While the original “Pacific Rim” was little more than a proof of concept production for the high profile niche genres of Japanese Kaiju, Mecha, and Tokusatsu that have inspired generations of genre fiction aficionados, synthesized with Western flair, director Guillermo Del Toro’s artistic eye, stylistic visual sensibilities, and sincere passion for the material and subjects of its genre went a long way in making it a beloved homage for the members of its niche fandom and an infectiously refreshing change for casual viewers.
Without Del Toro’s involvement in telling a effectively intimate story juxtaposed with the massive apocalyptic stakes defining much of its storytelling conventions, its sequel, “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” unfortunately falls into the trap of being bloated by too many decent individual elements that don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. That’s not to say that the film isn’t good; it’s certainly serviceable enough as the popcorn entertainment its studio is clearly hoping for but unfortunately doesn’t quite retain its predecessor’s minimalistic lesson of doing more with less at your disposal.
Set 10 years after the first film, “Uprising” follows John Boyega as the never before mentioned son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost from the first movie, Jake. Having spent the years following the Kaiju war slumming it in disaster relief zones, salvaging tech from the decommissioned giant robots, referred to as Jaegers, Jake finds himself reenlisted in the Jaeger program as probation after running into some legal trouble. His timing couldn’t be more impeccable as debate over the program’s fate tragically coincides with a conspiracy that reopens the dimensional breach that the Kaiju utilized to cross over onto Earth, forcing him to take command of the program and its trainees to tackle the re-emerging threat to protect the world’s newfound peace once and for all.
Director Steven DeKnight’s capacity for telling relatable stories with an excellent capacity for world building reminiscent of high concept genre faire doesn’t quite fully translate to that of a tale that explicitly identifies with the genre in question, but does at least make for solidly crafted and consistently endearing enough blockbuster entertainment. Boyega is at his A-game and his early chemistry with recruit Amara Namani played equally impressively by Cailee Spaeny makes you wonder why they bothered to team him up with the substantially less interesting but nonetheless competent Scott Eastwood.
Along with the thread of Amara’s boot camp-esque adaptation to pilot cadet lifestyle, Eastwood’s presence hones in on the biggest flaw of the film — its core components are good but its actual storytelling is clunky. There are far too many perfunctory characters to allow the better ones to properly shine. With all of the focus and technique of the movie put into the action and world building, barring one or two legitimately effective plot twists, the cast unfortunately feels thinner than ever despite brimming with charisma.
The bread and butter of “Pacific Rim: Uprising” however is of course the battles themselves. While I generally found myself preferring the unique details put into making the first movie’s battles feel like dueling natural disasters powered by an actualization of the human will, the film does deliver. All of the Jaeger’s have unique capabilities, all of the monsters have unique designs and no two battles of the film feel the same, creatively choreographed and displayed crisply for the enjoyment of every second.
If “Pacific Rim: Uprising” is explicitly guilty of anything, it’s delivering an enjoyable film that could have easily been reworked into a sleeker, competing and infinitely greater one. Although it’s impossible to ignore how easily it could have been improved while watching it, you’d also be hard pressed to say you’re bored coming out of it, if large scale destructive extravaganza in the form of mechanical armed MMA beatdowns are your flavor of escapism.
3 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.