Del reviews ‘Pacific Rim Uprising’

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” Starring John Boyega, Scott Eastwood and Cailee Spaeny. Directed by Steven S. DeKnight. 111 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

I had great hopes for the original “Pacific Rim” and came away greatly disappointed, so my expectations of “Pacific Rim: Uprising” were minimal. But what the hell. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and while I had a crap-ton of stuff that needed doing, I didn’t feel like doing any of it. “Uprising” it was.

And hey, guess what? It didn’t suck as bad as I thought it would. Let’s face it: You don’t go to a “Transformers” or “Pacific Rim” movie for the social commentary or existential angst. You go to see giant monsters and robots beat the shit out of each other, destroying cities in the process. In that meager capacity “Uprising” did not disappoint.

The movie stars John Boyega as Jake Pentecost, son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost from the original movie. Stacker was the marshal of the Jaeger corps, giant robots built to defend humanity from the Kaiju, equally giant monsters from another dimension that entered this world through a breach in the Pacific Ocean floor. Stacker is revered for his role in sealing the breach and saving the world.

Jake, once a promising Jaeger pilot himself, has given up his career to become a petty criminal. During a theft gone wrong he meets young Amara Namani (Spaeny), who has built her own Jaeger called Scrapper. Because it is against the law to own unregistered Jaegers, Amara and Jake are hauled in by the authorities. Instead of being jailed they’re sent to the Jaeger corps, where Jake is to resume his old job and Amara becomes a cadet.

The Shao Corporation has a plan to replace Jaegers with huge, robotic drones, and I won’t say any more about that because it would spoil the movie for you. Suffice it to say “Uprising” becomes more action-oriented with the second act and continues through the third.

John Boyega does a good job with his role and shows he can act outside of “Star Wars.” He manages to bring a little more oomph to his role, which is saddled with clichés. I last saw Scott Eastwood in “The Fate of the Furious” and he was about as wooden as a ventriloquist’s dummy. His acting has improved and at times he seems almost human, so there’s hope. Spaeny is a natural for the screen. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of her in the future.

I think this movie was better written than the original. The dialogue was an improvement. It didn’t strike me as silly and fanboyish as del Torro’s script.

The flaws? I’m sure there were plenty. The premise itself is the biggest flaw of all. But I turned off that part of my brain before I walked into the theater. Again, you don’t watch a “Transformers” or “Pacific Rim” to appreciate the logic or scientific accuracy. The movie panders to a Chinese audience so if you have a problem with that, be prepared.

“Uprising” sets up a sequel, and I initially thought that wouldn’t happen until I checked the overseas grosses. Domestically it has earned just south of $60 million, with a budget of $150 million. But worldwide? A whopping $275 million for a $333 million cume, so I guess we can expect a “Pacific Rim: Domination.” Way to go, Chinese audience.

Don’t get me wrong: “Uprising” is an entertaining and even fun movie if your expectations aren’t too high. But don’t expect much in the way of depth.

I give it a B-.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Paramount.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Starring Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand. Directed by Michael Bay. 157 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take

Two questions frequently visited my mind as I watched, in 3D, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” on its opening weekend.

The first was: Where can I find the clearcoat that the Autobots use to protect their paint? The finish on every Autobot, when it was configured as a vehicle, shined brilliantly and the luster was undefeatable. Autobots would roll through a desert, but no dust clung to their paint. Autobots zigzagged through toppling, burning Chicago, but no soot attached to their exteriors. Amazing, I want protection like that for my non-GM car.

The second question was: When will this movie end?

Transformers 3 was “Battle: LA” multiplied by 2. Peril was interminable.

Every instance of Sam Witwicky, portrayed again by Shia LaBeouf, surviving a maelstrom of exploding light pulses and short-recoil hypervelocity projectiles was more absurd than the one that preceded it.

But, part of sitting down for a long time to watch this PG-13 blockbuster is suspending, completely, disbelief. That was made easier by the screenwriter’s effort to make Transformers 3 somewhat serious.

