Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)
I must admit, I was a wee bit startled upon learning that the science-fiction action-adventure Pacific Rim — directed by the now Oscar-winning auteur Guillermo del Toro — was green-lit for a sequel, considering that the 2013 movie made only a smidgen over $100 million in the United States. But then there was China (and the rest of the foreign market, for that matter), which boosted the picture’s overall gross to north of $400 million, coupled with the fact that Legendary Entertainment (the company that financed the film) is now a subsidiary of the Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group.
Catering moreso to the Asian market (given Wanda Group’s acquisition), Pacific Rim: Uprising, the follow-up to del Toro’s loving ode to Kaiju cinema and giant robot/ Gundam anime, delivers in terms of city-shattering titan-on-titan smack-downs, but lacks the sheer creativity and ingenuity that made its predecessor so ballsy and bonkers, this due to the absence of del Toro as director, the new flick helmed by first-time feature filmmaker Steven S. DeKnight — who comes from the school of Joss Whedon, DeKnight having worked on TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996–2003), Angel (1999-2004) and Dollhouse (2009-10).
Kicking off ten long years after the Battle of the Breach, in which Idris Elba’s General Stacker Pentecost sacrificed himself to save all of mankind, Pacific Rim: Uprising trails rebellious ex-Jaeger pilot Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of the aforementioned fallen war hero, who’s abandoned the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) in order to become a scavenger, Jake making ends meet by stealing used Jaeger parts from scrapheaps then trading them on the black market. As it turns out, the world now (in 2035) is a very different place. For one, countless seaside cities have been left in ruins, with many coastlines standing as desolate graveyards for slain Kaiju warriors, the beaches littered with gargantuan dried-out bones and piles of crumbling architecture. You see, while the human-piloted Jaegers were still being taught and trained (in case the Kaiju threat was ever to resurface), a competitor Chinese corporation, Shao Industries, had been developing an army of ‘unmanned’ remote-controlled drone Jaegers, these colorless killing machines far more efficient to build and operate, and easier to spread across the globe if necessary.
When attempting to thieve an extremely valuable plasma capacitator, the once-promising Jake gets indirectly mixed up with a feisty fifteen-year-old hacker named Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a spunky orphan who’d been assembling her very own one-pilot Jaeger, which she’d named Scrapper — a 40-foot tall junk-yard mecha capable of rolling into a ball to make a swift retreat. Following a mildly inventive confrontation on the wasteland shoreline of Santa Monica, the duo are caught and reprimanded by Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Jake’s estranged adoptive sister, who’s now the Secretary General at the PPDC, Mako giving Jake the option of avoiding jail time (with all charges dropped) if he’d agree to help train Cadets at the Moyulan Shatterdome in China, while the skilled Amara, pardoned for her illicit acts, is given the opportunity to become one of the instructor’s new recruits.
When arriving at the prestigious PPDC training facility, Jake realizes that he’ll be working alongside his ‘drift compatible’ former friend/ now-rival Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), the fierce squadron leader still holding a grudge against the ‘deserter,’ the men (who once shared a brotherly bond) now strangers, Nate angered over Jake’s decision to abandon their shared destiny to pursue a criminal way of life. Things heat up during the 10-year End of War celebrations, held in Sydney, Australia, when a brand new enemy emerges from the depths of the ocean: a deadly rogue Jaeger dubbed Obsidian Fury. In the wake of this devastating attack, Jake and Nate are forced to cast their petty differences aside as they learn more about this unknown foe — was it human or alien? — the guys discovering that another earth-shattering terror was about to be unleashed, one that could tear through entire cities and potentially bring the planet to its knees.
Honoring the sci-fi/ fantasy universe nutted out by Guillermo del Toro in the initial picture whilst expanding the lore/ mythology, this second chapter of the Pacific Rim saga feels far less visionary. I mean, those rich and radiant, hyper-saturated visuals are gone, replaced by a far more naturalistic palette, the whole thing losing its stylistic appeal, Uprising kinda missing that distinct melding of gothic and futuristic, along with its moody, atmospheric kinks, its overall tone goofier than that of its precursor. Granted, we still get those mountain-sized neon-drenched nasties and some sleek, towering robotic warriors — thank heavens for that!
