Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

★★★

Advertisements

Heading into Pacific Rim: Uprising, I struggled to recall much of Pacific Rim. That didn’t really matter. Like its protagonist Jaegers, Uprising cranks along like a fairly well-oiled if uninspired machine, only filling in knowledge gaps when absolutely necessary (and often via bouts of exposition). It is swamped with techno-scientific jargon, the majority of which barely enters the cinema-sphere before shooting way over the heads of viewers. But none of it really matters. All that matters is the presence of good giant robots, the counter-presence of bad giant robots, and the absolute certainty that they’re going to fight. And that, I guess, sums up Steven S. DeKnight’s sequel in a nutshell: Uninterested in character development — a few half-hearted attempts aside — and thoroughly compelled by carnage. And provided you leave your brain at the door upon entering, it’s actually sort of okay.

This is primarily because it has John Boyega front and centre. The Star Wars sophomore has bags of charisma and a playful wit that helps him overcome the often cliched dialogue. At one point he is charged with giving a rallying speech before a group of junior Jaeger users, a speech we’ve seen a million times before and in situations where the drama has been significantly better earned, yet he delivers it with enough panache to get you at least a little fired up. Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, son of Idris Elba’s now deceased war hero, who has swapped his father’s honour (or something) for a freeing scavenger lifestyle spent on the decimated coast of LA (or somewhere). Upon being captured by the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps, he suddenly rediscovers his honourable streak, rejoining the ranks of civilisation protection alongside his old Jaeger partner Nate (Scott Eastwood), who sort of holds a grudge but not really. Good thing too, because soon after Jake adopts the heroic tag, the world comes under threat from a Jaeger drone system gone wrong and a bunch of giant Kaiju creatures.

That story summary sounded quite snarky, but to its credit the film wears a snarky, self-reflective attitude. There’s a great moment where you think eccentric PPDC scientist Dr. Hermann Gottlieb, played (obviously) by Burn Gorman, is about to unleash Elba’s signature “Cancel the Apocalypse” cry from the previous film, but instead the screenwriters lump him with a significantly flimsier and entirely forgettable punchline. Gorman, like many others, finds himself embodying a walking stereotype and, like many others, makes the best of it. Cailee Spaeny, for instance, plays the newbie cadet whose rebellious existence has landed her in Jaeger school. Spaeny projects a charming aura despite the well-worn character type, and she has solid comic chemistry with Boyega.

Scott Eastwood, looking more and more like Captain America Chris Evans by the reel, has less room to manoeuvre, his only real character quirk coming via a weird non-love triangle between himself, Jake, and Adria Arjona’s otherwise sidelined Jules Reyes. Elsewhere, Charlie Day is charged with doing his Charlie Day shtick, while Rinko Kikuchi returns as Mako Mori, Jake’s adopted sister and PPDC executive. You probably shouldn’t feel short-changed by a giant monster flick that lacks standout characters, but a better film would have at least a few (see Jurassic Park or Alien).

That being said, Uprising does fulfil its visual duties. The Jaegers have a commendably imposing aura, particularly prevalent in a scene that shows three of them gliding down from the sky to challenge a rogue robot. Cinematographer Dan Mindel frames the shot well, depicting the destructive menace of the aforementioned rouge before patiently bringing the trio into focus, their collective authority increasing by the frame. And the enemy creatures are quite creepy too: A swarm of bug-like Kaiju unleashed towards the end won’t please anyone averse to creepy crawlies, but it does make for a neat mid-battle game-changer.

This is better than anything the Transformers franchise has offered, not only because it has one or two performers worth rooting for, but also because its battle sequences are easy to follow. Unlike Transformers’ Hieronymus Bosch-esque action sequences, Uprising clearly defines the good guys and bad guys, and takes care to depict the consequences of each robotic right hook or metallic missile strike, affording viewers a chance to digest events. This is in part because natural breaks in the action take us inside the heads of the giant mechanical beasts, showing us the humans in control and thus giving the Jaegers a degree of humanity. But it is also simply down to decent action direction: DeKnight acted as showrunner on the excellent first season of Marvel’s Daredevil, and while the fights here lack the bone-crunching inventiveness of those interspersed throughout said series, they do at least adhere to Daredevil’s visual clarity.

It may be an easy conclusion to arrive at, but it’s also the right one: If warring monsters is your type of thing, Uprising should tick enough boxes to offer an enjoyable experience. It will also do the job if you just want to spend a few hours at the cinema without having to rev any brainpower. Like me, you might even chuckle a few times — kudos Boyega. What’s certain is you will have the chance to see plenty of other, better blockbusters in the coming months (Ready Player One is already out). Hey, by the end of the summer there is every chance you’ll have forgotten you even went to see Pacific Rim: Uprising on a cold night at the end of March. But at least it knows its place. It’s fine, and that’s fine.

