Giant robots? Check. Giant monsters? Check. Gloriously fun battles between said robots and monsters? Check.
“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is an exciting follow-up to the 2015 sci-fi spectacle “Pacific Rim.” Like the original, “Uprising” takes its cues from cult monster movies and mecha anime.
The sequel introduces a new generation of likable heroes and well-crafted robots, called Jaegers. But without the hands-on touch of the original’s director, Guillermo del Toro, “Uprising” prioritizes metal vs. monster action over its characters, falling short of its predecessor.
“Pacific Rim: Uprising” takes place 10 years after humanity defeated the Kaiju, alien monsters that live underneath the Earth’s surface. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of fallen war hero Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), rejects his past as a Jaeger pilot. The reckless playboy has been getting by through scavenging Jaeger parts.
Jake is reluctantly brought back into the field after crossing paths with teenage hacker Amara (Cailee Spaney), who has built her own unsanctioned Jaeger. After reuniting with his adoptive sister, pilot-turned-General Secretary Mako Mori (a returning Rinko Kikuchi), Jake serves as an instructor for a new class of pilots, including Amara. The pilots’ jobs are in danger after corporate bigwig Liwen Shao (Tian Jing) has developed Jaegers piloted by drones.
But the Jaeger pilots have bigger problems. A decade after their defeat, the Kaiju have returned – bigger and stronger – to attack the Pacific Rim once again. This time, they’re sending their own Jaegers. After tragedy strikes, Jake, rival instructor Nate (Scott Eastwood), Amara and the new recruits must work together to save the world and “cancel the apocalypse” one more time.
“Pacific Rim: Uprising” carries on the tradition of rock ‘em, sock ‘em fighting fun between monsters and robots established by its predecessor. Showing reverence to the original, plenty of care and attention to detail is given to the design of the Jaegers, with names like Gipsy Avenger, the successor to the star Jaeger of “Pacific Rim,” Gipsy Danger. The Jaegers have been upgraded with cool features, like Saber Athena’s deadly blades and Bracer Phoenix’s powerful cannons.
Under director Steven S. DeKnight, the thrilling and crisp battle sequences span the Sydney coast to the city of Tokyo. However, there’s more Jaeger vs. Jaeger battles in “Pacific Rim: Uprising” than Jaeger vs. Kaiju. The supersized Kaiju don’t enter the action until the third act. Still, the fast-paced “Uprising” is so much fun that the wait is nearly worth it.
Where “Uprising” deviates from the original is in its shaky commitment to character development. Under del Toro’s influence, the original was a larger-than-life blockbuster driven by its human characters, much like the Jaegers themselves. The action of “drifting” – when two people connect their minds to jointly pilot a Jaeger – was a central concept in the first film. But in “Uprising,” the concept of finding a compatible drifting partner is teased but brushed aside.
The sequel starts out developing its characters, but readily drops multiple plot threads when the action kicks up in the final act. Amara, an orphan since she was 5, has trouble drifting with others, which is never fully explored. She finds herself at odds with a fellow cadet, the resentful Vic (Ivanna Sahkno) – then the two suddenly become chummy. Jake struggles with living in the shadow of his legendary father, and is often at loggerheads with Nate, but both problems are cast aside when the Kaiju pop up. The film could have used an extra 10-15 minutes to wrap up these character conflicts and growth.
“Pacific Rim: Uprising” benefits from a charming cast. Coming off “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi,” Boyega is as charismatic as ever. Also serving as a producer on the film, the British actor has found another franchise to showcase his sense of humor and action prowess. Boyega has a nice rapport with Spaney. As the tough yet vulnerable Amara, the young newcomer throws herself into the role. Look out for this rising star.
Burn Gorham and Charlie Day reprise their roles as buddy scientists from the original. As Dr. Newt Geiszler, Day’s character takes an off-putting turn. Jing is a welcome addition to the cast as the brilliant Shao, who is willing to get in on the action. As Nate, the rugged Eastwood is no-nonsense and a bit bland, but he’s a better fit in this franchise than his recent stint in “Fate of the Furious.”
“Pacific Rim: Uprising” pushes the franchise forward with new characters and new enemies. Though it doesn’t delve as deep under the surface as its predecessor, it’s a fun popcorn flick that serves as a welcome escape from reality. The “Pacific Rim” franchise is what the flailing “Transformers” franchise should aspire to be.
3.5 out of 5 stars
In 2009, I had the chance to see director Werner Herzog showcase one of two film he had playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” During the Q&A session following the showing, most of Herzog’s attention was paid to his hatred for the title of his other film, “Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans.” His movie had no connection to the 1992 Harvey Keitel crime drama as the newer one had a different cop and a different city. However, the producers thought that since they had the rights to the name, it would bring a built-in audience. Thus, Herzog’s vision was compromised for sales, Abel Ferrera, the director of the original film, was also not thrilled that another film act was attached to his vision.
The lesson of that short story is this: If you can’t make a true sequel, don’t make one. Someone should have said that to the makers of “Pacific Rim: Uprising.”
This sequel to the 2013 dazzler “Pacific Rim” takes place 10 years after the war between robots (the good guys) and underground aliens (the bad guys) ended, and the only fears people have are how to get food on their plates and how to make your own giant robot without the government catching you.
Jake (John Boyega) is a rebellious guy who is running from his fate when he runs into Amara (Cailee Spaeny), a teen hacker building her own baby robotic Jaegar. When they’re caught, they are ordered to join a group of next-generation Jaegar pilots. For Jake, it’s a less-than-thrilling homecoming as he is the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), who died in the first movie to save the world. Jake’s rival, Nate (Scott Eastwood), is there to be in charge and to be handsome. The new pilot cadets are a bunch of kids that have no connections with each other, but everyone is in fear of being replace by drones from China, heralded by Liwen Shao (Tian Jing), and a growing Kaiju threat.
There is some carryover from the Guillermo del Toro version: feuding scientists Dr. Newton Geiszler and Gottlieb (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) are back, and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) makes an appearance. The Jaegars have the same names. And it ends there.
Steven S. DeKnight jumps from television to film directing with this one, and if his signature is to create without heart, direction, connection or plot, it’s best to avoid this movie and possibly any future film he makes. “Pacific Rim: Uprising” disregards the foundation del Toro built in his ode to the monster and war movies years before he won two Oscars for “The Shape of Water.” One shared plotline is that to operate the Jaegar, the pilots’ brains must be in sync and their moves to be well choreographed. “Uprising” doesn’t even try to make this a priority. Whenever Jake and Nate are piloting the popular Gipsy Avenger, they are a half-step off in the moves. It doesn’t look right. And if the world’s future is in the hands of whiny cadets who can’t listen to directions, will there even be a future for this Universal Pictures franchise worth creating?
It’s too much to detail what doesn’t work with this movie without ruining the movie. Not even the robots are memorable this time around. However, there is one thing it has going for it. It’s one of the few tentpole movies to carefully craft a Chinese plotline targeting China’s huge box office. Shao is the only multi-dimensional character, with Jing having more charisma than Boyega and Eastwood.
Let’s hope that someone doesn’t think that “Pacific Rim” needs to be stamped onto another movie. The name has been abused enough with this stale sequel.
1 out of 5 stars