Pacific Rim: Uprising is the sequel to Guillermo Del Toro‘s Pacific Rim which released way back in 2013 and I thought it was just ok, nothing special and bordered the line between good and bad. This sequel is under the direction of Steven DeKnight and follows Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) who after an even greater threat arises decides to live up to his father’s legacy and save the planet with the help of a young recruit Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). I didn’t expect a whole lot from this sequel besides seeing Jaegers face off against Kaiju in big dumb action sequences, and to an extent you do get that however it doesn’t even manage to reach the level of its predecessor, which isn’t hard to do. It seems to be missing that Del Toro touch which somewhat separated the first film from others in the genre. Similarly but not as extreme as the Transformers movies, this film has an issue with many of its human characters. Boyega brings a tonne of personality to the film and is definitely the strongest and most entertaining character, but aside from him there are very few other characters who I genuinely enjoyed following. And it just makes it really hard to buy into the story and get invested when you don’t really care about or aren’t entertained by barely anyone.
I’ll get the action out of the way because when it does delve into the Jaeger vs Kaiju sequences it is at its best, even though its best may not be that great. The CGI is very well executed most of the time, it is noticeable but in the context of what is happening on screen (inter-dimensional monsters fighting building-sized robots) it’s expected. The action sequences as I mentioned are good, but not great. I was hoping for big, intense, fun, nonsensical fights but the few that are in here never really reach that point and I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why. Don’t get me wrong, they’re enjoyable scenes, the best parts of the movie, but I wasn’t having nearly as much fun watching robots punch monsters as I thought I would. It could be the fact that I just didn’t care about the majority of the supporting characters because they’re all mostly forgettable. Or that the humour they keep injecting into the action sequences is unfunny and completely distracting from the high-stakes of what is going on. Or that the overall dullness of the rest of the film seeps into the action sequences. The third act fight sequence for instance is supposed to be big, grand, and intense but not so far to where it is taking itself too seriously. Don’t worry about it being too serious though, it doesn’t get anywhere near this point because there are so many needless attempts at humour in this final act that go completely against the tone of the scene that as a result I just couldn’t focus on the fact that the entire human race may be at stake.
John Boyega is undoubtedly the star of the show and he does his best to elevate every scene he’s in. I enjoyed the arc his character goes through and was somewhat invested in his story and seeing where he would end up, so that’s one well handled character. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day return for this sequel and I enjoyed their presence and their subplot up to a certain point. Gorman I enjoyed throughout the entire runtime, he’s still the ‘mad scientist’ character and his science based dialogue is actually quite enjoyable in contrast to a lot of the more generic conversational dialogue. Charlie Day I also really liked and enjoyed to a certain point, the way his character is used in the latter half of the film is dumb, completely out of left field, and handled shockingly right up until the end. There is also a subplot that spans the entire film focusing on the Jaeger cadets, one of them being the young Spaeny’s character, and as much as I wanted to care about her specifically, I couldn’t give two shits about any of them. It drains the pace of the movie any time they’re highlighted, I can’t name a single one of them, and they’re not fun to watch. Scott Eastwood has a prominent role and he’s fine in here but he doesn’t bring anything unique to the film, take him out and substitute any other white male actor and nothing will change. Originality is nowhere to be found but it’s a generic big action film so I can’t say I expected anything more.
I’m not holding everything that doesn’t work in here against Steven DeKnight as I feel he did his best with a Pacific Rim sequel in terms of the direction to take. The pacing I must say is quite quick and the runtime is capped at a nice 1 hour and 50 minutes which together make the story very tight and thus avoids extensive dragging between action sequences. It’s good because if you’re not enjoying a certain sequence, you can be sure it’ll move on very soon.
So, in the end Pacific Rim: Uprising gives the fans of the franchise more or less exactly what they want, Jaegers going toe to toe against Kaiju. Unfortunately these action sequences and Boyega’s strong lead performance can’t quite hold the film on their own. The majority of subplots and supporting characters aren’t engaging, the comedy almost never hits and doesn’t mesh well with the slightly more serious tone, some sequences are just a tonne of visual noise, and the final act isn’t as explosive as it should have been. In saying all that if a third film is approved I’d actually be still interested in checking it out if it goes down the entirely ridiculous route it teases. So this hasn’t turned me away from the franchise but it’s a definite letdown.