08/05/2018

Pacific Rim: Uprising - Wasted Potential

Thoughts On: Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Big robots, young pilots, the kaiju war was over, but someone will find a way to put more huge monsters on earth.


The newest Pacific Rim, no matter which way you try to look at it and how hard you squint, is just bad. There is an awful lot of potential in the fundamental elements of Pacific Rim. It takes kaiju films such as Godzilla and cyberpunk anime, smashes them together and manifests itself a potential playground of not just destruction, annihilation and large-scale action, but some serious sci-fi exploration of human psychology and the bonds people can develop. Nonetheless, despite all of the potential - potential that really remains inert and the only real draw of the series - both of the Pacific Rim films have felt very lacklustre, Uprising in particular.

The one thing you think would get nailed in Uprising would be the action. But, whilst it should be thrilling--engaging in the least--to see giant things collide, there is very little imagination put into any of the action sequences. The same can be said of the direction: very little imagination is put on display. As a result, action is just in the frame. This speaks volumes about the direction and is something we are seeing more often in a modern cinema with an abundance huge CG destruction. In the likes of Pacific Rim: Uprising, the shoddy DC films, some of the Marvel pictures and a selection of other big blockbusters, the essence of 'epic' is missing. The frames of these films then feel very confining and simultaneously comfortable with their unmoving selves. The action and the spectacle that resides within frames just exists and nothing more. In great epics such as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, or even looking as far back as the 1930s with the original King Kong, you get the sense that the frame takes on a new perspective when gazing at the super-sized. There is then chaos on the edge of epic frames; a sense that the action within cannot be contained, that the view is not wide enough and that the frame, by virtue of its unbelievable imagery, could almost shatter. In short, this is the breathtaking shot that shines from big screens like magic. I cannot tell if we in the modern day are just thrown too many of these shots, if they are over-used in individual films, if composition and editing are poor or if a film lacks the symbolic weight to muster the clout of the epic. But, what I can be sure of is the fact that the frame of Pacific Rim: Uprising and other films alike just feels lifeless and dull.

This fundamental issue of the inert frame, sapped of the epic, devalues Uprising exponentially as there simply isn't much to properly enjoy or be struck by. With the spectacle failing us, we may turn to character with hope. A mistake. Every character in Uprising is bland, self-importantly flat and brimming with shameful dialogue. And the comedy, if the attempts at humour can be recognised as such, only emphasise their grating, highly contrived conflicts that in no way formulate arcs or allow for a journey into their psyche. You might even say that the fact that Uprising tries to muster meaning through character is its best joke.

This brings us back to the potential in Uprising and Pacific Rim more generally. Whilst so much could be done in regards to action and destruction if the filmmakers watched more Jackie Chan films (always my answer to lacking action: watch Jackie Chan), true weight and value could be given to these films if they understood their own symbolism and ran with it. Monsters coming from within the world are clear archetypes of the unconscious, collective mind of humanity; they represent the monsters under all of our beds. To confront these monsters, the kaiju, the humans construct machines that can match them. However, to stand a chance, people have to come together; Jaegers can only be piloted via the union of two minds. The Jaegers then come to embody the conclusion of the basic hero myth that sees a protagonist save someone, a princess for example, and in turn help a wider society. A knight may then slay a dragon to save a town and a princess, but his ultimate goal is to transcend his singular being by unifying with another and promulgate his success through the world around him. The Jaegers are all of this at once. These are machines that are meant to fight 'dragons' and to beat the dragon two must become one. This meeting of two inside the Jaeger is much deeper than just two people working together, however. Two individual minds become one; humans return to the unified hermaphroditic state of a god as to confront their greatest monsters.

This is a powerful narrative, one that reaches deep into the knowledge of collective storytelling and could be used to explore so much. It is not understood by the filmmakers helming the Pacific Rim movies, however. Somewhat incoherently, Uprising is trying to be a film about West and East, about Eastern industrialisation becoming corrupt and new, diverse families having to form as to confront the demons exhumed. I hesitate to even mention this though because there is no thematic coherency. As a result, this makes statements and loose allusions but never really says anything. And so, without spectacle, character or subtext, Uprising falls apart all too easily.

To brings things towards a close, I will say that this is a film that can be stared at for 100 minutes or so - as numbing as that experience will. But, I won't endeavour to do so again. Alas, have you seen Pacific Rim: Uprising? What did you think?







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