“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is mediocre but revealing

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

 

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).

Jing Tian as Liwen Shao
Jing Tian as Liwen Shao.
Ivanna Sakhno as Cadet Viktoria
Ivanna Sakhno as Cadet Viktoria.

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.

Pacific Rim - 2013
See the original! Available at Amazon.

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.

  1. We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America.
  2. Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?
  3. We like superheroes because we’re weak. Let’s use other myths to become strong.
  4. Hollywood’s Hero Deficit – both a cause and symptom of our weakness.
  5. An America without heroes. We’ll miss them.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  See all TV and film reviews, all posts about heroes, and especially these…

  1. “Justice League” is the film we need, not the one we deserve.
  2. Jeff Beck reviews “Wonder Woman”, a contrary note amidst the ecstatic applause.
  3. The Last Jedi: girls rule, giving a New Hope to the galaxy!
  4. “Black Panther” will be the most interesting film of 2018.
  5. “The Guardians”: the Ruskies make a better superhero film.

Trailer for Pacific Rim: Uprising

 

23 thoughts on ““Pacific Rim: Uprising” is mediocre but revealing

  1. I’m pretty sure that the cast and plot of most movies these days are an excuse for the special effects. This is why the Marvel movies are so successful.

    Our society will hit an inflection point when movie viewers are more interested in the character’s choices than in the special effects. It may take a LONG time to get to that point.

    1. Hollywood has forgotten that it is in the business of telling stories. The technical aspects of film making have so overwhelmed the makers of films that they don’t remember what their real job is. Much as the music industry has forgotten how to make music that evokes real emotion.

      Unfortunately, the youth of today have hardly ever seen what a good movie looks like or what good music sounds like. My children (who are homeschooled) know the power of real music. They have heard the power and grandeur of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, they’ve heard the earth wake up in the Spring of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. They’ve heard the suppressed rage of Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut.” They’ve seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Casablanca, 2001, The Thing, the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, the original Star Trek series, the original Kung Fu series, as many of the old Loony Toons as I can find, and the few modern movies worth watching. I expect that, when they are grown, they will introduce their friends to the world of music and movies.

      All of modern entertainment is, to the soul, the equivalent of feeding your body with a bland paste filled with calories but little real nutrition.

    2. Old Fat Guy,

      Sad but true.

      My children were also home schooled. We’re not musical. But they were exposed to the classics of western literature, film, and TV. VCRs and DVDs have been wonderful for understanding media. From an early age, my children grew up where we’d stop the show and discuss it. This drives my wife mad, but has enhanced the kids understanding.

      I would watch the original Star Trek with my son on my lap. He loved the shows. One day he asked, “Who are the bad guys?” I didn’t realize then he was too young to understand the show, but loved the action. We all got better at this with practice.

    3. Pluto,

      Sad but true. But I have enjoyed some films in the past few years. Here is my list. I like character and plot far more than CGI. There are more films here than I expected when I started the list. It shows Hollywood isn’t dead yet.

      Hunger Games (2012 – 2015). Leap Year (2010). Captain America (2011). Thor (2011). Source Code (2011). Drive Angry (2011). Dread (2012). Avengers (2012). Oblivion (2013). Pacific Rim (2013). Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Kingsman (2014). Arrival (2016). The Great Wall (2016). Gods of Egypt (2016). Passengers (2016). Justice League (2017). Red Sparrow (2018).

  2. No big surprise here. TV series have been invaded by the same tropes and codes, the same kind of formatting in all plots and characters, a formatting pushed to a degree of standardization and superficiality (dare I say complete shallowness?) rarely seen, until recently, outside of kid shows.

    The same has happened, at a lower scale, to the comics scene: I only read American comics in my teens, but on occasion, I get a glimpse here and there, and have taken over the last year to following a trend online that seems to have gotten the name of “comicsgate”, a sort of revolt by fans or ex-fans of comics against the ongoing trends in hiring and writing that has transformed an industry selling its titles by the hundreds of thousands to one that barely manages to reach a few tens of thousands (and having to be “creative” with business practices to artificially get to these numbers) and can not sustain that for long (short life span for each series). The omnipresence of SJW tropes, mentality and characters are blamed, along with a loss of respect in the staffs for competence, merit….

