So far in 2018, we’ve reviewed a comic book film that takes it self seriously in order to deal with heavier socio-political issues and themes, and a sci-fi film that is very serious, dramatic and existential.
And now for something completely different.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is the tonal opposite of either of the other films. It is a film that is solely about providing a fun experience and virtually nothing else. To that end, it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It is far more interested in being silly and fun than introspective and challenging. It is infinitely lighter than Black Panther, Annihilation or even its own dang trailer! It is a cartoon masquerading as a live action film, and it is all the better for it.
First off, this is not the best film of the year, the summer, the month, or even the week. It is an enjoyable film at its absolute peak, a mindless action film at its worst. It spends no time trying to make some sort of political or social statement. It doesn’t bother with very deep or complex characters. It certainly doesn’t bother with going with a darker tone ala The Dark Knight and all of its copycats. But let’s think about this really quick: if you care going to watch a film about a bunch of people controlling giant robots (or mechs, whatever) fight a bunch of giant interdimensional monsters, do you want a bunch of introspection? Would a dark tone make the monsters more intimidating or menacing? Would a serious political statement make the triumph (spoilers, I guess, but c’mon, you know how this film ends before you even buy the ticket) of the heroes any more significant? No, you go to watch this film because you want to see some sick-ass monster fights- that is all.
Dude, that giant robot is going to fight a giant-er monster with an electric whip, who on earth wouldn’t to see that!
A film like this can only work if it treats its material exactly as it should be treated: like a cinematic depiction of some children playing with their monster and robot toys. This film doesn’t care about trying to create something meaningful or significant; it just wants to have some fun. There are moments when something stupid happens. It could be some dialogue, and action, a character decision or anything else you can think of. In most films, when that stupid thing comes up, someone in the production says, “Hey, this is kind of dumb, let’s not do it.” The stupid thing is then eliminated or changed. In Pacific Rim: Uprising, when something stupid came up, I can imagine the exchange going more like this: “Hey, this is kind of dumb, should we do it?” to which the response could only have been, “Heck yes its stupid, let’s roll with it!” And thus we have a final product that is not quite full of, but has plenty of stupid moments that no one should really care about as the film itself clearly doesn’t, and there is something to admire about a film that knows it is kind of stupid and goes full speed carrying that stupidity on its sleeve.
As for the film itself, it meets all expectations. It has cool fight scenes with some interesting choreography, big monsters making a mess out of Japan, who between this and Godzilla just can’t catch a break, and some messages of team work and trust that is straight out of a Power Rangers episode. Heck, the entire film itself feels like it could have been thought up by a five-year-old. All of this is great! There is not much to dislike about this film. It doesn’t make any sort of major technical mistakes, and what silly parts are there were done on purpose- this film even has memes in it! It is a storyline, premise and look straight out of a Gundam, or Neon Genesis Evangelion or something. There is even a shot of the life-sized Gundam Statue in Japan as an obvious node to its inspirations, but even those animated shows take themselves more seriously and have more to say than Pacific Rim: Uprising.
What this film really is, is a remedy/counter/antithesis of the Transformers films. The folks behind those take themselves and the films far too seriously. They are so dramatic, many of the characters are too serious, and it tries to have dramatic moments with emotional swells, hero shots and slow-motion garbage. It is as if no one has ever told Michael Bay or any other producers or writers that this is a franchise that is based directly off of a line of toys. The original show animated show and film were just fancy advertising foe these toys back in the 80’s, as well as every television show since. Those films take themselves very seriously and are much worse off for it. They are trying so hard to be something important while constantly falling flat on their faces.
The Pacific Rim films are what happens when a film knows it is a 7 out of 10 at best, as well as knowing exactly what it both wants to be and needs to be. There are many folks out there who won’t enjoy this film, as they won’t care about the concept, they will find that it lacks maturity, they will find it kind of dumb at points, and they will find it very, very predictable. All of those criticisms are true, but I cannot fault this film for them, as it simply does not care, so why should I?. As far as I am concerned, it has accomplished everything it and the folks behind it wanted to do: to make a fun and fairly silly film about big robots fighting bigger monsters. For anyone wanting anything of substance, this film is not for you. But for those of you out there who just want to go to a theater and spend a couple of hours having a good time with an action film that just wants to have fun, then you cannot find a more perfect example than Pacific Rim: Uprising.