March 21, 2018 Pacific Rim Uprising (Movie Review)
In 2013, Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to anime giant monster-robot smashups Pacific Rim burst on the scene. It was warmly welcomed for the most part. Audiences did come away with mixed feelings, though. Some fans had high enthusiasm for the sci-fi spectacle. Others were more lukewarm to it. Some flat out rejected it, frustrated that such a simple concept on the surface could be mishandled.
A taste for Pacific Rim’s large-scale battle cinema remained, though. Welcome to 2018’s Pacific Rim Uprising, produced this time by del Toro (Crimson Peak 2015, The Shape of Water 2017) and helmed by Writer/Director Steven McKnight (Smallville series, Daredevil series) in his feature film directorial debut. Also written by T.S. Nowlin, Emily Carmichael, and Kira Snyder, in theaters Friday, March 23rd through Universal Pictures, Pacific Rim Uprising promises more of what made the original successful.
The world is ten years removed from the events of Pacific Rim, where giant creatures known as Kaiju emerged from the Pacific Ocean and caused havoc. Jaegers, giant machines operated by two humans psychically linked to bear the stress, were built to contain and eventually defeat the threat.
Uprising finds Jake Pentecost (John Boyega: Attack the Block 2011, Star Wars series) at the center of attention. The son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba: Beasts of No Nation 2015, The Jungle Book 2016), hero of the world’s victory over the Kaiju ten years ago, is, in his own words, “not his father.” He lives a life of decadence and irresponsibility.
While trying to steal decommissioned Jaeger parts to sell on the black market, Jake runs into Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny in her feature debut), a precocious kid-builder of junk Jaegers. Both of them seem to be on the wrong path.
Of course they get arrested for these illegal shenanigans. Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi; Babel 2006, Pacific Rim 2013), Jake’s older sister and another hero from the events of ten years ago, steps in with an offer: Work for the military or go to jail. Jake, who dropped out, hesitates but chooses to re-enlist. Amara becomes a cadet, and off the movie goes.
McKnight, in a refreshing turn, focuses on the relationship between Jake and Amara. They have a real brother-sister dynamic going for them. It is fun and it feels warm. This is a testament to Boyega, who is gold whenever he is on the screen, and the young Cailee Spaeny, who understands her role and does well with it. These are not extraordinarily complex characters. In a story where the draw is madcap monster-robot mayhem, Boyega and Spaeny work with what is there. They make Jake and Amara feel real.
As far as the rest of the sprawling cast? Hermann Gottlieb (Charlie Day: Horrible Bosses 2011, The Lego Movie 2014) and Dr. Newton Geiszler (Burn Gorman: The Dark Knight Rises 2012, Crimson Peak 2015) return from the first film. They are their usual selves. Day is pretty humorously manic as Geiszler. Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood: Fury 2014, The Fate of the Furious 2017) is a typical gruff military guy. Lambert and Jake have tried-and-true “tension” because XYZ reasons. He does have the most unintentionally funny line in the film, though.
Then there is Jules Reyes (Adria Arjona: True Detective series 2015, The Belko Experiment 2016) who is little more than side help and threatens to become only a prize for Jake or Nate. There is enough mystery around the character of Liwen Shao (Tian Jing: The Great Wall 2016, Kong: Skull Island 2017) that she becomes someone to keep an eye on, but that is about it. In films like these, there is just not much characterization to go around.
All that said, there is a nice twist that fans of the original should enjoy. It builds on some of the Pacific Rim universe’s weird biology and fantastic science. It is a nice touch that adds enough for the film to feel like a real sequel and not just a shameless money-grab. The writers put some real thought into how to advance the story as the original ending seemed, well, literally quite open-and-shut. Not to get too spoilery, but there is an ick factor involved that uses the classic Science Fiction tropes of “good” intentions gone wrong. As Max Cavalera of famed Metal band Sepultura might say, “Biotech is Godzilla.”
Of course it would not be a Pacific Rim film if it did not have any kind of looming, giant-in-scope-and-size battle action. The world has not fallen asleep thanks to their victory. They continue to prepare for any possibility the Kaiju and their alien creators may return. The film glides by while still taking its time to develop the situation and ultimate new threat to the world. It is a good choice, story-wise.
Pacific Rim Uprising has a good, futuristic look when on the ground with the humans. When the large battles start is where it can feel a little disappointing. It all depends on the point of view the audience brings to it. At times the Jaegers look like regular-sized people doing battle. If your perspective allows you to enjoy stuff like that in an old school Godzilla sort of way, then it is not an issue. Some of the awe of seeing these gigantic, cataclysmic battles through a human perspective is lost, though.
Ultimately, Pacific Rim Uprising is a fun time at the movies. There is some decent world building and it is slightly subversive in its source of the threat. These kinds of large-scale battle-and-destruction films are subject to diminishing returns the more of them that come around, though. Uprising does not exactly do anything new with that aspect of the film. McKnight is smart to focus on the relationship between Jake and Amara, and that helps it feel like more than a typical sequel. For this, CrypticRock gives Pacific Rim Uprising 3 out of 5 stars.