    It is an interesting phenomenon to follow, since it reflects quite a bit of what is happening in the worlds of TV and cinema. The extreme concentration of income in writing plays its role (a handful of “great names” get everything, everybody else gets scraps for a very long time, with the very vague hope of becoming one of the happy few “tenured” great names…. With no “middle” positions anymore), but other factors are at play:

    – TV especially has never had to produce as many series, a high proportion of them destined to fail. The logic of quantity vs quality is pushed further than ever, so on average, the level of attention for each product is low, and so are the expectations. We’re in a time of atomized audiences, numerous production centers and overflowing money for such activities (but a lot less than in other eras for each specific series…. Save a small number of “TV blockbusters”).

    – writing staffs are young and kept that way, and overall come from the same factory: creative writing departments. the current pretense to “diversity” in all things has stopped to mean diversity of opinions, life experiences characters…. Gender, skin color and sexual orientations are supposed to be akin to personality, these days, the center of a character. In comicsgate, a critic of Marvel (today “SJW central” in comics) likes to point out that the company staff (mostly inexperienced youth recruited for their conformity, subservience to PC and for diversity criteria), deep down, can not digest the fact that most of Marvel’s historical success has been build by two middle age jews who were working class, without university degrees, family men and WWII veterans. Quite the opposite of the current trends in writing staffs…. Especially since these two guys (Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) managed to create popular heroes of all shapes, genders and colors where the “diversity” zealots didn’t.

    – seen in TV, comics and cinema: each of these sectors have a social scene (and conduits between them), and each social scene has a “cool kids table”, the little networks and circles in which one wants to be invited and popular. Little circles where there is, these days, only one politics to rule them all, since politics has invited itself in everything. In the era of social media, that not so new trend has become overwhelming, even in the biggest, most soulless money machine in Hollywood, Disney (if it is touched by the trend, everybody is), and the game is one of conformism or ostracism around these circles, at every level. Helped by Twitter/Facebook mobs.

    As Marvel’s example indicates, Ideologically driven products do not sell as well: the more obvious the ideology in it, the quicker the fall. Even the last Star Wars hasn’t been a great success (despite the apparent big numbers) and its merchandising has been largely ignored by the public very soon after the movie got out. But this trend is also a social phenomenon, happening in highly ideological and intellectually homogeneous small groups. It could be a while before commercial reality comes knocking to their door. Big studios may be more reactive after a while because the money involved is enormous, but the absolute mono-culture of production (and especially writing) in Hollywood is currently staggering. And, over the last years, has reached a level that may very well be an apex of that phenomenon (let’s be hopeful). I like to think of the current/recent failures of giant movies like A wrinkle in time (by SJW goddess Ava DuVernay) and Tomb Raider, and The Last Jedi’s lackluster performance (and complete failure in China), as signs….

    1. Tancrède,

      Thanks for the background on the comics industry. I am baffled at Marvel gambling their business by retiring the characters which are their business, replacing them with untested PC-diverse characters. I’m amazed that Sony lets them do this. The revenue is trivial to Sony, but the comics are the engine for future film sales. No sign here of the famously long-term thinking of Japanese corps.

      It will be interesting to see how the media biz plays out. I wonder how many young men have turned to games in part because the so many films and TV shows are either dumb or too PC.

    2. It is baffling, but many companies:

      – are at a loss to find ways to “expand the audience” and “reach new ones”, so the let the sorcerer’s apprentices in charge, especially since they present themselves as the cool kids, with all the right words and concepts. They must be right since their twitter followings (micro-audiences hardly representative of anything) say so, and “the kids dig twitter”

      – don’t pay too much attention in the case of comics because it is a small market, and has become an even smaller ones over the last decade.

      – the world of script wrinting for entertainment is also a small one, more or less interconnected (TV, cinema, comics, some types of novels, and even video games now), and like every microcosm, it has its cotteries and groups of movers and shakers that can, at times, tend to owe their popularity to other factors than talent, merit, success, popularity with audiences, relatability or understanding of what works or not. And such microcosms, if disassociated enough from the hoi polloi, create their own universe of reference, hence the mutual support even in front of overwhelming evidence of failure, the multiple awards with no reflection on sales….

      Another comic brand that was until recently a household name, IDW (whose main business relies on comics based on Hasbro toys franchises), has registered a 90% dive in sales last year (actual figure!) for those reasons, after several years of decline. And yet, the editor in chief has only been fired last week… For other reasons (having lied to Hasbro). So the backlash can be delayed fo quite a while.