As one would expect, the high-octane mech v monster smash-ups (which, really, is what paying patrons have all come to see) wholeheartedly ‘bring it,’ with entire city blocks being reduced to rubble as the two-man-piloted mobile machines battle it out against colossal otherworldly beings of mass destruction, who (unfortunately) don’t really crop up until late in the third act. In their place, viewers are treated to some spankin’ new advisories in the form of Kaiju-Jaeger hybrids, along with a handful of gear-crunching Jaeger-on-Jaeger clashes, the super-powered war-bots beating the crap outta one another à la Michael Bay’s Transformers, these fights well-choreographed and nicely rendered by VFX houses Double Negative and Industrial Light & Magic.
But, amidst the jaw-dropping havoc, chaos and building-leveling, there’s not a lot of narrative weight, the screenplay coming across as a little pedestrian — think small-screen telly stuff, complete with wooden dialogue and next to no character growth — Uprising penned by director DeKnight, television scribes Emily Carmichael and Kira Snyder, along with T.S. Nowlin, The Maze Runner (2014), who was attached to the project early in its development. Sure, there are a couple of shocking story revelations — the way in which the Kaiju return comes as an unexpected surprise — and the addition of some startling twists and turns, with many of the returning characters given new water to chart, most not slipping back into their prior personas. And although struggling to justify its own existence, Uprising, to its credit, does explore some uncharted territory, even if the storyline becomes a tad too convoluted for its own good; quite frankly, the post-credit stinger (which teases a potential third installment) promises far more thrilling possibilities.
Aimed at the worldwide moviegoing market, the cast here is very multicultural. Replacing Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket as leading man (what happened to the dude?), John Boyega, Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), stands as one of Uprising’s principal assets, the 26-year-old Brit showcasing his sheer star-power, flexing his innate charm, charisma and wits as disgraced runaway pilot Jake Pentecost, Boyega (who looks like he’s having a ball of a time) imbuing the character with a roguish type of Han Solo swagger, Pentecost junior (just like his daddy before him) giving another apocalypse-cancelling speech — albeit not as rousing. Elsewhere, Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, The Brothers Bloom (2008), reprises her role as Mako Mori (who’s now a high-ranking officer at the PPDC) but is given much less to do this second time round, whereas franchise newcomer Scott Eastwood, Suicide Squad (2016), proves that he can act as Ranger Nathan Lambert, head of the PPDC training program/ one of the top Jaeger pilots in the fleet, this performance perhaps Eastwood’s most convincing.
Funny-man Charlie Day, Horrible Bosses (2011), and Burn Gorman, Crimson Peak (2015), also return as ‘mad scientists’ Newton ‘Newt’ Geiszler and Hermann Gottlieb, respectively, Day’s Newt (who feels more like a coked-up rockstar) now working for Shao Industries as head of research and development, whilst Dr. Gottlieb — currently focusing his efforts on Kaiju blood-reactive fuel systems — is still very-much employed by the PPDC, the twosome compelled to join forces after the explosive strike in Sydney; look, while both characters retain their loopiness and individual idiosyncrasies, the zany banter/ chemistry from the previous film is pretty much non-existent. Out of the kid recruits, only newcomer Cailee Spaeny makes an impression as smart, self-sufficient prodigy Amara Namani — who tragically lost her parents at age five in the Human-Kaiju War — while the rest of the rookies fail to register, most coming across as serviceable if not disposable. Finally, Chinese megastar Tian Jing, Kong: Skull Island (2017), adds a dash of menace and intrigue as Shao Liwen, the ruthless and clinical founder/ CEO of the privately owned Shao Industries, Liwen a genius whizz-kid who’ll literally stop at nothing to get her drone program implemented by the PPDC.
While most of the ingredients that made ’13’s Pacific Rim so darn impressive are more-or-less present, Uprising feels like a monster-sized step down, the movie missing that novelty factor and del Toro’s innovative touch. Despite its flaws, Pacific Rim: Uprising does, however, succeed as pulpy, turn-your-brain-off entertainment, and an okay way to spend two-or-so-hours. But, honestly, I was sorta left wanting more, the flick reminding me that first-rate technical bravado — such as dizzying action, exceptional CGI and smashing creature/ Jaeger designs — aren’t enough to fully salvage a film.
And c’mon, where was that cool ‘Untouchable’ 2Pac/ Ramin Djawadi ‘Pacific Rim theme’ mash-up that appeared in all of Uprising’s trailers?!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner