“Pacific Rim: Uprising”

Go, go Power Ra–… I mean Go, go Gypsy Avenger! That sounds right, yes?

Ten years after the Battle of the Breach, Jake Pantecost (John Boyega playing the son of Idris Elba’s character in Pacific Rim) re-enlists in the Jaeger program to train a new group of young pilots. He reconnects with his estranged best friend Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and the two find themselves thrown into a new war with a mysterious group of rogue Jaegers. But why?

Uprising follows its predecessor’s formula – an underdog pilot joins the Jaeger program and ends up in a rivalry, there’s a motivational speech before a big battle, underdog saves the day, and there’s a setup for another movie. Good news is Uprising has some new tricks up its sleeve, despite being formulaic. It’s also goofy fun.

Uprising expands its world building. We learn in the first act that people enjoy living in abandon mansions, there’s a trade system, and Jake trades for his preferred goods (he trades a Ferrari for a sriracha supply). We also learn the Kaiju have telepathic powers, making them even more formidable. In terms of character arcs and narrative, Uprising is almost the same movie as Independence Day: Resurgence. I forgave the similarities because Uprising tries new things.

The movie takes risky moves with notable characters Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day). I won’t get into details, but I applauded the writers for once again taking the franchise into a new direction. Director Steven S. DeKnight might not be on Del Toro’s level in terms of flare and action sequences, but he still does a competent job with the Jaeger and Kaiju sequences.

I loved Pacific Rim, but it took itself too seriously. Uprising improves by acknowledging its own silliness. Boyega and Eastwood’s buddy cop banter, along with Day’s over-the-top performance add to the movie’s charm. I was reluctant going into the sequel, but I would be okay with a third, fourth, and even a fifth Pacific Rim.

Grade: B

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“Red Sparrow”

After seeing Atomic Blonde, the Kingsman movies, and Daniel Craig’s 007 movies, the last movie I expected to see was a slow burn spy thriller that doesn’t glorify espionage. Red Sparrow is that revisionalist spy film!

Dominika’s (Jennifer Lawrence) ballet career ends after she breaks her leg on stage. In order to take care of her ailing mother (Joely Richardson), she becomes a Russian spy called a ‘Sparrow’ – a master in seduction and manipulation. She then meets CIA operative Nash (Joel Edgerton) and falls for him, despite him being her new target. Will Dominika complete her mission or go rogue?

Red Sparrow has a lot of controversy surrounding it due to its sexual and physical violence. This is disturbing and bleak film, but I admired it. I normally hate movies that feature excessive sexual violence and torture; however, Red Sparrow kept me intrigued because it uses that content to debunk the spy genre. These spies don’t drink martinis and seduce the princess after stopping world domination! They’re traumatized and broken afterwards.

There’s no glorification in watching Nina seduce her would-be rapist classmate in front of their class. There definitely isn’t glorification in watching someone get skinned alive. Instead, Red Sparrow explores the uncompromising nature of being a spy. Dominika is trained to be soul less, so she has to seduce and torture. She doesn’t want to, but she needs to for her survival. Frances Lawrence’s (no relation to Jennifer) slow burn direction adds more tension to the violent scenes in Cronenberg-like fashion.

Jennifer is committed in her performance as Dominika and continues her streak of fearless performances. She at times plays a convincing survivor, but also has calculated moments. Is she playing both sides? Or looking out for herself? Her relationship with her incestuous uncle Ivan (a creepy Matthias Schoenaerts) adds more complexity to the film, not only exploring abuse, but gender politics and control. Ivan clearly has an infatuation for his niece, so it’s not surprising if he’s using his power to get closer to Ivanka. Ivanka’s cat-and-mouse game with Ivan takes some surprising turns that will discomfort and surprise viewers.

While Red Sparrow is gory, fascinating, and haunting, it’s also occasionally silly. There’s an extended sequence involving Dominika and a drunken US politician (Mary-Louise Parker) that derives from the film’s tone, briefly turning the film into a buddy comedy. Parker is a nice comedic relief, but it’s an additional twenty minutes that serves no purpose to the story.

Screenwriter Justin Haythe has come a long way from his previous film (the equally ambitious-though-awful A Cure for Wellness). Haythe has a point with his grisly content this time, but he can work on shortening his scripts. Still, Red Sparrow is a daring thriller that treads on both political commentary and exploitation film.

Grade: B