      As for TV series, it is hard to evaluate in front of the absolute onslaught of productions, nowadays: I saw yesterday that there were, in 2017, 4 to 5 times as many series produced as in 2005, in the US alone (not including Canada, which is de facto integrated in the US market). And many more actors in the production business, since many cable networks have joined the fray, in addition to the new kids on the block like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu…
      The audiences are thus atomized in smaller packets, the series more tailored for those specific audiences of, at best, 2-3 millions (often much less), and the producers and networks aiming at broader ones have to feel their way through the prism of highly biased and monocultural groups of writers that are in fashion and behave with a pack like mentality.

      But a rule seems to hold: most of the audiences don’t seem to like politics injected in their entertainment. Not in the long run.

    3. Tancrède,

      Thanks for the interesting background color.

      Watching TV and films, I often wonder if a little more money spent on the writers would make a big (big!) difference in the product. Lots of these seem to have college-level scripts. Your mention that writers come from Creative Writing departments. Look at the films in the 1930s-1950s — written by people who had actual real world experience. Dashiell Hammett was a real PI. Many had military experience. Without that, writers tend to produce cartoon-like scripts.

      PR: Uprising needed better writing, for sure.

    4. I entirely agree with that. Paying them better, allowing them a bit more stability in their lives, re-creating a “middle class” or writers (instead of the current winners take all model, as in many other areas), is only part of the equation. The other major one is diversifying the sandbox. For real, not on the base of ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation (or whatever else places you on the “oppression scale”). A great name in comics Christopher Priest (he is black, by the way), has recently pointed that out after refusing a job at Marvel, because the only reason he had been proposed said job was his skin color (to write a black character, obviously). That is not how a profession can function healthily. And it is everywhere in entertainment, nowadays.

      How can one change that side of the equation? That part is at the management level: at the writer/editor level, things are too far gone. And the management level will only react to bad numbers, lots of them, over a certain amount of time. Then it will take someone willing to re-create a “brain trust” like atmosphere…. The FDR version of a brain trust (aka people of different backgrounds and experiences -in the true sense, not the social justice one), not the Obama version (people from the same universities and jobs). And yes, that will mean avoiding as much as possible the creative writing departments, and more recruiting from the professional schools and promising amateurs.

      One thing that baffles me, as far as micro-phenomena go, is the success of recent christian faith-based movies by a handful of writers and directors who have had to do it the hard way (production and distribution) because they are not precisely on Hollywood’s radar and won’t get interviews. These are not my kind of movies at all, but the numbers are quite impressive some flirting with 100 millions in sales), especially in light of the minute budgets involved. I try to follow that as something happening on the margin and, possibly, creating another “scene” for audiovisual production, one where new things can be developed and created. If that scene reaches critical mass, then competition can accelerate change (its job).

  3. “It is an oddity that the women are not running the show ”

    Who says they aren’t? The ones doing most of the fighting are men, because they are expendable, not because men are in charge.

    1. PAT,

      I don’t watch many films and TV shows these day, so you might be right as to who is in charge.

      Looking back at the past few years — The “Perry Jackson”, “Harry Potter”, and “Thor” films were almost a parody of this, where the girl was in every way better suited to command. In the first two the guy was OK, but the girl was better. But Thor was shown as a big dufus, with the female leads far better suited to lead.

      Similarly in Kingsman and Edge of Tomorrow, the plot put the guy in charge (unfortunately, although the plot gods brought the film to a happy ending).

  4. I haven’t heard the word Ultraman in years. I was locked on that at an early age also. Where is Hayata’s capsule? They had another similar knock off “Jet Jaguar” in some Godzilla films. Oh the good old days!

    What were your thoughts on the last Godzilla movie Larry?

    1. ossqss,

      “What were your thoughts on the last Godzilla movie Larry?”

      Many myths have a duality at their core. Hulk and Godzilla are prime examples. The writers want them as forces of chaos, of destruction. Most of the fans like them as heroes struggling with their physical and mental limitations — plus being misunderstood by the world. The resulting products are either one, the other, or a confused mish-mash. I like both as heroes.

      Hollywood filmmakers, being like Winnie the Pooh (a “bear of very little brain) saw Godzilla as just another monster — just like the zillion other monsters in films, ignoring why his franchise was so successful. My guess is that they watched only the first Godzilla film, and perhaps not even that. They consider themselves too brilliant to bother with source material.

