Pacific Rim Uprising review Cailee SpaenyYear: 2018
Director(s): Steven DeKnight
Writer(s): Steven DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, T.S. Nowlin
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 116 mins

Synopsis: 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. (Source)

Without Guillermo del Toro at the helm, Pacific Rim Uprising just can’t escape the shadow of its predecessor. Whereas the original had del Toro’s immersive world building and a blinding dose of sincerity, this new chapter falls flat on every level, playing out through a fun, but dissonant clang of robot action. Sure, there are more battles and a clever twist to the mythology, but the film’s absence of heart and gargantuan scale is noticeable at every turn. On the plus side, the film’s relentless pace helps to gloss over its lack of identity, and a new, more diverse cast sizzles with energy. In the end, though, a fresh-faced ensemble can’t hide the fact that this film feels more like a cash grab designed to sell toys, rather than spectacle that brims with imagination and awe. 

The story picks up years after the first film. Following a last stand with high costs, there have been no new Kaiju attacks since the massive creatures’ inter-dimensional breach was closed. Still, the world waits in anticipation, and the Pan Pacific Defense Corps continues to train a new crop of Jaeger pilots should a new threat arise. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) lives amongst the ruins of this world. He scrapes by, avoiding the legacy of his famed Jaeger pilot father while selling battle ruins to the highest bidder. His attempts to remain under the radar are thwarted, however, when he meets a scrappy young hacker named Amara (Cailee Spaeny), who just happens to have built her own pint-size Jaeger. After a salvage gone wrong, Jake and Amara are caught by the PPDC, unwittingly enlisted for their talents, and thrust into the middle of an apocalyptic conspiracy. 

Overall, the film is a confounding mixed bag that seems to go out of its way to cancel its merits with some puzzling narrative and execution choices. On one hand, DeKnight can be commended for trying to give the film its own voice. The threat also comes from an unlikely place, twisting elements from the first film to create a new, truly interesting villain. Pacing is also punched up and a few character relationships are a bit more satisfying than the previous film. To arrive at all of these pluses, though, the film cancels a lot of what made the first film so great. Most of the original characters are absent, handled horribly or given progressions that seem to have been handed to them out of spite. While the action moves fast and furious, it has none of the weight, majesty or stakes of the original. The final battle is so mind-numbingly destructive, that any humanity or scale is lost in the rubble, and all of the generic CGI and final act logic feels as if its been ripped from a Saturday morning cartoon. In essence, the film snuffs out its own life, providing a spark here or two, but never standing on its own two legs. 

Pacific Rim Uprising review John BoyegaThe cast fares better. John Boyega continues to be an irreplaceable presence, giving Jake a perspective that grounds a lot of the film’s silliness. Boyega is watchable no matter what he does, and the film’s by-the-numbers plot benefits from his ability to make things feel natural and earned. Opposite, Cailee Spaeny is a great addition, giving the film its heart and contrasting against Boyega’s anti-heroic slant. Spaeny has real conviction through every deed, and adds a lot of youthful spark. Returning performers, Burn Gorman and Charlie Day’s Gottlieb and Geiszler (respectively) have a few moments to shine, but their characters are annoyingly broken up for most of the runtime – when they finally get together, it doesn’t feel earned, and there’s a development that tears them apart even further. Jing Tian’s Shao is also great, but sadly where the film goes wrong is Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako. One of the original’s greatest assets, here she’s given an arc that completely betrays the nuance and depth that del Toro originally gave her.

Pacific Rim: Uprising is a misguided sequel that hates its origins yet is miraculously a brainless good time. For that reason, the film is monumentally frustrating, a self-cancelling mix of good and bad. If we’re being honest, DeKnight’s film feels like a pre-Netflix direct-to-DVD sequel, back when video store shelves would get filled with low-budget sequels that no one would ever see or hear about. I can’t be completely mad about the finished product, but I also wish that this world and its characters could’ve been treated with a bit more respect and imagination. As a derivative stand-alone, Uprising would’ve been fine, but as a sequel that’s standing on the shoulders of something truly great, it’s an epic, missed opportunity.