“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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“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” (Spoiler Free)

I won’t fanboy over “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. I won’t spoil anything whilst talking about “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. I’ll say that it’s good to read, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” again.

“The Force Awakens” follows the Resistance over thirty years after the events of “Return of the Jedi”, and they’re now up against the First Order led by dark master Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson). They’re in pursuit of resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid, BB-88 for mysterious reasons.

Thrown in the middle, are a rogue storm trooper named Finn (John Boyega) and a young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who become the franchise’s new heroes while aided by our classic heroes, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca.

I don’t want to spoil anything for the people who haven’t seen this movie, but this film is great. Director JJ Abrams has brought new life into the series while paying tribute to the classic trilogy.

Abrams doesn’t rely on CGI and lackluster camera tilts like prequels. He’s gone back to the original aesthetics with props, limited CGI, and innovative camera movements. He even restrained himself on lens flare, which was nice.

Abrams co-wrote the script with Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”) and Lawrence Kasdan (the original “Star Wars” trilogy) and they’ve crafted an exciting and beautiful story. There’s limited dialogue, but we get a sense of who Rey and Finn are through their expressions and possessions.

Rey is the star of “The Force Awakens” and Ridley brings great spirit to the character. She’s spunky, fearless, and destined for greatness. Finn is a vulnerable and redeemable character who isn’t afraid to take on any adversaries.

Kylo Ren is also a human villain, but perhaps a tad whiny (my biggest complaint with the movie), but his background and development make up for the whining he does later. I can’t wait to see more of him.

My favorite new character in the new trilogy is Poe. He’s cool and noble, and has a human-pet relationship with BB-88 that brings some charm to the film.

I’ll also say that it was great to see my favorite childhood characters Han and Chewy back together on the big screen, but I think I liked them more in this movie than the original ones. Han has more depth in his old age while maintaining the attitude that originally made him a badass.

That’s what’s great about this movie. For the first time, this is a “Star Wars” movie where there aren’t good guys and bad guys; there are flawed people.

Flaws? Well, sure, there are a few. The climactic setting isn’t as cool as it could have been, and the storm trooper Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) gets the Boba Fett treatment (NOT A SPOILER – she’s just hyped and has limited screen time). Good news is we still have two more movies to explore her character.

“Star Wars” will break box office records and it should. This is a film that I didn’t want originally (the prequels, you know?). I was skeptical of Abrams directing, but he left me smiling for a great two hours.

Grade: A