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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Pacific Rim Uprising is a big, splashy noisemaker with no resonance.

Let’s Do This!

Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) is ready for Jaeger time
Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) is ready for Jaeger time

Let’s put a positive spin on this. Godzilla’s a classic gargantuan monster movie. Pacific Rim is a modern classic spin on the entire gargantuan monster movie genre and it upped the ante in every respect. Godzilla’s sequels largely sucked. Pacific Rim Uprising upholds the tradition.

It didn’t bode well when Guillermo del Toro, director and co-writer of Pacific Rim, left this sequel allegedly because of scheduling conflicts (he gets a producer credit, though). His phenomenally creative talent was replaced with Steven S. DeKnight at the helm — making his feature film directing debut after building a career on TV shows like Smallville, Spartacus and Daredevil. A trio of other scribes joined the writing fray and only one, T.S. Nowlin, has prior feature experience — dominated by the Maze Runner series.

It’s a risky proposition to put such a major franchise piece in so many hands with so little hands-on feature experience. And the risk doesn’t pay off.

Much like A Wrinkle in Time proved there’s more to creating a sense of wonder than slapping colorful CGI across the screen while B-list child actors stare in astonishment, Uprising proves there’s more to creating excitement than slapping together scenes of action. There’s a sense of rushed storytelling; unfortunately, it’s not accompanied by the rush of excitement.

Breach of Trust

DeKnight and the other writers probably watched Pacific Rim. At some point. And, apparently, they didn’t understand it. Pacific Rim was glorious filmmaking — a movie experience that benefited tremendously from its IMAX 3D presentation. Seats rumbled. The giant screen filled with awesome imagery. The sound system showered aural splendor over the audience. It was quintessential monster mayhem.

Sigh. Those were the halcyon days at the Rim.

Uprising picks up 10 years after the defeat of the Kaiju in Pacific Rim. And things start off rather promising. The visual effects are pretty good and the sense of humor seems to be there, thanks largely to the witticisms of Jake Pentecost (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Last Jedi). He’s the son of Stacker Pentecost, who became legend when he sealed the breach, the underwater source of the Kaiju. Like Rey on Jakku, Jake’s a scavenger, selling scrap tech to society’s unsavory denizens.

There’s some stage setting and relationship building that tries to establish a rapport with the audience, but it’s also an avoidance tactic. It’s avoiding the fact the storyline — the movie’s reason for being — is weak and when it finally kicks in, things go south. Rapidly.

Junkyard Baby

While some parts of the world have recovered from the breach, other parts are still scarred. Giant Kaiju skeletons dot Santa Monica Beach, for example. But the big baddies are gone, or so it seems. Some quarters call for vigilance since it was never really determined why the Kaiju came in the first place — maybe they were after more than wanton destruction.

Or maybe the writers missed the bit in Pacific Rim about intergalactic colonists experimenting with dinosaurs on Earth.

Regardless, in short order, chaos begins.

The story pulls out the evil corporation card as a Chinese company seems poised to create a threat in order to generate demand for its drone Jaeger technology — Jaegers that can be controlled remotely, by desk jockeys, much to the alarm of bona fide pilots.

But then the story goes sideways with a plot twist that’s more silly than sinister, revolving around Newt (Charlie Day, Horrible Bosses) and his ongoing interest in drifting with the Kaiju. From there, the aural shower of Pacific Rim is replaced with a tinnitus-inducing sonic deluge; the visual splendor replaced with a couple cool bits (like a massive drone factory and a gravity sling) that try their best to create awe. They try, but there’s nothing here that nears the original’s awesomeness.

And it all centers around a new band of recruits — teenagers — who apparently repurpose their video game-playing prowess and put it to use in the name of global security. At least Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny, making her feature debut) is a decent character and Spaeny actually knows how to act. Rather like Rey in Star Wars, she’s a girl wonder when it comes to piloting Jaegers and she knows a thing or two about engineering.

The Shatterdome

When Pacific Rim was originally released, it received a rather tepid response in the US, but the international box office — particularly in Asian territories — made a fair amount of noise. Even so, it was a surprise to hear a trilogy was envisioned; that’s not an easy thing to pull off unless the framework is there from jump street.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a unique example of a movie being expanded into a multi-episode series, cleverly focusing on the romance of Swann and Turner rather than solely on the antics of Jack Sparrow.

Here, the story tries to build a heart around the characters and back stories of Jake and Amara, but that heart gets squashed by the slapdash storyline that turns into a frantic effort to prevent a Kaiju from jumping into Mt. Fuji’s volcanic pit.

The story lacks the layered complexity of the original and, overall, the meticulously detailed world created by del Toro has been downsized to something less imaginative and much more expedient for the scaled-back $150 million budget. It’s all to be expected when a sequel to a creative masterpiece is driven solely by commerce.

Oh well. Look at the bright side. As a result of del Toro’s departure, the world can now relish The Shape of Water.