Summary: Pacific Rim: Uprising is a mediocre film but well illustrates a problem in America. It is about heroism, which the writers describe like they would imaginary animals. It is an increasingly foreign thing to America.
Pacific Rim: Uprising
A sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s great Pacific Rim (2013) with a cast of ernest young actors
with uninteresting backstories
doing vaguely heroic deeds.
A film for teenagers in the tradition of the new Star Trek films, Percy Jackson & The Olympians, and Independence Day: Resurgence.
“I began to ask students who their heroes are. There is usually silence, and most frequently nothing follows. Why should anyone have heroes? One should be oneself and not form oneself in an alien mold. Here positive ideology supports them: their lack of hero-worship is a sign of maturity.
— From Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind.
Where might our children learn of heroes that can inspire them? The War on Terror is not inspiring, especially since it devoid of victories. Our sports heroes are numerous, but more like technicians than traditional heroes. We have many rich nerds, but they do not display heroic qualities.
I learned as a Boy Scout leader that the classics of the West are taught to our children as old boring literature. They were astonished to hear them told over campfires as exciting stories. I told a group The Odyssey while we were hiking up The Pinnacles. They were amazed; it was the most successful of the many story-telling experiences.
We rely on Hollywood for stories about heroes. Unfortunately, Hollywood has lost the knack of telling them. They give us stories of slacker heroes such as Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and the new Captain Kirk (the opposite of the original, who was a “book with legs” at Starfleet Academy, in whose class you either “think or sink). This is the core problem with Pacific Rim: Uprising (PR:U).
In PR:U a young multi-ethnic team of cardboard cutout characters. They are led by a conflicted African-American male slacker-hero (John Boyega of Star Wars fame, playing an asshole bad-boy whom the plot gods make a hero). The second team is a competent but boring white guy (Scott Eastwood, demonstrating Hollywood’s nepotism) and an awesome young woman (Rinko Kikuchi reprising her role in Pacific Rim). Several women are in the third tier roles, especially a young woman super-engineer (Cailee Spaeny). The great actress Tian Jing (Kong: Skull Island, The Great Wall) has a bit part as a great engineer and mega-CEO. The two nerd scientists were were fun but key players in the original; they return in PR:U as plot furniture.
The women are clearly better in every way than the men in most modern films. In some films the superiority of the women followers is ludicrously large over their male leader (e.g., Percy Jackson & The Olympians). So it is in PR:U. A woman commands the robot defense force; her screw-up brother flunked out and became a criminal. In the first scene showing the cadets, a female cadet is easily kicking the ass of a male cadet. It is an oddity that the women are not totally running the show, with the men shining their shoes (perhaps they will in the sequel).
“I’m getting out the way.”
— Boring white guy leader to the African-American hero and an awesome young women cadet.
While the writers packed PR:U with characters, they are not developed – so we have no reason to care for them (unlike the well-developed small cast of the original). Nor does the lackuster plot arouse much interest. The first fourteen minutes of PR:U are a waste of time, padding to bulk out the thin story. Unlike the original, whose well-crafted plot flew along.
The characters in PR:U talk a lot but say little (again, the opposite of the original – in which the actors, not the dialog, conveyed meaning). The heroic beats in the dialog ring false. Heroism is a foreign language, a foreign perspective, to the writers. So they rely on hackneyed tropes. The warriors talk to each other with the shallow ernestness of teenages trying to act like adults. They tell each other “we’re family!” “Let’s go save the world!” The leader’s big inspirational speech swings between silly and maudlin (the opposite of the climatic speece in the original).
The cinematography is sub-par. The overall impression is that of film school reshoot of Pacific Rim. It reminds me of a big budget version of a show that I enjoyed when I was 11: “Ultraman.” See the first episode (the fights in PR:U are less interesting than in this show). See the full episode here.
The loss of heroism
PR:U lacked the qualities that Guillermo del Toro added as writer-director to make Pacific Rim a great film. But the fading of heroism for our films is seen in many films. Compare The Avengers with the cartoonish Age of Ulton. For a film to inspire it must have some grounding in reality. Otherwise it is just entertainment, like a rollercoaster ride.
Hollywood’s weakness is a symptom of a deeper problem in America. See these posts.
- We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America.
- Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?
- We like superheroes because we’re weak. Let’s use other myths to become strong.
- Hollywood’s Hero Deficit – both a cause and symptom of our weakness.
- An America without heroes. We’ll miss them.
For More Information
Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.
- “Justice League” is the film we need, not the one we deserve.
- Jeff Beck reviews “Wonder Woman”, a contrary note amidst the ecstatic applause.
- The Last Jedi: girls rule, giving a New Hope to the galaxy!
- “Black Panther” will be the most interesting film of 2018.
- “The Guardians”: the Ruskies make a better superhero film.
Trailer for Pacific Rim: Uprising