Nobody gets enough time here. Rinko Kikuchi returns as Mako Mori but only gets two scenes before it’s decided that she’s an easy way to raise the stakes. Charlie Day & Burn Gorman return as the misfit scientists but then the film conspires to wrench them apart for the entire running time so that their sweet little queer double act don’t get time to shine. Instead, Day is paired up with Jing Tian whose talents are yet again wasted, this time in a role that is practically a walking red herring until the film decides to employ this totally inane twist.
It’s not that the twist is bad, it worked on me but the film that was left after it was one which felt messy and dour. It came from a refutation of the first flick’s ideals. Co-operation and trust, the building of a better future, gives way to suspicion and cynicism a smaller world and more insular. One that is not gentle but instead will go looking for war. Maybe it’s just too real.
Maybe I don’t want too real in this joint. It’s not trying to be real after all, it’s just trying to be extreme. It fails. It’s too ordinary. DeKnight comes from television and its strange how the film takes on those forms. At about two hours long it would make a neat four episode miniseries. It’s broken up nice and neat and has this abridged and disjointed flow about it. It don’t work in a theatre, it don’t have the energy to make it.
It’s mostly just dull. It really shouldn’t be. These things are to big to be allowed to be dull. Y’all did it wrong.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is currently screening in UK cinemas.