Two films on very different ends of the entertainment spectrum. Ones an action heavy, mech anime send up, the other is a whimsical journey to find a girl’s missing father. Yet both contained the line “[Insert Name]’s not here right now” spoken by a being inhabiting another body. Who knew?
Pacific Rim: Uprising:
The follow up to 2013s Pacific Rim by director Guillermo del Toro. Uprising feels rather lacking in what the original film understood about the giant robot genre.
Set ten years after the events of the first film, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) the son of franchise hero General Stacker Pentecost, has been living in abandoned mansions and getting by well in a post Kaiju world. Until he is arrested after helping a young girl and illegal Jaeger engineer escape the police. To avoid prison, he is thrown back into service as a Jaeger Ranger, training new recruits. Despite the lack of Kaiju threat, recruits are still trained. Jaeger’s are still built, and the world is still on edge.
Overall, Pacific Rim: Uprising is lacking compared to the first film. Greatly missing that del Torro magic. This time directed by first time director, Steven S. DeKnight. While the first is a loving sed up to mech anime, Uprising feels more like someone was told the plot beats to shows such as Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Neon Genesis Evangelion and perhaps The Vision of Escaflowne, with only the vaguest hint of interest from the person explaining it. In particular, the film seems to pay homage to moments in Evangelion, with the notable idea of the Unit 03/13th Angel reveal in the show, only lacking the same emotional weight and drama that made that moment so pivotal.
John Boyega continues to do well in his career, but largely caries the film single-handedly. With a cast largely made up of teenagers, another nod to the tropes of giant robot anime. The kids are good, and carry their respected plot points reasonably well, but do not hold up to the same standards of the first film. Especially with how much they play into the final act of the film.
The films villain reveal and plan is somewhat logical given the threads left off from the first film. Though some thought into his plan’s early actions make little sense when you stop and think about how it fits in as a whole.
The pivotal fight choreography is strong, exactly what you would expect from this kind of film. Though the designs of the new Jaeger model’s feel like copies of existing Gundam models rather than ones that exist in this world. Something the films’ predecessor managed very well. With the noticeable exception of the new Gipsy model, the series flagship. One model however, bares a striking similarity to Unit 02 of Evangelion, with a few notes taken from Baymax’s armour in Big Hero 6. The Unit 02 influence is most noticeable in it’s use of knives and swords.
The films world feels very disconnected, even as a follow up to the first. Small details that were established in the original film, and handled well in several giant robot anime, such as civilian evacuation and protection were handled in a very haphazard manner. A lot of details about how this new, post-Kaiju war world works are largely swept under the rug. A nod is given hear or there, to acknowledge that it was considered, but only bring further questions. A lot of the film felt very unrealistic even from the world the film sets up, leading to an unsatisfying conclusion and inevitable sequel baiting.
Perhaps the films funniest moment was watching a Jaeger crash land next to the 1:1 scale Gundam statue in Tokyo. Which when you take into account it’s appearances in the Ready Player One trailers and posters, this won’t be the last time a Gundam makes it to the big screen this year.
Overall, a few good fights and a plot that feels very copy and pasted together. Predictable specially to existing giant robot fans. Worth catching on TV or at a cheap screening but does not stand up to the original.
A Wrinkle in Time:
Based on the book by Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time follows the young girl Meg as she, her brother, and friend Calvin, go on an adventure to recover her missing father. A scientist who suddenly disappeared from their house 4 years ago. The journey takes them through other worlds and across space as they try to understand what happened, and the universes impact on them all.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, and with an all star cast of Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine and more. However, the true star of the film is the impressive CGI, followed closely by the three lead child actors, Storm Reid, Levi Miller, and Deric McCabe who all completely embody their characters and carry the film. The big Hollywood names feel as though they are only there to get attention for the film, especially in the cases of Winfrey, Witherspoon and Kaling. They feel more like the stars on screen, rather than actual characters.
The film carries with it a good message, talking to the target audience, in this cast children and teens, about depression and excepting their own faults. However, while the film is well meaning, it feels as though the book it’s adapting handled these far better even without having read the book. Multiple scenes that you would imagine having been written to invoke particular emotions and images that are deeply personal to the reader, are now being heavily filtered through someone else’s perspective. Granted the beautiful CGI does provide a fair amount of eye candy. The feeling that the intension was meant to be more personal is very hard to shake.
The films focus on darkness taking over the light, and the unnamed ‘it’ are very clear stand ins for the obvious. And while the talk of, but never named, depression can be very affective, it still feels lacking. Some of the flash back examples shown in the middle, attempting to explain the darkness’s affect on people are decent, though very cliché.
Overall, a standard Hero’s Journey story with an impressive young cast, but heavily hollow to it’s core. Eye catching, but all flash and no substance.
Between the two, A Wrinkle in Time is certainly the stronger film. But neither are masterpieces. Both bring something to the table, either fight scenes, effective CGI, or promising child acting. But neither are satisfying as films and give of the impression that a better version already exists.
Can we just have a Gundam film already…!?