      Another set of examples of Hollywood’s disdain for source material are the films about Troy. My son and I watched them sequentially. It looks like each filmmaker used as source material the preceding film. So they became more bizarre over time, with less connect to the Greek myths. We realized that when watching Agamemnon’s men raping Helen after the sack of Troy, with Menelaus (the Spartan King) standing by helplessly. Nobody rapes a Spartan Queen while there are Spartan troops present. It’s the fast track to Hades.

  5. I thought they did a decent job portraying Godzilla as mostly heroic. His sheer size causes destruction wherever he goes, but his focus is always on taking down the MUTOs, not destroying the city, while the MUTOs themselves wreck shit wherever they go and unleash EMP blasts that leave the humans helpless. Here’s an amusing portrayal of the difference in their attitudes:

    The difference between Godzilla and Muto

    It’s worth noting that when Godzilla takes on the MUTOs, he’s able to overcome the larger female one without any help, but when the smaller male shows up and the two work together, they beat Godzilla and nearly finish him off. But when the humans start actively helping Godzilla (by burning the MUTO’s eggs), this throws off the bad monsters and allows Godzilla to take them on and kill them one on one. Only by working together could human and monster defeat the teamwork of our common enemy.

    1. Tice,

      Thank you for the correction! I was talking about the 1998 Godzilla film – and completely forgot about the 2014 film. Getting old…

    2. Yeah, the general consensus among Godzilla fans is that the 1998 American film isn’t really a Godzilla film. It’s a fun roller coaster ride, but the monster in the film is neither an unstoppable force nor a destructive protector, and it’s nowhere near big enough, so they call it “Zilla” instead of Godzilla.

    3. Tice,

      I didn’t know there were still Godzilla fans!

      My son (now 27) and I watched them when he was young. My favorites were the two Mechagodzilla films. You can almost kill Godzilla, but he doesn’t stay down for long!

      The G films would make a good post. What did their popularity say about 1960s-1970s America?

  6. Ha! Final Wars.was like a blue light special if you did not see that one yet. Every Godzilla past opponent got butts kicked. Quite amusing, if nothing else. It was interesting to see the villan/hero transition over time.

    Godzilla came about from bombing Japan.

    Mobile posting is challenging dangit!

  7. Due to a WordPress system problem, a batch of comments were lost in the trash, including this one.

    I just recently read this Slate piece claiming that one reason that Hollywood movies have seemed even more formulaic than usual in the last few years is because the screenwriting community has adopted wholesale the “beat sheet” or plot formula from the book Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. I don’t know how accurate this accusation is but it sure seems plausible.

    It’s been well-documented that the ever increasing costs of movie production have made studios much more conservative in their projects, hence the flood of sequels, prequels and reboots. Intense competitive pressures produce hyper-optimization of the “objective function” which is ROI. But many fitness landscapes only have a single optimum so the results of optimization start to all look the same. Same reason the formerly-diverse body styles of automobiles became radically homogenized in the face of demands for improved aerodynamic efficiency from the 1980s-on.

    What’s destroying movies, then? It’s “Moloch,” natch. C.f. Meditations on Moloch by the psychiatrist Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex. A long read but the most interesting blog post I’ve ever read, tying together pieces of evolution, game theory, economics and artificial intellgivence that I’d been thinking about in a disconnected fashion for a long time.

  8. Hi Mr Kummer,

    Just a pointer in which I’m sure you’d be interested based upon the paragraph starting with: “I learned as a Boy Scout leader that the classics of the West are taught to our children as old boring literature.”

    A man in Portugal introducing kids to the classics with challenging hikes and the like mixed in: “A Republic in the Atlantic” by Miguel Monjardino in City Journal — “An innovative program combines reading the Great Books with character-building and community.”

    Enjoy!

    1. Bill,

      Thank you for posting that! It’s always valuable to see how other peoples are coping with these issues.

  9. Its just more blackening of movies and promotion of miscreation. That’s it. No desire to see it. Oddly the whole blackening of movies is costing them cash in India and China. I don’t see the trend ending either just like the girl power trope won’t die in spite of how it also fails to sell outside of the west.

    1. dvdivx,

      I applaud increased diversity in films. I just watched the Star Trek episode “Court Martial” (1967), with its racially diverse board of Star Fleet captains. And “Much Ado About Nothing” (1993), with Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon.

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