Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.
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With 2013's Pacific Rim
, director Guillermo del Toro and writer Travis Beachem delivered a film with a singular vision. Del Toro, a fan of the monster movies of '50s and '60s Japanese cinema, imagined a world where humans pilot giant robots (called Jaegers) to fight equally massive monsters (called Kaiju). It was a fun, albeit hollow blockbuster that, at the very least, felt driven by a creative auteur. Its sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising
, is the type of carefully constructed, marketing-driven product that highlights why studios should not be allowed to continue franchises without the original creators.
Pacific Rim: Uprising
feels like the type of movie that has four writing credits on it, complete with ampersands and plain old "ands." It's the byproduct of two many cooks trying to tell too many stories, and in the end it struggles to be exciting, let alone engaging. Somewhere, there is a focused story for Pacific Rim: Uprising
to tell, but this version is not it.
At the core of Pacific Rim: Uprising
's story is Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son to Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the Jaeger pilot leader who famously cancelled the apocalypse in the first film. Jake has spent much of his life trying to escape his father's shadow and with the Kaiju threat squashed, he is free to be as stereotypically reckless as can be. But familial duty and a chance encounter with Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) quickly have Jake once again piloting a Jaeger again and working with Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood).
Before too long a new Kaiju threat appears and familiar faces like Charlie Day's Newt and Burn Gorman's Dr. Gottlieb enter the picture. Also, Amara joins a group of Jaeger pilots-in-training, just in case you were wondering how she fits into all of this.
Even trying to write Pacific Rim: Uprising
's plot into a few coherent sentences is a tall order, so it's no wonder the scriptwriters struggled to keep everything focused. Juggling Jake's story, which includes a history with Nate, while trying to learn about a handful of Jaeger recruits and make sense of the Kaiju threat is exhausting. And by the end much of it feels pointless - put there not as a way to serve the story, but to fill a quota.
And that is Pacific Rim: Uprising
's biggest flaw; it has obvious aims of appealing to as wide of an audience as possible. Whereas del Toro's film tried to take a niche genre and make it mainstream, the sequel tries to bend a niche film into a traditional Hollywood blockbuster. As you might expect, this causes a lot of problems as the film tries to switch from one plot line to the next.
Amidst it all, though, Boyega's character is charismatic and charming that his scenes still have some energy to them, even more so than the Jaeger v. Kaiju fighting. Since his breakout role in Attack the Block
, Boyega has shown he can carry an action film, inject a little drama, and make sure it is fun. The only problem is he spends plenty of the film either operating a Jaeger or out of the picture.
With a little more focus, a few less characters, and a better understanding on what makes the franchise work (more on that below), Pacific Rim: Uprising
could have been a fun follow-up with a lighter tone. Unfortunately, too much micromanaging led to a story that is jam-packed with plot lines and characters and not enough run time to serve them all. Outside of John Boyega, there really isn't anything terribly memorable about the film, and for a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters that says a lot.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Pacific Rim: Uprising
is that it doesn't feature that much robot-on-monster action. Even if the story is forgettable and most of the characters are one-note, the hope is that the sequel can at least deliver on its action. Unfortunately, too much time is spent juggling all of the characters and plotlines and not enough focus is given to the real selling point of Pacific Rim
. Make no mistake, there is a climactic showdown, but it doesn't satisfy in the way a movie like this should.
What Pacific Rim: Uprising
does have going for it is an emphasis on daytime action sequences, so at the very least moviegoers can see what is going on. In fact, much of the film has been brightened to make for action that, at the very least, is easier to see.
But seeing the action and being excited by it should go hand in hand, and they don't. Guillermo del Toro's creativity led to Jaegers and Kaiju that all felt unique and worked from an action perspective. Pacific Rim: Uprising
's Jaeger and Kaiju feel lazy and obvious. Some might even argue that the designs are meant to sell toys more than anything else. The first film had quite a few memorable and epic moments, but Uprising
lacks that same spark. It's by the numbers even for a film that should be anything but.