Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim wasn’t a monster hit, and is often considered the most divisive film of the acclaimed Mexican filmmaker’s career. It was a modest hit in North America and by no means was a sequel to Del Toro’s film of giant monsters fighting giant robots guaranteed. International box office saved hopes for a Pacific Rim sequel, and now it lands in theaters with a mostly new cast led by John Boyega in Pacific Rim: Uprising. Guillermo Del Toro didn’t direct this sequel, ceding responsibilities to Steven S. DeKnight, showrunner of Daredevil’s first season. Pacific Rim: Uprising isn’t a great movie, but it’s a movie that knows what fans of a Pacific Rim want in a sequel – plenty of rock ‘em sock ‘em action between towering Jaegers, the human operated giant robots, and monstrous Kaiju, Godzilla-like monsters that terrorize major cities.
Ten years after the first film, Jake Pentecost (Boyega), son of Idris Elba’s Staker Pentecost whom sacrificed himself at the conclusion of the original film, lives in the aftermath of the Kaiju war as a bit of a scoundrel, earning a living by trading stolen Jaeger parts along the coast of a demolished Santa Monica. While scavenging in a graveyard of old Jaegers, Jake comes across young Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a wunderkind who has crafted her own Jaeger out of scrap parts. The two soon cross paths with the Pan Pacific Defense Corp (PPDC), and they’re arrested for riding in Amara’s illegal Jaeger. In jail, Jake is presented with a simple choice by his adopted sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi): rejoin the PPDC and train new cadets or stay in jail.
Jake and Amara travel to the coast of China to the new Shatterdome that houses the Jaegers that are always on guard in case the Kaiju return from the other dimension below the Pacific Ocean. There Amara joins the cadet program where she’s not exactly welcomed by the diverse (in gender and nationality, not in characteristics) cadets. Meanwhile, Jake is forced to team once again with his old partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood). The world building aspects of Pacific Rim: Uprising are lacking in the depth that Del Toro brought seemingly with ease to original film, and it’s quite clunky in getting all of its characters established as they prepare for a war they’re unsure is every going to happen. There’s no greater example of these issues than the character of Jules (Adria Arjona), who is supposed to be a love interest for Jake and Nate to fight over only who she is and what she doesn’t isn’t clear and the film simply forgets she exists for long stretches at a time.
Pacific Rim: Uprising starts to pick up once it’s able to establish an element on conflict that its heroes will be fighting. Chinese corporatist Liwen Shao (Tian Jing) wants to unveil a series of drone Jaegers that will be the highly profitable future of Kaiju defense. Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) has taken employ for Shao’s company as a Kaiju expert as his old partner Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) continued his work for the PPDC. During a ceremony in Sydney, Australia, a mysterious black Jaeger known as Obsidian Fury emerges from the sea and wreaks havoc on the shores. This means Jake and Nate must work together in their massive machine Gipsy Avenger which will lead them to a shocking new front in the ongoing war for the future of humanity, and this is where Pacific Rim: Uprising becomes a wild ride of absurd action and fun.
Early in the film, there are moments where Steven DeKnight’s film simply recreates moments from the first one to an underwhelming effect. As the action of Pacific Rim: Uprising escalates, so does the film’s incredible absurdity. There are a number of twists and turns that the quartet of screenwriters (DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, and T.S. Nowlin) inject to the action. Some of the reveals late in the film might upset die-hard fans of the first film, but for the most part the final half of the film features some rather unexpected twists. Yes, much of the action is silly but if you’ve entered the theater knowing you’re getting some crazy robot vs. monster action then you leave with nothing really to complain about because it delivers its basest thrills.
The characters of Pacific Rim: Uprising are lacking in depth. This really isn’t much of a human story. But John Boyega is so wildly charismatic that you’re fully on board with Jake Pentecost’s journey. When required, Boyega can turn on the charm, get a well-timed laugh, or deliver a rousing and inspirational speech to his cohorts. Then there’s Scott Eastwood, who is so bland and lacking charisma that I’m convinced that he’s only in the film in order to make Boyega (who is also a producer) look great – if that’s the case, it works incredibly well.
If you hated Pacific Rim, there’s absolutely nothing in Uprising for you. If you enjoyed the first film and want some more Jaeger vs. Kaiju action, Pacific Rim: Uprising delivers on that front. It’s a goofy, big B-movie that doesn’t always work but when it does it presents plenty of booming action that places an emphasis on fun and isn’t the chaotic, noisy mess that you might encounter in a Transformers film. Pacific Rim: Uprising concludes with a tease for another installment and I’m not so sure that anyone is going to want a trilogy of these movies. If they do make a third, Uprising has laid a solid formula to follow, with an emphasis on action and fun instead of taking itself seriously.