For a review of “Pacific Rim Rising,”
The “Pacific Rim” action franchise has a relatively simple premise — giant robots and alien monsters clobber each other to smithereens — but surprisingly, it’s driven by a supremely radical embrace of collectivism, teamwork and empathy. This isn’t necessarily a surprise, because it comes from the big, beating heart of Guillermo del Toro, who has always seen opportunities to focus on love and connection in moments of horror. Del Toro directed the first “Pacific Rim,” and produced its sequel, “Pacific Rim Uprising,” which he has left in the hands of director and cowriter Stephen S. DeKnight, who brings a singularly frenetic energy to his feature directorial debut that manages to outpace the first film.
John Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of the legendary Stacker Pentecost ( played by Idris Elba in the first film), who sacrificed himself in the great war against the kaiju. If you’re unfamiliar with the “Pacific Rim” lore, all you need to know is giant alienmonsters came out of the sea to destroy everything on earth, and humans hit back with enormous fighting robots called jaegers. Piloted in pairs, the jaeger pilots have to sync up their brains, or “drift,” via a “neural handshake,” that allows them to be inside each other’s brains, swimming around in their memories, emotions and thoughts. Empathetic connection is required to be a good robot fighter pilot.
A decade after the first war with the kaiju, the ocean breaches are sealed, and all seems at peace — for now. Jake, a former Ranger pilot who flamed out and now spends his time partying and bartering on the black market, is pressed to re- enlist as a get- out- of- jail- free card, along with a scrappy young girl, Amara ( Cailee Spaeny), who’s been cobbling her own homemade jaeger together.
Like a kaiju, DeKnight has a relentless, propulsive and often bonkers style. “Pacific Rim Uprising” moves at breakneck clip, so just try to keep up. You may catch snippets about “kaiju blood,” “precursors,” “toxic gas” and the names of all the various jaegers like “GypsyAvenger,” “November Ajax,” “Saber Athena,” “Bracer Phoenix” and the like. The script by DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T. S. Nowlin strikes a tone that is at once self- aware and openhearted, and it’s also simply a tornado of dialogue. Boyega doesn’t let a scene go by without a sidebar, quip or joke.
Spaeny shines in her first film role, and casting director Sarah Halley Finn has stacked the cast with a roster of interesting, magnetic newcomers. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman do truly loopy character work as a pair of mad scientists. However, “Pacific Rim Uprising” is propelled by the powerful gravitational pull of John Boyega’s charisma. As Jake, there are dashes of the street smart Moses from “Attack the Block,” and comparisons to the heroic Finn from “Star Wars,” but Boyega feels unleashed, having fun with his natural humor and charm, delivering one- liners aswell as he does motivational speeches.
In terms of monsters and robots, “Pacific Rim Uprising” ups the ante — how about rogue jaegers? Drone jaegers? Kaiju jaegers? These pilots will fight them all. But despite all these advancements, the clashes are rather generic and forgettable, and a couple of these characters are too — Nate ( Scott Eastwood) and Jules ( Adria Arjona) are only there to offer Jake some friction.
Butwhen Jake and Amara get their moment to try and save the world, it’s profoundly affecting, even if the context of an over- the- top monster movie is also profoundly outlandish and silly. We know them, we care about them, and they want to save the world. That personal element is why, underneath all that crashing chaos and cacophony, you can find something rather soft and beautiful, if you care to look.
“Pacific Rim Uprising,” a Universal Picures release, is rated PG- 13 for sequences of sci- fi violence and action, and some language. Running time: 111minutes.
“Isle of Dogs”
Viewers may be forgiven for being confused by Wes Anderson’s movies. Constructed with dollhouse fastidiousness, their hyper- symmetrical, squared- off tableaus dressed with gorgeous textures and color palettes - and their clipped dialogue delivered with deadpan sincerity - they depict a universe with only glancing resemblance to the realworld.
A tonal mash- up of ironic distance and emotional manipulation, they invite the audience to laugh knowingly one minute, and to coo with empathy the next. They’re moviedom’s fussiest, most arcane inside joke.
All of these gifts, contradictions and irritations abound in “Isle of Dogs,” Anderson’s ninth movie and his second stop- animation feature. Like his first one, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” this is both a celebration and sendup of cartoon anthropomorphism.
Taking his cues from Akira Kurosawa, Rankin/ Bass holiday specials, “The Little Prince,” “Lady and the Tramp” and Japanese kaiju movies, Anderson has adapted his usual jewel- box aesthetic into bento- box proportions: “Isle of Dogs” bursts with color ( including extravagant swaths of crimson) and precious detail, and is shot through with the filmmaker’s reliably understated humor.
The degree to which any of this will appeal to filmgoers beyond Anderson’s core constituency is debatable. True to its title, “Isle of Dogs” is a circuitous collection of false starts, flashbacks and— sorry, there’s no other word for it — doglegs that are far less captivating than the formal beauty on display.
Put most briefly: The story takes place 20 years into the future, when the Stalinesque, cat- loving mayor of a Japanese city has banished dogs to a place calledTrash Island, having spread the vicious lie that they carry an incurable disease. When his 12- year- old ward Atari ( Koyu Rankin) travels to the island to rescue his faithful guard dog, Spots, he falls in with a plucky band of former pets and their leader, a street- toughened stray named Chief.
Voiced by Bryan Cranston, Chief is the Bogartlike antihero of “Isle of Dogs,” which features the voices of such frequent Anderson collaborators as Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban and Frances McDormand. Although it can be fun to try to match the voice with the character— Norton, Murray, Balaban and Jeff Goldblum are particularly amusing as Chief ’ s ragtag posse - the chief attractions here are the visuals, fromthe gently blowing alpaca wool of the dogs’ fur and the vagrant beauty of the detritus they live in to the waxy translucence of Atari’s skin and the retrofuturistic look of the fictional metropolis he calls home.
Not everything is too- too adorable in “Isle of Dogs,” which possesses more than its share of grimness, suffering and death. ( The film includes a particularly beautiful and brutal sushi- making scene.) Even if it belongs to a puppet, the sight of a dog’s ear that’s been bitten off sends a discomfiting jolt.
And the specter of cultural appropriation haunts a production that clearly revels in the design elements and mood- board inspirations of Japanese technology and art, but also commits a few patronizing missteps. One subplot features Greta Gerwig as Tracy, a spirited American exchange student who rallies her meekly obedient Japanese cohorts to save the dogs, at one point literally throttling a scientist named Yoko Ono — who is voiced byYoko Ono. Ha ... ha?
With its solemn children escaping the long armof selfish, unfeeling adult controllers, “Isle of Dogs” shares the cardinal themes of Anderson’s oeuvre, most recently “Moonrise Kingdom.” Does this variation offer anything genuinely new? In its own messy, slightly ungovernable way, this digressive bagatelle feels looser than some of Anderson’s most tightly controlled mis- en- scenes.
But the story, for all its busyness, is negligible. The script feels less like an organic whole than an effort to keep building up a scrawny central premise until it felt like a movie. “Isle of Dogs” possesses moments of memorable beauty, but even at its most observant and obsessively painstaking, it’s still little more than a shaggy- dog story.
“Isle of Dogs,” a Fox Searchlight release, is ratedPG- 13. Contains mature thematic elements and some violent images. Running time: 94 minutes. ½
Jeff Goldblum provides the voice of Duke in the new film “Isle of Dogs.”