PacRim 2 Review: Eh

Look, I gotta be honest. Without Guillermo Del Toro at the helm, there’s simply no way Pacific Rim: Uprising could match up to the original. Del Toro grew up watching kaiju movies and mecha anime, and it showed through every shot of Pacific Rim.  It had its own set of issues, but it was a movie that was essential to see in theatres, on a huge screen with a great sound system. Del Toro understood what was great about those genres, and loaded PacRim with all that.

Uprising is thoroughly underwhelming in comparison. Spoilers ahead.

The original PacRim had underdeveloped characters. That was okay though. They were archetypes, characters you immediately understood the function and personality of. Still, I would’ve loved to delve more into the other Jaegar pilots’ histories, especially the Chinese triplets and the Russian duo. Newt and Hermann worked excellently as comedic relief characters, and Mako Mori and Stacker Pentacost were so thoroughly likeable. Despite their somewhat shallow nature, there was still emotional and comedic payoff. The stakes were understood. The sense of scale, the impact and weight of both the Jaegars and the Kaiju, an unforgettable soundtrack that, frankly, just gets me fuckin hype every time I hear it–all of it came together so well to form an action flick full of both hope and optimism and really good monster-robot fights.

Uprising understands almost none of that. Uprising is a skeletal copy of the first film, akin to the movies Quentin Tarantino puts out, all style and no substance. Heck, even style is barely there.

To be fair, Uprising was in a difficult position. It had to explain enough of the previous movie for those that hadn’t seen it while still introducing all the new stuff. Unfortunately, it results in a whole lot of breakneck pacing and expositional frontloading that leaves you overwhelmed and feeling nothing for its barely there characters. John Boyega does the best he can with an interesting role, but everyone else is immediately forgettable and have no real chance to be understood and developed as characters. Their relationships aren’t earned, the jokes aren’t earned, there’s no real emotional build up or catharsis, and the ending is anticlimactic and so sudden, I left the theatre not pumped up and ready to kick giant monster ass, but thinking, “That’s it?”

I couldn’t even be excited about my prediction that Newt was the antagonist. He was always a comedic side character, but even his relationship with Hermann and the rest of the Shatterdome felt real and solid. Uprising completely destroys his character. He’s pathetic and thoroughly unlikeable, an ugly little lackey of the Precursors.

It’s sad, because the basic premise of Uprising is actually pretty good! The drone Jaegars immediately reminded me of the Mass Produced Evas, and the most developed characters, Jake Pentacost and Amara Namani, have excellent foundations full of potential. A fused Kaiju is so self-evidently cool, like OF COURSE that was the next step up from Cat 5 monsters.

But that’s where it stops. The big boy critter is nowhere near as cool looking as the originals. Its component Kaiju are barely there. The new Jaegars have some cool gimmicks, but are otherwise pretty generic looking.

The worst thing though, is the movie doesn’t even sound good. Pacific Rim had amazing sound design with a deep, rhythmic base that sold every punch and slash and throw. The animation had an excellent focus on showing the sheer scale and weight of the robots and monsters. The Jaegars felt heavy; the pilots had to put a real effort into maneuvering them. The Kaiju felt strong, massive, beastly, an immediate threat.

Uprising throws its antagonists around willy nilly and the battles feel like little more than slapfights. There’s no impact, nothing that communicates the danger and destructive potential. Everything starts and ends so fast with no time to absorb it. I didn’t freakin’ care.

I can’t say I didn’t have some fun. It was better than nothing, and somehow still better than what I expected. But I wouldn’t tell anyone to go see it in theatres. Wait till it shows up in a Redbox, honestly. There’s a setup for a third movie, and I can only hope that Del Toro is able to direct it.

In Review – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

I have a weird, complicated relationship with Uncharted, but one I’m sure is shared by many. I hate these games. I honestly detest the first three in the series. I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, say they were any good until Uncharted 4, and yet, here I am, having played five of them (I’m not counting the mobile game, which I have played, and like, but just uses the franchise as wallpaper, nor the Vita game, which I have no real interest in). What keeps drawing me back in, what compells me to return to these games of which the majority I dislike?

To be fair, there’s plenty to praise about the series. If you want Game As Movie, it’s your best bet. The setpieces have always been spectacular and memorable, the dialogue is genuinely charming and funny, and new things are always attempted with each installment. Naughty Dog has and continues to make an indelible mark on games that cant be easily imitated. They’re masters of their craft. They’ve landed on a successful formula that keeps even a grouch like me quizzically coming back for more.

Lost Legacy is a testament to that formula. It sits on a precipice point, stands almost as the thesis statement for this era of Naughty Dog, looking both fondly back and forward to new experiences.

After four Crash Bandicoot games, ND obviously wanted to attempt new things. The same followed with the Jak and Daxter games, and now so too are we standing audience and participant to ND’s continued evolution with Uncharted, Lost Legacy very likely being the last installment from the studio. It’s a fitting one. Spoilers ahead.

Lost Legacy (hereby LL) follows Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, two supporting characters from previous games, as they search for the fabled Tusk of Ganesha in civil war-stricken India. They’re a classical odd pair, Nadine playing the straight man to Chloe’s funny man. Luckily, the two have excellent chemistry, and it’s very easy to accept and go along with them being thrust together despite never interacting in previous games.

It almost feels like officially sanctioned fanfiction, in a way, especially so because the idea of a AAA game with not one, but two leading women still feels fantastical. It exists, though, and it’s frankly quite good. It’s further testament to ND’s major strength as a developer: their drive to listen, learn, and try new things with their games.

