If you aren’t familiar with Uprising’s predecessor, this should catch you up. Pacific Rim was from the mind of the recent Oscar winning Best Director, Guillermo del Toro. The story presents us with a future where an alien race has created or discovered a “breach”, allowing them to cross over to our planet. Unfortunately, what the aliens send are gargantuan creatures we call Kaiju.
The Kaiju come in five sizes, from large to holy fuck. To combat the threat, the human race builds similarly large robots called Jaegers, each with unique abilities and fighting styles. Controlling the Jaegers are duos of pilots who perform a Vulcan mind meld with the Jaeger’s electronic brain. Needless to say, Jaeger pilots are seen as celebrities and their robot hosts are equally respected.
The idea behind the original film seems interesting enough, if not slightly cliched anime. Charlie Hunnam was cast as the lead Jaeger pilot, Raleigh Becket. This was shortly after the end of his run as Jax on Sons of Anarchy so his name was on the rise. Additionally, the leader of the Jaeger division was a character with the questionable name of Stacker Pentecost, portrayed quite dynamically by the underrated Idris Elba. This puts a checkmark in the casting column.
In terms of action the movie also delivered, if not slightly over the top. It’s kind of hard to miss with giant robots fighting giant monsters. Yet, the film still felt average at best. This was because the ending was quite predictable. Hunnam’s Becket seals the breach, stopping the assault. Additionally, the casting offered some questionable choices. Yep, I am looking at you Charlie Day. More on that later. When Pacific Rim ended, you felt entertained but underwhelmed. You also knew a sequel was likely.
We are a few years in the future. The breach is still sealed. The Kaiju have not returned, yet the wake of damage is still readily apparent. The bony remains lay of dead kaiju serve as a reminder of the devastation they wrought.
The Jaeger program still exists, their pilots still under intense training, always ready for the next assault. Additionally, a company has begun creation of a new remotely piloted Jaeger “drone” program. The belief is that the remote-controlled robots means less psychic attachment, thus far less risk, to their human controllers. Makes sense, right? Sure, but there’s no story to be told if things don’t go awry.
That last sentence was misleading. It argues there’s a story to be told here. Sadly, Uprising is bereft of anything resembling a logical plot or entertaining story. Even though the original film’s premise of humanity uniting against a big baddie may feel as if it could be the building blocks for a franchise, Uprising tries to overcomplicate the “robots vs. monsters” plotline by adding nonsensical alien–robot hybrids that make no sense whatsoever.
The premise should be simple enough. People want to see big things beating the crap out of each other. It’s why the Transformers franchise still exists, for better or worse. But people also want the story to have some semblance of sense while also having genuine stakes. Uprising offers neither of these things.
I’d like to point the finger at a single issue and shout “that’s where it went wrong”.
This is not possible.
So where to begin?
Let’s start with character development, or the absolute lack thereof. We have John Boyega portraying Stacker Pentecost’s son, Jake. A former Jaeger pilot in training, Jake was booted from the program by his father. If only the audience knew why. As best as we can tell, Jake didn’t take it seriously. The problem is that every scene between Jake and a Jaeger depicts a completely different Jake. He may have “grown up”, we still need to see these steps. This never occurs.
Next up is newcomer Cailee Spaeny, portraying the street-smart orphan Amari Namani. Cailee was enjoyable enough and I look forward to her budding career. I just wish this film wasn’t on her IMDB page. Her story is ridiculous. Without being too spoilery, she may build a small Jaeger with very convenient, most likely reverse engineered, abilities.
Next, Scott Eastwood appears as Nate, an absolutely useless character whose only purpose is to be eye candy for lord knows who. We learn absolutely nothing about this character to the point that I had to look up his name. Scott was second billed! Keep in mind, the character issues are of no blame to those portraying them. They all do the best with what they're given. It was simply terrible storytelling.
This is a massive problem. You cannot have the stakes be the end of the world as we know it, then have Charlie mugging insanely to the camera. You cannot depict “even younger” Cailee apparently watching her parents die, only ten minutes separated from Charlie erotically melding with an alien brain. The messages are all too starkly different. This is not to say that you cannot have moments of levity in a heavy film. You do need to be careful how stark the contrast is though. If this is not handled correctly, the audience is left wondering how they should take the film. Even now, I am not certain whether Uprising was intended to be a comedy.
While on the “comedy” theme, it’s important to discuss Uprising’s effects. Though not perfect, the first film’s “giant robots vs. giant aliens” looked good enough. Somewhere between the first and second film, the computer animation took a ten-year step backward. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t good either. The rendering looked akin to a solid PS4 game’s cut scenes. This film cost $150 million to make, thus it should have looked immensely better. The look was bad enough that it quite often took the viewer out of the film, assuming they were still in to begin with.
Speaking of being taken out of a film, the producers, director, and anyone else to do with a film must be aware of certain things that seem so stupid or implausible that causes cynicism in a viewer. These are having Jaegers perform actions that are only done for the effect.
Let’s begin with a scene direct from the trailer. Why would any Jaeger’s pilot control his robot to do a “slam fist into open palm” move before a fight? It’s a stupid look that NOBODY does in real life, akin to “splashing water on face to focus or calm down”.
This is matched by a horrific scene where all Jaegers are dropped into a battle, with the last one doing a slide from left to right, ending in laying horizontally with head on hand pose. In what universe would any giant alien not immediately jump on said unprepared Jaeger and rip it to shreds? And speaking of ripping things to shreds. The amount of destruction the Jaegers do to Tokyo solely to show the strength of their weapons is obscene. The good news is that Tokyo was evacuated underground due to the coming attack. Great, so I guess they’ll be cool with rebuilding a 50-story skyscraper because a Jaeger pilot wanted to demonstrate the strength of its electro whip. It is all just too stupid.
Therein lies the main problem with this movie. At no point did those in charge ever stop to ask “is this too dumb?" The stupidity with which the entire storyline unfolds is unfathomable for an action movie of this scale. The messages to the viewer are confused, an absolute mess of pointless and tiring action sharing screen time with low bar comedy that works for no one. After the original film, I left the theater feeling as if I got a solid, if not great, time at the box office. After Uprising I found myself genuinely angry that I wasted $10 and 2 hours of my day.
1 out of 5