'Pacific Rim Uprising'
(John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, et al / 12A / 1hrs 51mins)
Overview: Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.
Verdict: It has been ten years since humanity triumphed over the invading Kaiju in "Pacific Rim". The world has begun rebuilding from the devastation caused by the conflict and for the most part humanity has moved on. However for Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), he exists as a hustler in a yet to be recovered zone that was heavily damaged by the conflict. Jake lives for the hustle, finding and trading one item of value for another from cookies and cereal to parts from down Jaegers.
Looting and operating parts from the former combat giants is very illegal but with the massive payout from their parts, the lure is too great for Jake to ignore. This pursuit leads him into trouble and reluctantly paired with young scrapper Amari Namani (Cailee Spaeny).
Jake gets a choice of prison or returning to train Jaeger pilots as he is the son of the late hero Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), and naturally has many unresolved issues of sharing the name of the beloved hero. Figuring training a class beats jail, Jake agrees to teach Amara and a new class of Jaeger pilots with his former rival Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), and to say they still have issues with one another would be an understatement.
Despite this, training moves along as planned and Nate and Jake even work well enough to pilot a Jaeger at a ceremony that will usher in a new but controversial new age in protection for humanity.
When an unexpected threat arrives and causes mass devastation and chaos, Jake and Nate must get to the bottom of the threat. As their investigation moves along a massive threat is discovered which pits them and their untested recruits against a threat old and new which threatens to end humanity. What follows is a FX laden finale where cities are laid waste to and massive combatants engage is a truly impressive visual spectacle.
While "Pacific Rim: Uprising" does use a familiar plot threads, it does so in an engaging way. The film does have a very basic plot and does not delve too much into character development and leaves some of the threads it opened unresolved. What it does have is a good amount of action after a slower than expected build up.
The action is visually appealing and exciting and delivers a much better experience than the last few "Transformer" films did. The cast works well with one another and it was nice to see Charlie Day and others from the first film return as Day always makes his scenes engaging.
While you may have a sense of seeing much of this before in giant monster and robot films, it is done in an appealing way. There is much of the film that you can see was clearly included to make sure the film appeals to audiences in China and Japan but in the new global film market, it is vital for films to do well in those markets, and with a film based in the Asian Pacific Rim, it only makes sense to do this.
Eastwood and Boyega work well with one another and the finale opens the door wide open for a third film that looks like it would extend the franchise by taking things in a new and exciting direction.
(Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, et al / 15 / 2hrs 20mins)
Overview: Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to 'Sparrow School,' a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. Her first mission, targeting a C.I.A. agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.
Verdict: Though I'm a fan of Ms. Lawrence and wouldn't fault her performance all that much, this film's attempt to portray Russia as the home of overly cruel spymasters doesn't ring very true to me. It smells of over-the-top propaganda hoping to cast Russia as some soulless country without moral compass.
If the US were given this treatment, we would all see through the overwrought bias. But as Russia is in the news, we tend to tolerate this kind of hyperbole.
At the start I really couldn't picture Ms Lawrence as a Russian for some reason. But she does a fairly good job of bringing her role to life, despite a lame accent. Quickly, however, I started to wish I had read the book first. There's a build up and then a middle act that the director pretty much bungles.
The problem is 'Red Sparrow's psyche is not well delineated during a crucial time in the story. All the plot elements are there but they're deliberately not gathered together. Why, I have no idea, as the story might have been much more compelling if played out under better direction. But then that might have been how the book does it.
Anyway, I was sorry to have missed Bruce Willis' new movie by the time it was over. It was also opening this weekend! 'Red Sparrow' didn't work for me on several levels, but I doubt Ms Lawrence's career takes much of a hit.
(Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, et al / 12A / 2hrs 14mins)
Overview: T'Challa, the King of Wakanda, rises to the throne in the isolated, technologically advanced African nation, but his claim is challenged by a vengeful outsider who was a childhood victim of T'Challa's father's mistake.
Verdict: A few of the actors could have been good, if they had a better script and direction. Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong'o where especially bland. Found myself hoping they would be killed off by the end.
Plot was the same as every other heroes quest plot. Except with less (zero) hero development. I've seen Roger Ramjet and Banana Man episodes with more hero development than the entire movie. Not even close to Marvel's lowest standards.
Same for the villain. He was more vanilla than villain. Although he just barely had more character than the Hero.
Fight scenes where dull, poorly motivated, poorly filmed and had little reason or logic. for the 40% where I could see what was going on I was mostly wondering why it was going on and why they weren't trying harder. I've seen better action filmed with a vibrating phone and posted to youtube with the wrong aspect ratio!
CGI was horrible and glaringly obvious so much so they actually had special sound effects to warn you that the CGI was happening. Sound effects also had bad computer generated sound. Like 80's video games had a love child with 80's synth. The Black Panther suit was especially bad, Looked some kind of bulletproof hologram. Which could have been cool if that's what they were going for.
Picture quality was really bad. I watched on a V-Max screen. It was very blurry. Not sure if this was just the cinema or if its the source material. Seemed to be worse in some places than others so likely the cinematography. Fight scenes where shaky and poorly framed, Futuristic city was out of scene, blurry and not very futuristic or believable. Looked like someone over polished a generic USA city and badly photo-shopped into India, not Africa.
Except they still had bad (American) graffiti tags in the background. Was all shiny metal from a distance then grafiti concrete when up close... Overall was very confusing, not sure if futuristic slum was the angle or if was simply edited by a blind person who was so drunk they forgot half the CGI backgrounds.
From a sci-fi point of view the futuristic tech was also really bland, clunky and left me wondering why.
Politically The theme of hating everyone that's not descendant from Africa was simmering away the whole time. Found that pretty off-putting. It's not 1970 anymore. Re-visiting the politics of the Black Panther political party was pretty crass.
Overall it left me with the impression that the marvel no longer wants to produce the content that made them famous, but still want to cash in with out putting the effort in.
(Alicia Vikander, Daniel Wu, Walter Groggins, Dominic West, et al / 12A / 2hrs 2mins)
Overview: Lara Croft is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished years earlier. Hoping to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance, Croft embarks on a perilous journey to his last-known destination -- a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Japan. The stakes couldn't be higher as Lara must rely on her sharp mind, blind faith and stubborn spirit to venture into the unknown.
Verdict: Lara Croft used to be a jumping, big chested, almost non-talking bimbo in the 90's - that image is now gone to never comeback and I prefer this Lara who has both intelligence and classic beauty.
Alicia Vikander gives Lara depth and personality much like Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones. She's vulnerable, hurt by her fathers mysterious disappearance 7 years ago and maybe to some extent her mothers death much earlier. But she's also stubborn and focused to survive on her own and has never lost hope that she'll once again see her father and bring him back home to rule the empire of companies he left behind.
The story is built on the reboot of the video game series but takes another way after the arrival at the destination where most of the action takes place. When the story follows the video game it has weaknesses (as so many games to movie do), but when it stands on its own it shows glimpses of coming adventures for Lara Croft that makes you want more, much because of Vikanders performance.
A very good cinematic experience!