The film is coherent.

There are at least two betrayals in the toy-based movie. What Sentinel Prime, voiced by Leonard Nimoy, does to Optimus Prime would make former Vice President Dick Cheney flush with pride.

Humans, hit by photons, disappeared in puffs of gray ash, mimicking scenes in the 2005 remake of “War of the Worlds.”

The realism endures, though the director, I assume inadvertently, tried to wreck it.

Sam’s love interest is unconvincing.

Witwicky’s parents could have been deleted from the movie without it suffering one bit.

And, the film’s panoramic 3D shots looked childish. Cybertron at war was a tangle of metallic structures with fighting robots in stark relief against the background. They looked like plastic models set in motion. Air Force special operations airmen gliding through the Chicago skyline looked more like flying squirrels than hotshots trying to save Earth.

Product placement – I want to go buy a Lenovo computer now – is exceptionally annoying in 3D.

Another of the film’s strengths is decent acting.

America’s national director of intelligence is the woman who won the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of a cop in “Fargo.” One of the human bad guys, I was told by a friend, is the man who plays “Dr. McDreamy” in the TV show “Gray’s Anatomy.” John Torturro does an OK job reprising his quirky spy character.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the best movie of the franchise. Presumably, because the leader of the Decepticons, Megatron, is beheaded and his second-in-command, Starscream, blasted apart, there’ll be no others. There’s risk, of course, that the director and production company will opt for a prequel. Stay tuned, as I’m sure you will.

Transformers 3 is worth seeing in the theater, but the movie and all its mostly entertaining excess can be enjoyed without the extra several dollars you’d have to drop for 3D.

Del’s take

I don’t think Megatron is the only entity beheaded by this awful example of Hollywood bad-storytelling. Mladen must have been conked on the skull by a piece of Chicago’s falling skyline.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is a disaster from top to bottom, the absolute worst of the three movies and the one that will convince me to never again waste my money on another Transformers movie.

Where do I begin? The bizarre score? The lousy acting and cheesy script? The absolute lack of internal logic? Or maybe the subtle discrimination. Everywhere I look in this movie I see: train wreck.

Let’s start with the score. It’s peppered with trendy clips from bands like Linkin Park, Stained, Skillet and My Chemical Romance, songs that have no business being in a rock ‘em sock ‘em action movie. It’s as if the movie’s makers wanted to endow their creation with a sound of currency, and introduce a note of empathy on the personal level. It didn’t work for me. Music is every bit a plot device as characterization, pacing and visuals. Movies like “A Clockwork Orange” and “Silence of the Lambs” used the score to, if you’ll pardon the pun, underscore the emotional amplitude of certain scenes. Here the music seems merely added on, as if cake icing were used to dress up a taco-cheeseburger-pizza.

There’s no fun in this script. There’s no fun in the actors’ performances. “Dark of the Moon” is 157 minutes of Shia LaBeouf screaming, “ GOTTA GO! LET’S GO! GO, GO, GO!” and “CARLY!” John Malkovich is a power player who looms large in LaBeouf’s employment future but becomes a simpering lap dog once the Autobots hit the fan, and the great Frances McDormand must surrender her role as national intelligence director who doesn’t care what LaBeouf did in the past to an irrelevant footnote once the Decepticons occupy Chicago and begin eradicating the populace. Critical scorn has been heaped upon Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who plays LaBeouf’s love interest, but I found her performance to be one of the most consistent of the movie.

