Review of “Pacific Rim: Uprising”

It’s been 10 years since the Breach was closed and the Kaiju were stopped from taking over the world by the brave actions of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). His son Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) hasn’t exactly followed in his father’s footsteps. After being kicked out of the Pan Pacific Defense Corp for attempting to operate a Jaeger by himself then crashing it when he passed out from the strain, Jake has been making an illegal living by scavenging Jaeger parts and selling them on the black market. On one of his raids of a PPDC scrap yard Jake discovers the part he was trying to steal was stolen by a young girl named Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). She is building her own single-operator Jaeger she calls Scrapper. She and Jake are both captured by security forces. While in detention Jake is visited (via hologram) by his sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who is the PPDC general secretary. She gives Jake a choice: Prison or return as an instructor to the Jaeger pilot’s academy. Considering it the lesser of two evils (just barely) he returns to the academy with Amara in tow. She is going to be a cadet; but there may not be a need for new pilots much longer as Shao Corporation, led by Liwen Shao (Jing Tian), has been working on Jaeger drones that can be remotely operated. Leading her research team is Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) who, along with Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), studied the Kaiju for the PPDC. Shao is presenting a report to the PPDC Council in Sidney, Australia when a rogue Jaeger attacks. Gypsy Avenger piloted by Jake and Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) engage in battle with the Jaeger, nicknamed Obsidian Fury, and during the fight a helicopter with Mako Mori on board is knocked out of the sky and destroyed, killing her. There’s something going on that may involve Shao Corporation and their drone plans or perhaps there’s something even more insidious behind the scenes.

I really liked 2013’s “Pacific Rim.” It hit all the right notes for me with giant monsters fighting giant robots with each robot being controlled by two tiny humans in its head. As a child I made up similar scenarios using my various G.I. Joe and other dolls, pretending they were giant robots fighting whatever monster I could construct in my brain. While the “Godzilla” movies tried something similar with Mechagodzilla it didn’t really work for me personally. I couldn’t get past that the monster and the robot were just two guys in rubber suits stomping around a cardboard model of a city. When “Pacific Rim: Uprising” was announced I was genuinely excited to see the next chapter in the battle for supremacy of the Earth. I was a bit bummed that director Guillermo del Toro wouldn’t be back in the chair. He is a producer so he does have some creative input on the sequel. Unfortunately the return of the Jaeger vs. Kaiju is bogged down by a scattershot story, silly plot twists and a ridiculous conclusion that stretches my ability to suspend belief to the breaking point.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” gets off to a promising start with Jake living his life of scavenging and barter. I liked how he was a friendly rogue that was just looking to have a good time and make enough to survive. I also liked his early interactions with Amara and their friction that bordered on brother/sister sniping. Once they move into the heart of the story however, the charm of Jake Pentecost turns into smarm. His efforts to be cute and funny wear thin. The well of cutesy one-liners and witty asides is visited far too often. I like John Boyega a great deal. I was impressed when I heard he was a producer on the film while listening to the ID10T podcast (formerly Nerdist) and he talked about his being involved in planning the effects and working on other aspects of the production. I wish he had been involved in the script writing then he might have been able to cut down on the amount of snark Jake expresses.

I also had a problem with an aspect of the story I can’t talk about too much as to not spoil a major part of the film. What I can say is Burn Gorman and Charlie Day should sue the writers for turning their funny and interesting characters into bad comic relief. Drs. Gottlieb and Geiszler veer wildly away from their original film selves in a plot twist that could best be described as ill-advised. It seems like the producers wanted to cut down on the number of cast so they decided to recycle a couple of existing characters into parts that should have been new to the story. I wish I could fill you in on all the details as this section would make more sense but I don’t feel like I can. I will say choices made for these characters reduce their effectiveness and entertainment enormously.

Finally the most damaging issue with “Pacific Rim: Uprising” is the increasing silliness of the action. While giant robots and monsters fighting each other is ridiculous on its face the original film managed to find a way to keep the battles somewhat grounded in what looked believable. “Pacific Rim: Uprising” decides to throw any idea of reality out the window and give us some action scenes that are “Fast and Furious” levels of silly. I enjoy over-the-top action as much as the next person; however when a Jaeger has a rocket welded to its hand by another Jaeger as part of an on-the-fly, last ditch plan, I must say enough is enough.

On a side note, there is also the way the Kaiju and Jaegers fight that doesn’t make much sense. Ripping off a leg or an arm would certainly seem to be a more effective way for each to disable the other and yet it doesn’t happen very often. Both combatants seem content with bashing each other over and over again or throwing their opponent into the ground or a building. It is like in thrillers when a giant criminal throws a regular sized cop around a bar instead of beating him to death. This gives the cop a chance to grab a weapon of some sort to even the fight. I know this is done to build up the tension and excitement to make the good guy coming back for the win that much more satisfying but after seeing it for the umpteenth time it starts to get old.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and some language. There are a couple of robot-on-robot battles. There is an attack on the PPCD base that kills several people. There is a brief fight between a couple of female cadets. There are some scattered injuries and blood. Foul language is scattered and mild.