Nadine and Chloe are allowed to get dirty and grimey, are allowed to have visible muscle, are allowed to be both professional and emotional without it ever being cast as an indictment of their gender. They’re fully realized women with inner lives shaped by that but never limited to it. After four games with Nathan, who’s about as generic as a rogue adventurer can get, it’s so refreshing to have protagonists I’m actually interested in learning about.

The biggest advantage Chloe and Nadine have lies in their origins as supporting cast. There was never any pretense that either of these women were good people, and that moral ambiguity follows them into LL. This alone makes it a more cohesive and coherent narrative than any previous Uncharted game despite following the same basic story structure: Nathan is unquestionably cast as a Hero, his countless murders conveniently ignored. For Chloe and Nadine, murder is an accepted risk. They know what kind of people they are and don’t shy away from it. The witty dialogue and jokes feel less jarring, less dissonant here.

It also helps that there’s simply less gunfights overall in LL. I got through approximately ninety percent of encounters with stealth alone, and those I couldn’t avoid were faster and more intense, keeping the game from slogging through ultraviolence.

LL is lean, and feels very much like a Best Hits Collection of Uncharted’s various setpieces and small moments. There’s callbacks abound, but they’re actually cool, or funny, and never overstay their welcome. It’s a very self-aware game without being insufferable about it.

This self-awareness extends to the narrative’s themes and the protagonists’ character arcs. LL is itself a metacommentary on gender, on, well, the legacies left behind by men vying for power, truth, and control, legacies left on the doorsteps of women then demanded to prove themselves and contextualize their relationships with them.

Likewise, what is an Uncharted game without Nathan Drake and his ultraviolence? Well, a damn good Uncharted game that confidently stands on its own, one that acknowledges the franchise’s legacy while being happy to leave it behind. A very bittersweet one, because LL is the game I wish Uncharted had been from the beginning. It feels like a starting point, an origin story for a team I’d gladly devour comics and pulp novels and cartoons and more games of, games that, in an ideal world, would push the narrative and mechanical concepts of Uncharted even further, into something that feels less formulaic and more thoughtful. Uncharted was never meant to be a puzzle game or thief simulator, but why only in the last game are these parts actually expanded upon? Why only in the last game are basic mechanics layered into something even slightly more mentally engaging and physically involved?

It’s frustrating, but at least it’s there. Lost Legacy is this frustration encapsulated, a solid experience, the best in a franchise, yearning for more, squandering potential but good at what it does do. It makes me excited to see what Naughty Dog will do next. Here’s hoping That Last of Us 2 blows LL out of the water.


Yo, okay, so I’ve been pretty absent because I experienced some serious burnout when it came to writing about games and such. My heart wasn’t in it–the atmosphere around the games writing community at the time was something akin to inhaling secondhand smoke.

Anyway, I’ve decided to relaunch my site with some thoughts on the movie Mad Max: Fury Road.

I should clarify that I haven’t seen the previous three (though I’m gettin’ right on that). But holy hell was Fury Road a good movie. Frustratingly good, in the best and worst ways. See, it’s with a dash of cynicism that I have to say there probably won’t be anything that comes close to Fury Road in terms of execution for a while.

It’s stylish, vibrant, unreal to emphasize depravity and survival. For once, the boatloads of blues and oranges actually function–most stuff today will use these colour filters and pretty much ruin a movie visually. Every film now looks like the godawful low-budget horror flicks you find while trawling through Netflix. Oh boy, another zombie/vampire/whatever movie awash in in grey blues, sickly greens, and acid oranges that only work to make this the most boring thing to have to look at with my poor, abused eyes.

But colour is used in Mad Max skillfully, to set tone and atmosphere, and there ends my spiel about something really basic that I’m super sick of.

Also: great practical effects make for the best two hour car chase in movies. Old ladies doing their own stunts! Explosions that are actually cool! Downright amazing costume design! It’s all so ridiculous, but measured, the work of veterans, and it’s so much fun.

Mad Max remembers what makes action movies great, and that’s not action all the time, never ending, never giving you a moment to breath to actually absorb what the heck just occurred, to really chew the cud of that fight or car crash or whatnot. Rather, it builds tension, anticipation, it gives the characters and audience the space to explore themselves, and there might not be MUCH there, but there’s something, and it holds emotional weight–its substantive when it could’ve very easily been empty calories.

It’s just really satisfying, being able to sit for two hours watching a car chase and somehow be totally enthralled. Like, is this for real? Am I doing this and loving it? These are the same things I asked myself while playing Wolfenstein: The New Order. How did I manage fifteen some-odd hours killing Nazis and not be bored out of my skull? Did I forget how Liking Things felt?

Maybe it’s because for once, characters felt like people, women were treated as people (honestly, the bare minimum, so applauding anything that achieves this is a double-edged sword), and waves of lore obviously waiting for you to construct a whole wikia subdomain out of them are nowhere to be seen.

Don’t misunderstand, there’s a huge world under the hood there. There’s tons to see in the wasteland. The worldbuilding is respectable and impressive. But Mad Max gives you only what you need, enough to make its premise work, and a respect for audience that gives us room to figure the pieces together to our satisfaction and on our terms.

And this is what makes Fury Road frustrating in a way, because hey, it is good. It’s excellent even. Yet it’s even moreso in light of how bad so much stuff is. Marvel’s dumbfuck superheroes are the biggest movie franchises right now and I’m still like, crying a bit inside with amazement that I was able to actually sit through the entirety of Guardians of the Galaxy, let alone like it.

Mad Max: Fury Road should be a lesson to filmmakers and movie studios, and even with Jurassic World on the horizon, I’ll probably go back to ignoring basically every movie that comes out for the rest of the year because I’m too busy fuming at how good this one is.