What We Learned This Week: April 1-7

LESSON #1: BUILDING A CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS HARD— With the impending arrival of Avengers: Infinity War marking a peak as the seventh film of the planned ten-film third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Patrick Shanley of The Hollywood Reporter asked the question “Can Anyone Besides Marvel Make a Cinematic Universe Work?” and it’s a good one.  We’ve seen Universal Pictures flop with its “Dark Universe” of movie monsters and Warner Bros. unable to find the same success with their DC Comics titles.  Franchises with sequels can be done (Transformers, Star Wars, Fast and Furious, etc.).  It’s the intertwining of standalone films and storylines that can exist on their own outside of the combinations that is key.  That requires developing more than one narrative and character.  Marvel did it right with by having patience with its unified vision.  Nothing was rushed.  The other attempts have not shown that level of patience.

LESSON #2: BELIEVE IN CINEMATIC GUILTY PLEASURES— The arrival of Pacific Rim: Uprising side-by-side with the nostalgic energy of Ready Player One calls to mind the idea of guilty pleasures.  Some movies are never going to win Oscars, but are just flat-out fun and garner repeat viewings for easy entertainment.  A fellow Chicago film critic buddy of mine always tries to assert that there are no such things as guilty pleasures.  If a film is good for someone to a pleasurable level, it must have some objective merit worth a higher rating without shame or the need to defend it.  I see his point, but I disagree.  I think it’s perfectly OK, realistically even-keeled if you will, to recognize the differences found between artistic integrity of a film and the fun value.  Honestly, we do the very same with the vice versa end of the highbrow other stuff.  For example, a film like Schindler’s List or any Terrence Malick film can easily be recognized for its artistic superiority and seriousness, but no one is going to Netlfix-and-Chill to a Holocaust film or an Emmanuel Lubezki slideshow of familial hate and trees.  If we’re going to put qualifiers on one end, why not the other?

LESSON #3: DON’T ALWAYS BELIVE FILM SNOBS— From guilty pleasures, we switch the gears to revered classics and faked bragging rights.  Film snobs exist in this world (I work amongst them constantly), but, let me tell you, the majority of them are full of sugar-honey-iced-tea.  First, they don’t admit to finding fun in those aforementioned guilty pleasures.  They were silly kids and teens once too, and I’ll put money on them geeking out to some adventure or playing princesses in a younger life.  They didn’t always watch French New Wave films on 35mm.  The second point of fakery stems from this Gizmodo article by James O’Malley presenting the top movies film snobs say they’ve seen but never actually have.  Those types of film snobs feel the need to rub our commoner noses with notions like “you’re not a true cinephile if you haven’t seen ____” or “you haven’t lived unless you’ve seen ___.”  If they are faking that, they deserve to be called out.  You have my permission to troll the hell out of these people with every meme of movie commercialism possible.

LESSON #4: AVOID PURVEYORS OF THE WORST CLICHES OF FILM REVIEW— Speaking of film snobs and piggybacking off of last week’s column, film critics are often guilty of hyperbole of their own.  Props to Feelin’ Film Facebook discussion group regular Jacob Neff for providing this Letterboxd list piece by Erik Bazjert on the worst frequently-used cliches in film reviews.  I adore this list and know too many film critics who fall for these and write with a pull-quote/pun methodology of little substance.  Worst of all, more often than not, these cliches are celebrated and even encouraged by every studio’s marketing departments to fill their posters, packaging, and signage with these overused and weak zingers.  Even if I never get to scratch off that bucket list item of having one of my reviews cited on a DVD/Blu-ray cover, I, for one, actively try to avoid every single one of these tired and ultimately meaningless expressions.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

Episode 102: Pacific Rim Uprising

For the second week in a row, we tackle a new blockbuster action film, this one featuring heavy CGI work. We both love Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, and a sequel with more giant robots punching giant monsters can’t possibly be messed up, right? We discuss our reactions to and (lack of) feelings for the fun but forgettable Pacific Rim Uprising. Also included are reviews of Wes Anderson’s new stop motion film, Isle of Dogs, and the 1971 Steven Spielberg thriller, Duel.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:10

(Aaron – Isle of Dogs, The Films of Wes Anderson)
(Patrick – Duel)

Pacific Rim Uprising Review – 0:15:59

The Connecting Point – 0:53:43


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MOVIE REVIEW: Pacific Rim Uprising

PACIFIC RIM UPRISING (2018)

GOING IN

Giant robots. Giant monsters. The original Pacific Rim is an amazing example of what an incredibly talented (and now Oscar-winning) director can do when he wants to make a movie about playing with childhood toys. The film is so much fun, so I’m all in for more of it. Expectations are set appropriately lower due to this not being directed by Guillermo Del Toro, nor having Idris Elba, but if it can provide half as much entertainment as the first film did then it will be a success. Again… giant robots… giant monsters. Win.