I really wanted to like, nay, love “Pacific Rim: Uprising” because I want this universe to become a franchise with lots of films and lots of Jaegers and Kaiju. I want to relive the thrill of giant robots and monsters fighting as a way of reliving my childhood when robot G.I. Joe blond would take on robot G.I. Joe brunette with the Kung Fu grip! That excitement is what I was hoping for when I walked into the theater. What I got was some nice CG images of robots and monsters wailing away on each other but the pixels couldn’t generate any passion within me. Perhaps I’m asking too much but the heart wants what it wants.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” gets two guitars out of five.

Three new films offer a wide variety of entertainment choice this week. I’ll review at least one of the following:

God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness—

Ready Player One—

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony—

Listen to, subscribe, like, rate and review The Fractured Frame wherever you listen to podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Fist Fight”

Roosevelt High School is in a state of chaos. It’s the last day of school and it’s the unofficial senior prank day. Even on a good day the place is out of control thanks largely to a group of teachers that are just biding their time until retirement. One that isn’t is history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube). He’s a no-nonsense disciplinarian with a short fuse and is feared by the entire student body. English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), while a dedicated teacher, is something of a milquetoast. He doesn’t want to rock the boat and doesn’t stand up for himself with the students or administration. Andy and the rest of the staff are concerned because the school board is laying off teachers to cut the budget and no one’s job is safe. Adding to the stress, Andy’s wife is pregnant and three days past her due date. Ron asks Andy to help with an issue he’s having getting a video tape to play during his class. Andy notices a student is using an app on his phone to turn off the VCR tells Ron. This enrages the history teacher who gets a fire ax from the hallway and chops up the student’s desk causing all the kids to scurry into the hall. Principal Tyler (Dean Norris) calls Ron and Andy into his office and wants to know if the students reporting the incident are telling the truth. Under pressure Andy caves and rats out Ron, getting him fired. In private Ron challenges Andy to a fist fight after school.

“Fist Fight” has a razor-thin premise, relies heavily on the kind of high school screw-up characters used in the ‘80’s in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and leans on outrageous and highly illegal behaviors by students and teachers alike to get laughs. Most movies that try this approach are accused of lazy and clichéd storytelling. Fortunately for this film that can be forgiven as it has the one thing most of those other films lack: Laughs.

Charlie Day can do manic and twitchy like no one else. He reeks of fear and confusion through most of “Fist Fight.” I can’t really call it a performance since everything I’ve seen him in, from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” to both “Horrible Bosses” films, shows us basically the same character with the only difference being the volume is turned up or down. Day can be grating when his mania is at maximum. Fortunately that happens for only brief periods in this film.

The movie does of a good job of spreading the funny lines around a large cast of mostly comedy veterans: Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell and Kumail Nanjiani do most of the heavy lifting. There are also solid turns by Dean Norris and Christina Hendricks as the principal and French teacher respectively.

Hendricks is like a comedy assassin as her character pops up in a scene, delivers a killer line or bizarre behavior and then disappears like a wisp of smoke. Jillian Bell adds yet another scene-stealing supporting role as the meth-using guidance counselor. Bell is an expert at delivering the most troubling yet hilarious dialog with a kind of innocence and detachment that makes one wonder if her character isn’t insane. Tracy Morgan is the lovable loser of a coach who is just hanging on. Morgan throws in some gems from his standup material (including talking about getting student’s moms pregnant). It’s good to see Morgan back on screen following his nearly fatal 2014 car accident. Kumail Nanjiani plays the school security officer. This very funny man gets too little screen time but Nanjiani makes the most of it informing Day’s Andy that since the fight is happening after school hours it is outside his jurisdiction. It is a quiet and subtle performance that juxtaposes well with Day’s hyper maniac.

With all the outrageous shenanigans going on in “Fist Fight,” the film also works in a bit of social commentary about public school funding. While it is only in one scene and will likely fly over the head of anyone watching the movie, the script at least takes a little bit of time to talk about how schools are perpetually underfunded and cuts are often made with little regard to how it affects the students. It’s a tiny aspect of the film but I appreciated the effort.

“Fist Fight” is rated R for language throughout, drug material and sexual content/nudity. The sexual content consists largely of a porn scene playing on a laptop. We see breasts and two women kissing. There is drawings of sexual organs as well as what can best be described as a sketch of a male climax. You have to see it to understand. There is also a brief discussion of sex. Using drugs is discussed and the planting of drugs in an effort to stop the fight is shown. There is also a very brief scene of someone lighting a joint. Foul language is common through the entire film.

The R-rated comedy is a feast-or-famine kind of genre. While there may not be one, or a good one, for years at a time they occasionally start popping up like dandelions. Quantity doesn’t usually mean quality in Hollywood as it is often the sign of a cash grab by studios. “It worked for the other studio so let’s slap one together and release it as soon as possible.” The most recent one I remember is “Office Christmas Party” and I liked that one too. Maybe studios are starting to figure out the right combination of ingredients to make these films both funny and profitable. As long as they make me laugh they can turn out one a week. This week, they released “Fist Fight” and, in my opinion, it’s a knock out.

“Fist Fight” gets five guitars.

This week, car crashes, color barriers and musical canines are the newest additions to your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Collide—

Get Out—

Rock Dog—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.