– By J.W. Fox –
Pacific Rim Uprising delivers exactly what you expect. Giant robots, fat kaiju with glowing blue blood, massive explosions, urban destruction, laughable science, flimsy plot, and one-dimensional characters. It is an opportunity to turn your brain off for a couple hours and watch senseless mayhem. The writers and producers tried their best to make it fun but only succeeded in producing two hours of cheesy, senseless robot/kaiju action. It is likely that some future reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will consider it for an episode.
Uprising takes place a few decades after the first film. There is peace but the world is still interested in building and maintaining jaegers, just in case. Jake Pentecost (Johnny Boyega) is the son of the greatest war hero in world history (Idris Elba’s character from the first movie). Unfortunately, he has no desire to follow in his Dad’s footsteps. Despite his talent for jaeger piloting, all he wants to do is party. When he is arrested, he is offered a choice: rejoin the jaeger training program as an instructor or go to prison. From the trailers, you know the kaiju return and Jake must lead a new jaeger corps into battle.
These new jaegers defy physics in countless ways. Along with the baffling biology of the kaiju, it might as well all be magic. No attempt is made to make the technology or the events plausible. Why build giant robots instead of… well just about any other practical weapons platform? Where are all the veteran, experienced jaeger pilots and why isn’t one of them training the new recruits? Why does Jake’s jaeger look suspiciously like an Iron Man suit?
There are plenty of other plot holes and nonsense, but I won’t spoil the movie. Obviously, the movie forces you to suspend disbelief in a massive way, which suggests it was aimed at a younger audience, as in preteens. Given its weak box office performance, it seems that particular demographic is not big enough or aren’t too interested.
Pacific Rim is a massive disappointment because of its awesome premise involving fighting robots and kaiju. Yet it fails miserably to make an awesome movie with them. The most recent Godzilla and King Kong movies were vastly superior kaiju movies, demonstrating it can be done. Give the monsters some character, create suspense with up-close encounters with the monster, and have a big battle royale at the end. Pacific Rim has big battles but not much else; it is lifeless. We live in an era of CGI-orgies. Creating big monsters that flatten cities while fighting robots isn’t enough.
Another way to build up the monster is with a cool origin story. Pacific Rim fails again. The kaiju are essentially biological weapons sent by aliens from another dimension to attack our cities, or something like that. Seems a tedious and convoluted strategy for an advanced alien species. Also, the aliens are called Precursors. Why? I do not know.
Then there are the jaegers, a strange name but cool-sounding. They are piloted in pairs or triples, are bipedal and carry medieval melee weapons. Melee weapons make for better combat visually, which is why Transformers prefers to give its robot characters swords, shields, axes, and spears. Laser or blaster fights just don’t do it anymore I guess.
More tragic, the jaegers look like they were copied from every other robot and mech movie. The one on all the posters looks like an Iron Man suit, the others look like autobots. They have different paint schemes, clever names like obsidian fury, and have heads with visors for eyes that give enemies a clean shot right at the pilots. Sure they look cool but why would you expose your pilots like that?
Why can’t Hollywood make a good giant robot or mech movie? The most common titles mentioned on top ten lists are Iron Giant, Transformers, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and Real Steel. Japan has plenty of mecha franchises with varying degrees of popularity but none have been able to make a major crossover. Is this really the best we can do? Mechagodzilla? Really? There is a seriously under-served market if only someone would make a decent robot movie.
As with the first movie, the jaeger training program resembles a high school, with petty posturing, bullies, and a complete lack of maturity or professionalism. The best and brightest they are not. The few and the proud, not really. Most of the pilots are cocky, spoiled brats under eighteen years of age. The rationale is that younger audiences better relate to characters that are near their age and act like them. At least, that is the theory of why we are watching kids fight in giant multi-billion dollar robots. Otherwise it makes no sense. Where are all the other jaeger pilots? Seriously…
Okay, enough bashing the movie. You get it, it was a bad movie. So what? Why should we waste any more time or thought on it?
For one, its mediocre box office performance is likely to discourage production companies from making any more robot or kaiju movies. Godzilla and the monsterverse may be able to save it but its movies haven’t exactly lit the world on fire either. It would be a shame to see two awesome sci-fi tropes, giant fighting mechs and kaiju, fade behind a parade of superhero movies and Star Wars. We want more sci-fi, not less.
I am aware, many argue Marvel and Star Wars aren’t really science fiction; I do not wish to get into a genre definition battle. My point is that I want a broader variety of movies and TV series from speculative fiction, not more of the same.
Another issue is whether there is a place for these “war is a fun adventure” style movies in popular culture. Movies like GI Joe and Transformers show the heroes in great peril but also having fun, with great one-liners and the chance to play with the coolest toys ever. Most of the heroes go home with the girl, usually the hottest one on the planet (i.e. Megan Fox). War is not hell, not for the heroes. Death is treated as kind of sad but only a momentary setback. The mass destruction left in the wake of their battles is never acknowledged. The human race is too busy celebrating victory, the hero going home with the girl, etc., for anyone to notice their homes and business have been leveled. Since the battles often take place in the middle of cities, casualties have to be in the thousands. No one talks about it.
Do younger audiences take these movies seriously? Does it make them see war and violence differently? It is hard to say. Either way, there is little value in these kinds of movies critically or commercially. Uprising is not doing well in its first two weeks. For most who have seen it, like me, it is forgettable. Our only hope is that it will not sour Hollywood on giant robots or kaiju projects.
J.W. Fox is the Editor of Prescientcifi.com and author of two novels: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls under the pen name Jacob Foxx. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works for a small biotech company in Raleigh, North Carolina.