“Dark of the Moon’s” fatal flaw is the rampant contradictions of its own logic. I could compile a list as long as your arm but for brevity’s sake I’ll mention only two. Early in the movie the Autobots are told about a crash site on the moon that may contain the body of their leader, Sentinel Prime. They fly their own spaceship to the moon to recover his body. Yet when the Autobots are banished from Earth they must ride into space aboard a modified NASA shuttle. Um, what happened to the Transformer spaceship, guys? Second, when the Decepticons take over Chicago they seal off air access and shoot down anything trying to fly in, including speedy F-18 Hornets. Yet a flight of subsonic cruise missiles is able to penetrate their defenses, a formation of Ospreys manages to make it into the city, and soldiers hoofing it on the ground enter unmolested. It’s as if the rules of “Transformers” only apply for a few seconds.

Worse is the subtle discrimination the movie presents. Not to be a standard-bearer for all things politically correct but I was alarmed by the dialogue applied to LeBouf’s two “pet” robots, who tended to speak in black dialect and behave like clods. George Lucas took a hit for the same lapse with Jar-Jar Binks in “The Phantom Menace.” Also, an extended scene where a distraught Ken Jeong, in a men’s room stall, presents LaBeouf with evidence that the moon landings were a cover-up for something more insidious, struck me as an attempt to say, “People think we’re gay. Aren’t you embarrassed?” Would the audience have laughed if the joke had been at the expense of a Native American, a woman, or a disabled person?

“Dark Side of the Moon” has made a kabillion dollars at the box office, but I don’t care. It’s a lousy movie replete with contradictions, cheap stereotypes, a bad script and crappy acting. I’m tired of Sam Witwicky and his unbelievable foibles.

If this is what people consider quality entertainment I am clearly out of place with the times.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

“Transformers” Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, John Voight, John Turturro. Directed by Michael Bay. 144 minutes. Rated PG.

Mladen’s take

It’s becoming a habit, one I must shed, or, before I know it, it’ll end with me finding something redeeming about the Bush administration.

“Transformers” is another movie — “Bug” falls into the same category — that does one brief thing right: forcing me to temper an otherwise bitter review that’s based on the dozens of things that went wrong.

The film’s nearly saving grace happens toward the end.

Bad-bot Megatron, sprawled on a crushed roadway after falling from a skyscraper during battle with good-bot Optimus Prime, finds itself near a human.

The four-story-tall robot utters, “Disgusting” and, using its index finger, flicks the human dozens of feet into a car.

Hilarious, because that’s the way I feel about humanity.

It’s too bad my index finger isn’t large enough to flick a grown man through the air. Then again, I’d have to use the finger ceaselessly for years to flick everybody that needs flicking.

“Transformers” is visually glorious crap. The movie is a vast advertisement for toys, GM vehicles that never get dirty and the Air Force. See it for no other reason than this: It’s cheaper now that it can be rented on DVD than when it was in theaters.

Del’s take

You’ll have to forgive Mladen. A big walrus of a guy flicked him off and he’s still hanging from a branch by the waistband of his Hanes.

It’s cut off the circulation to his brain.

Of course “Transformers” is crap, Mladen. Were you expecting “Anna Karenina”?

I too was expecting to hate “Transformers,” for the following reasons:

It was directed by Michael Bay, who managed to turn Pearl Harbor into a thrill ride at Universal.

And I could never keep track of who’s who: Is Vomitor a good robot or a bad robot?

Finally, if nature called at 3 in the morning and, on your way to the bathroom, you stepped on one of the approximately 10,000 pieces of Transformer toys left on the floor by your nephews, well, you can forget making it to the toilet.

But I was pleasantly surprised by “Transformers.” It’s a fun story told in a fun way.

The pace is fast, the dialogue snappy, the special effects mind-blowing and it never, ever takes itself seriously.

Casting Shia LaBeouf in the lead role was smart – his Ritalin-deprived approach plays nicely with the movie’s other parts. And Megan Fox is sufficiently sexy to compel LaBeouf’s romantic fantasies – clumsily adolescent fantasies – without posing any serious threat to what I’m assuming is his virginity.

If you accept “Transformers” for what it is – a bit of innocent fun that requires 144 minutes of your life – you won’t be disappointed.

Now, somebody help Mladen down from that tree.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a journalist and author.