Director: Steven S. DeKnight

Rating: 12A

Runtime: 1hr 51mins

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science fiction

Starring: John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Scott Eastwood, Rinko Kikuchi

Images ©: Universal Pictures

Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Texas Chainsaw PosterDirector: John Luessenhop

Release Date: January 4th, 2013 (UK and US)

Genre: Horror; Thriller

Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Tania Raymonde, Trey Songz, Scott Eastwood

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Texas Chainsaw, the latest cynically-driven reboot/rehash/retread of Tobe Hooper’s masterful massacre, opens with a montage showing a series of short clips taken from its cinematic elder. We see 1974 Leatherface in all of his gritty glory, revving that infamous metal engine and thrusting it towards a rabble of victims without inducing so much as sliced finger. Ironically, John Luessenhop’s newest creation never exceeds the heights set by its introductory mosaic. The moment simply reminds us of the original’s greatness, a success that was never going to be on the cards for Texas Chainsaw. After all, this is nothing more than another cash ploy exploiting the historical coffers of the ailing franchise.

Upon hearing about the death of a grandmother she didn’t know existed, Heather (Alexandra Daddario) and her mates pack into a minivan and venture over to Texas to pick up her inheritance. The trip conjures up a fifth wheel but other than that nothing of note arises. That is, until they reach Heather’s newly acquired mansion, a place that houses more than just expensive cutlery and creepy family portraits.

Despite expunging a budget of around $20 million, Texas Chainsaw does its absolute best to parade as an amateur visual (mis)treat. Blood splatters imported from the 300 school of imagery are unrealistic and out of sync with the surrounding picture. It’s a struggle not to chuckle awkwardly at Leatherface’s body-chopping skills, or maybe the fault lies not with our masked murderer but with the overworked visuals department. Luessenhop should really have learned from the gory restraint championed by the original — at least that way any potential embarrassments on the CGI front would’ve been kept to a minimum. Besides, a substantial decrease in violence for the sake of violence might actually have equipped the film with a sense of mature purpose, and also saved those sweat-dripping studio bosses a wad of cash. Given the amount spent and available contemporary technology, there’s really no excuse for this 2013 horror film to lazily produce cheap gore.

Even worse than the visual continuity issues at hand are a whole heap of character continuity problems. There’s no avoiding the awfulness of those whose story we’re watching unfold. To phrase it justifiably bluntly, every single person on show is an idiot: the family lawyer who hands Heather her new house keys quite obviously knows there’s something iffy about the place, yet decides to bite his tongue; a police detective follows a trail of blood and wanders directly into mismatched danger, when halting five minutes for back-up would probably have been the more sensible action; whilst attempting to escape, the group decide waiting it out in a minivan that’s on its last wheels is a better idea than high-tailing it on foot. Watching the characters is painfully infuriating, even for a horror flick. Though it should be noted that “it’s a horror movie, what d’you expect?” isn’t a good enough excuse for poor characterisation. There is no excuse. People and plot, cinema’s most basic foundations, both crumbling here.

Texas Chainsaw bursts at the seams with so many genre clichés that we begin to wonder if the screenplay has been written by an actual human being with a subjective mind, or a horror slot machine that lands on cherry every spin. In fact the commonalities can be as local as they come on occasion; on their minivan travels the friends pick up a wanderer. Sound familiar? The symbolism doesn’t necessarily lie in the ‘what’ of this moment, but rather the ‘who’. From an eerily disconcerting hitchhiker 40 years ago, to an insane runaway three decades later, we’ve now been landed with a Calvin Klein model. A sign of the times, perhaps. Ultimately the narrative leans towards a phoning — or cashing — it in attitude and, given the film’s title was rounded off with ‘3D’ during its cinematic run, cashing it in feels like quite an apt description. To give the filmmakers’ some credit, there is an attempt to sever conventional ties in regard to the franchise, but this come across as desperate rather than inspired. Truthfully, the angle only succeeds in tarnishing the authentically terrifying mantra laid out in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Rounding off the dismal outing is a handful of performances each lacking the same inspiration that those behind the camera are devoid of. The material might not be any good, but nobody manages to ascend the steps of unsullied. Alexandra Daddario is Heather and probably comes out less burnt than the others, but her talent far exceeds her display. Watch Daddario in True Detective to see a potential superstar. Heck she even gives a better account of herself in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Tania Raymonde likely wishes she’d stayed Lost. The only noteworthy point to make about her appearance is the inclusions of an incredibly gratuitous low-from-behind shot that’s only possible because her character ‘chooses’ to walk alongside a moving vehicle. (As opposed to travelling in it, like most normal folk do when they’re headed somewhere.) Trey Songz also shows up but doesn’t do any singing.

Texas Chainsaw is a project driven by financial gain and very little else. It shows, and in just about every aspect too. The film’s execution is sloppy, the narrative is terminally uninspired and most of the characters are borderline abhorrent. We don’t care at the beginning, and we care even less by the end. The only reason we don’t celebrate anyone’s demise is because that’d make us just as bad as them.

Texas Chainsaw - Leatherface

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Lionsgate