When Guillermo Del Toro directed Pacific Rim in 2013, audiences were given a healthy dose of the possibilities of anime-inspired Hollywood blockbusters that were pure, brainless entertainment. It didn’t fare too well in the box office, but it did gain a large cult following, enough to produce a sequel this year. Pacific Rim Uprising had a lot riding on it, from the solid direction that Del Toro introduced in the first film to the seemingly endless possibilities of where the story and action can go next. The big question is, does it do enough to justify its existence as a sequel that builds upon the previous hit film?
Pacific Rim Uprising takes place ten years after the events of its predecessor. The world is still recovering after the devastating kaiju attacks that saw the heroic actions of Stacker Pentecost, Riley Becket and Mako Mori, who piloted the famous jaeger, Gipsy Danger. His son, Jake Pentecost, is forced to join the army in an attempt to teach a new generation of teenagers to pilot the mechs in case of a second wave attack. Needless to say, there is a second wave and the robots must rise up to defend Earth once again.
Del Toro stepped away from the sequel to work on The Shape of Water, so new director Steven DeKnight helmed the film. While his efforts are admirable, the film noticeably suffers from the lack of Del Toro’s signature style and superb, sure-handed direction. Uprising unfortunately can’t seem to find any consistency, neither in tone or plot. Yes, you get your dose of some pretty breathtaking mech-on-monster battles, but they come at the cost of poorly developed characters and a story that bounces around big ideas without landing any of them.
John Boyega, as Jake Pentecost, carries a lot of the film on his shoulders. Thankfully, he has enough charisma to hold audiences attention, and his presence is very welcomed. The problem comes with the writing. Jake is a conflicted protagonist still dealing with living in the shadow of his heroic father, so the film tries to tackle the distress that comes with being his own person. However, the script altogether forgets this crucial character arc somewhere along the line, choosing to focus more on his role as a new drill sergeant as opposed to a multi-layered character. In a film about giant robots punching monsters, we probably shouldn’t expect much in the way of great character development, but the opportunity was there. It’s just unfortunate that they never capitalized on it.
The supporting cast are also a mixed bag. I enjoyed Scott Eastwood’s inclusion in the movie, even if his performance came across as intentionally wooden. His banter and chemistry with Boyega delivers some good humour and much needed camaraderie. The kids, however, are laughably bad. Not only are their performances across the board mediocre, but the fact that children are able to pilot jaegers really requires suspension of disbelief. Uprising tries to pay homage to mech anime like Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis: Evangelion (with even a few tongue-in-cheek nods tossed in) by having kids be the new pilots, but it’s not executed nearly well enough to be entirely believable. The film never gives them much time in the spotlight either, so when we’re supposed to care about them, it feels forced.
This brings us to the worst aspect of Pacific Rim Uprising; Charlie Day. His character, Newt, in the first film was one of two bumbling scientist archetypes who didn’t really have much to do other than serve as convenient exposition dumps. In Uprising, they choose to do something questionable with Newt that seems so awkwardly out of place, it bordered on parody. Moments where we’re supposed to take his character seriously are instead unintentionally comedic, which threatens the tone of the film completely.
That’s not to say Pacific Rim Uprising is all mediocrity. While the action still lacks the massive spectacle and ultra-stylish fluidity that Del Toro brought to the first film, it has enough exciting monster versus mecha battles that will surely please the die-hard fans. One action sequence in particular covers the entire third act, and is riveting to watch on an artificial level, even when the grounded and relatable characters aren’t there. DeKnight may not have a distinguished style of directing, but the ludicrous premise of the movie is enough to at least put a smile on your face and bring out the kid in you. The visual effects are superb so there’s plenty of eye-candy on display. Since most of the action takes place during the day, as opposed to the colorful neon-lit night backdrop in the first movie, it takes away some of the visual spectacle, but makes up for it with wild stunts and polished CGI.
Pacific Rim Uprising fails to live up to its predecessor, and comes off as a mixed experience overall. John Boyega is a great protagonist to get behind, the action sequences, though they lack Del Toro’s style, still pack a punch, and the visual effects are top-tier, but the problems are also abundant. Charlie Day’s character goes through an uncomfortably awkward ordeal and the children, as the new pilots, aren’t very compelling successors. The film constantly fights itself trying to maintain a consistent tone, but it all amounts to a mostly forgettable filler action romp that’s fun while it lasts and nothing more.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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