There are three kinds of “bad” movies:
- The ones that are boring. These usually have incomprehensible plots, bland characters, and a third act dreamed up while the movie was shooting. Think The Cloverfield Paradox or anything from the DC Extended Universe that isn’t Wonder Woman
- The ones that are morally reprehensible. These usually feature sexist and/or racist portrayals of women and people of colour, and often just have a misguided or hateful view of humanity. Think Jurassic World or anything directed by Michael Bay
- The ones that entertain you and therefore aren’t bad at all. These usually feature goofy stories, cornball dialogue, and everyone involved committing 110%. Think Mission: Impossible II or Pacific Rim: Uprising
I will qualify by saying that I am an unabashed fan of Pacific Rim. I acknowledge that it has issues, and would be a much better movie if Mako was the lead, but Guillermo del Toro writes and directs with such love for genre and characters that I always have a great time watching it. The fact that it pretty effectively builds an entire world is a plus, as are the numerous scenes of giant robots fighting giant aliens.
Pacific Rim: Uprising certainly won’t win any new converts, but it does a good job presenting the logical next step in the story. It doesn’t just retread the original, but actually builds on what happened at the end of Pacific Rim. One of the strengths of the original film was its diverse cast, and message that if we all work together we can do amazing things. Uprising continues this tradition, and mercifully jettisons Charlie Hunnam in favour of John Boyega, one of the best actors working today. His protagonist elevates this movie considerably, and newcomer Cailee Spaeny holds her own against him, as a young inventor who builds her own giant robot. Jing Tian, who kicked all kinds of ass in The Great Wall is quite good here, portraying a tech billionaire with questionable motives, and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, who played their characters broad in Pacific Rim crank the dial up to 11, giving truly manic performances that I thoroughly enjoyed. Scott Eastwood is also in this movie.
Director Steven S. DeKnight, best known for the lurid TV series Spartacus, does a serviceable job staging the large scale battles that are this series’ claim to fame. He doesn’t quite make you feel the scale the way del Toro did, and most of the character scenes are basic shot reverse shots, but I could almost always follow exactly what was happening in the action sequences. The screenplay by Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight, and T.S. Nowlin is where the movies’ biggest problems come from. As stated before, Uprising really does tell a second chapter, rather than just rewriting the first. There are times when the story is genuinely surprising, and there is a plot twist that will make fans of the first movie squeal with delight. Unfortunately, most of the characters aren’t very well written, and the film is muddy at best when it comes to their motivations. John Boyega’s protagonist is the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first movie, and is at first presented as wanting nothing to do with the Jaeger (giant robot) Program that his father was famous for. There’s a fun sequence showing him relaxing in an abandoned mansion, trading cars for Sriracha sauce, and just generally living the good life. Then a heist goes wrong and he ends up getting arrested and forced to join the Jaeger Program, which is never a very interesting way to get a main character into Act Two. Cailee Spaeny is recruited as well and has trouble co-piloting the Jaegers…until she just…doesn’t. The villain of the movie is also only doing what they’re doing because they’re possessed – not a good plot development, unless your movie is The Exorcist. The movie’s stakes go from high to low for no reason other than the writers backed themselves in a corner and didn’t know how to get out of it.
All that said, everything moves at a brisk pace, and the film has enough humour to sand down some of the roughest edges. This is a perfect Tuesday movie, or a movie to blow some SCENE points on. I will likely never watch Pacific Rim: Uprising again, but I had a pretty great time with it. Recommended, for fans of Pacific Rim, John Boyega, or movies that don’t feature Charlie Hunnam.