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They know what y’all are here for.

All right so we all know that I fucking loved the first Pacific Rim. I’ve grown to love it even more than I did when I first wrote that review. I think it remains a severely underrated movie. Everybody overstates the dumb Saturday Morning cartoon of it all and understates the, at the time anyway, very refreshing themes and story progression. Heroes who see the world falling apart and don’t “resist the call”. People from all over the world getting together to fix a big problem that’s been insufficiently addressed. The analogies weren’t and aren’t hard to spot. They aren’t hard to spot this time around, either. This is a movie that is even more directly aimed at kids than the first was, and boy was it. Pacific Rim: Uprising ups the ante by having a significant portion of its secondary cast actually being kids, which while waving away the specter of child soldiers also feels more right given the genre origins of this movie. In the anime, cartoons, and video games that Pacific Rim owes so much to, the heroes are always teens rather than washed up 20 or 30-somethings.

But in general, Uprising gets really close to being at least as good as the first while never quite being able to make it stick. The direction is fine, Steven S. DeKnight really showing he can handle something this grandiose. There were four writers on this, though, and I’ve spoken often about what a bad sign that is. This means the movie we get is cobbled together out of several drafts and none of them quite cracked it or managed to make the movie totally cohesive. Instead, it feels like a headlong rush through too many plotpoints and character arcs, many of which are resultingly underserved. I liked the kids and I liked what the movie was trying to say about the fate of the world resting in the hands of a new generation. Too bad the test audiences probably liked John Boyega and Scott Eastwood more. There’s an unfair criticism being made, by the way, about the “focus group” visual nature of this movie. Lots of people have been dismissive of it as looking too much like Transformers or the recent (and decent) Power Rangers movie. Thing is, all of these giant colorful robot properties are echoing the same basic influences. Mostly from anime. It shouldn’t surprise people that they look somewhat alike any more than it surprises people that most first-run superhero movies are origin stories.

Flawed though it may be, Uprising is often delightful. It’s silly, even sillier than the first one, but feels a lot more in on its own fun. This manifests everywhere from Boyega’s loose, charming performance to the color palette and emphasis on daytime fights (night fights being a common criticism of the first movie’s visuals). The story might give you whiplash with its parade of reversals, last minute saves, and contrivances… but ultimately it hangs together in its shaggy way without every really rising above the more stable, but just as functional story from the first Pacific Rim. If this movie needed anything, it was a trimmed down story with more time for the elements to breathe.  That said, if you’re here for giant robots tearing shit up with everything else being somewhat secondary, it sure does deliver. Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s all resting on his shoulders now!

It’s late, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t a chance to see The Fast and the Furious 8 or otherwise known as The Fate of the Furious (I’ll refer to it as Fast 8 as we go) when it first came out. Weird time of year for me, what can I say? I’m seeing more movies now, though, and I finally got around to the latest entry in one of my absolute favorite franchises. This is a key entry, too. When Paul Walker died, everybody asked “how the fuck is this thing gonna work from now on?”. Many critics wondered whether the series would focus more centrally on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) with the beloved ensemble taking a back seat. The central relationship of the series was always Dom and Brian (Paul Walker) and it seemed like there were two possible directions for this to go: try and replace Brian, or center it on Dom alone (at least for now). It looks like they decided to focus on Dom after all, and the results are just fine though that central relationship is certainly missed.

In many ways, Fast 8 feels more thematically grounded and focused than the last few. This was a bit of a surprise, and worked better than I think a lot of people might have expected given the general attitude about Diesel’s ability to shoulder a movie. I think he’s pretty good, though, and while he isn’t stretching the emotional range of Dom much here, there are a few nice subtler moments and we’re definitely seeing Dom in a new situation. With the key relationship of the series missing, Fast 8 decides to trouble the very thing that has kept the characters and the audience along for this very bizarre and now very lengthy ride: fambly.

Is Fast 8 better than the last few movies? Not really. As always, the highs are pretty high but I think this is maybe the least light-hearted of all of them and offers less of the jokes, camaraderie, and goofy warm heart the series is known for. Of course, all this stuff is still here, but this is also the entry where Fast 8 goes darker. That’s not going to work as well for some people, but I think this movie is less uneven than Fast 7 was (particularly the action). The important question isn’t even really if this movie lives up to the rest of the franchise, because of course it does, it’s more about whether it leaves you with a sense that this franchise can keep going without Paul Walker. I think it can, but I think Fast 8 is unable (and probably this is intentional) to fully get to a new stable dynamic on its own. There are seeds of it, but it’ll probably take the next movie before we see where they’re going with certain elements, which this review will explore in detail.

DOING SPOILERS A QUARTER-MILE AT A TIME Read the rest of this entry »

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