1 Hour and 51 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT

Pacific Rim Uprising wastes no time in setting its tone, opening with a serious sounding recollection of events from the first film and leading into an incredibly comedic introduction to Jake Pentecost (John Boyega). Jake is the son of Marshall Pentecost, the famous leader and hero who led the Jaeger team that closed The Breach, sealing off access to our world by the Precursors. Now that the war is over, and his father gone, Jake is having trouble finding his place, and Pacific Rim Uprising’s emotional focus is primarily on his journey to discover his identity and embrace it. It’s a soft focus, though, as Pacific Rim Uprising is largely a comedy first and action film second, with light dramatic moments sprinkled in for character development.

The story revolves around Jake meeting a young orphan named Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) and the two troublemakers finding themselves forced to relocate to The Shatterdome (a.k.a. Jaegar base headquarters, I think). Jake has beef with his former drift partner Nate (Scott Eastwood) to sort out, including some underlying competition for the attention of Jules (Adria Arjona), and Amara must try and integrate with a group of other cadets who see her as an outside who didn’t earn her way into their squad. Big picture wise, the Shao Corporation led by Liwen Shao (Tian Jing) is preparing to pitch a new drone system to the world. This new tech, developed in large part by Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), will in theory provide hundreds of drone Jaegers for defense that can be operated remotely from anywhere in the world. Sounds like a good plan, right? Right. Which, of course, means things must go terribly wrong. And so they do.

The important thing to keep in mind about the plot and general comedy-driven nature of Pacific Rim Uprising is that this is 110% stylistically a live-action anime. The characters are over-the-top. Dialogue is cheesy. Acting is pronounced and silly. Reality is often thrown out the window in favor of whatever looks the coolest. Extreme close-ups of single characters talking is frequent. And the action is big, big, big. This is not a typical American action film where drama is the driver and most of the comedy is in quick quips while the action is kept center stage, and so expecting that is going to result in a major letdown. Even those who are fans of the original Pacific Rim may have to adjust to this sequel because it has much more humor and less of a “weight of the world on our shoulders” feel to it.

When it comes to action, Pacific Rim Uprising does mostly deliver what fans want. Four Jaegers with unique abilities and some surprises make for fresh action. Those wanting start-to-finish fighting do get what feels like more action than in the predecessor, and Jaeger pilots don’t hold back until the final moment to deploy their weapons this time around. Unfortunately, most all of those weapons and many of the best action shots were revealed in trailers during the film’s marketing campaign, leaving precious few “OMG WOW THAT JUST HAPPENED” reactions during the film. There is also perhaps a drop in quality of the action scenes. One character in the film suggests that “bigger is always better”, but ironically this may prove otherwise. Nothing comes close to being as powerfully emotional and stunning as the chain sword usage in Pacific Rim. In short, Pacific Rim Uprising seems to have gone with quantity over quality in the action department.

Though there is a lack of strong emotion, the film does have its moments. Jake and Nate’s relationship is a bit like Maverick and Iceman. Jake also develops a relationship with Amara throughout the film and together they provide some of the most affecting scenes. Newt and Hermann (Burn Gorman) reunite, much to the joy of many fans, and their hilariously awkward and sweet relationship offers plenty of laughs this time around, along with a few new twists. The actor’s performances are precisely what the tone and style of the film ask for. Boyega seems to be having a lot of fun playing the snappy, funny, would-be-hero and Scott Eastwood is… well, he’s Scott Eastwood, playing the same character he does in films like The Fate of the Furious and Suicide Squad. And though she isn’t featured heavily, the lovely Tian Jing is fantastic as the smart, strong Shao.

 VERDICT

Regrettably, yet not unexpectedly, Pacific Rim Uprising does not reach the mind-blowing heights of its predecessor. In cranking the anime styling up to 11, it loses the balance between epic and cartoon that makes Pacific Rim so great, and a portion of its fan-base that needs things a bit more serious will likely be less than impressed. For those who enjoy this kind of craziness, though, watching the film (especially with a crowd of like-minded fans) is an absolute blast. It may be ultimately forgettable, but its laugh-out-loud humor and robot vs. monster battles still make Pacific Rim Uprising worthy of seeing on the biggest screen possible at least once.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.