5.5 out of 10
John Boyega as Jake Pentecost
Directed by Steven S. DeKnight
Pacific Rim Uprising Review:
It’s surprising we got a sequel to Pacific Rim at all, considering its domestic box office, although the film does have its share of stalwart fans (of which I am one) and it did gangbuster business in China. Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham’s giant monsters vs. giant robots saga may play to the cheap seats from time to time, but Del Toro gave the movie his own personal touches, and a sense of scale and class that lifted the material past its pulpy origins to create something special. Travis Beacham’s script knew when to be silly and when to be serious. There’s a lot of heart to Pacific Rim, and it refuses to be cynical, unlike, say, if Michael Bay had made it. Charm goes a long way, especially if the filmmakers mean it.
Unfortunately, while parts of Pacific Rim Uprising mean well — and that’s almost completely centered on John Boyega’s performance — the law of diminishing returns comes in with a vengeance, and while the movie tries to throw a plot twist here and there, the film feels like it was made by committee. Director Steven S. DeKnight, fresh off Netflix’s Daredevil, can’t sustain the grandiose heights of the original. A lot of Pacific Rim Uprising feels small, even though, yes, we get more monsters and more robots. At times the plot feels overstuffed and unevenly paced, when it works; much of the story makes about as much sense as a Saturday morning cartoon, with characters behaving strangely only because the story dictates they must. Even the characters that return from the previous film seem as if they have no idea what movie they are in, and the nonsensical story just tosses them around with little grace.
The only character that seems to have any spirit to him is John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost, son to Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost. It’s been ten years since Stacker’s death, and there have been no sign of the Kaiju since. Jake is not a part of the Jaeger program; he washed out early, and spends his days looking for Jaeger scraps to sell to the black market. While the Kaiju threat is gone, the Pan Pacific Defense Corps is still operational, and the film doesn’t do a very good job of explaining why, since there aren’t any more giant monsters to fight, except that if there weren’t any Jaegers still around, there wouldn’t be much of a movie. Jake crosses paths with Amara Namani, a tinker who’s built her own mini-Jaeger out of scrap. Both get the attention of Marshal Quan, who wants Jake to return to cadet training along with Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and assist in the transition to a drone program headed by Liwen Shao (Tian Jing) and aided by Doctors Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and Geissler (Charlie Day). But when a drone suddenly attacks a city, Jake and Nate must investigate why before the drones are brought online.
There is so much plot and exposition, delivered at a breakneck pace, within the first half hour that it’s difficult to keep up, and it doesn’t help that the actors delivering it seem about as interested in the material as they are in reading a shopping list. Boyega seems to be the only one showing up for the movie with any spark; everyone else seems like they are simply reading their lines (Scott Eastwood, especially, seems to have all the flavor of tap water) to get to the next scene. The only other actor who doesn’t seem bored by the film is Charlie Day, but his performance seems so caffeinated that he becomes grating every moment he’s onscreen. His character, by the way, has the most cynical arc of the movie, and he seems lost to the tidal waves of story necessity, without any real motivation behind it.
But what about the robot/monster fights? They’re fine. If that’s what an audience is paying to see, the movie doesn’t shy away from the spectacle. The first film’s battles were mostly at night; in Pacific Rim Uprising we get to see the Kaiju and the Jaegers in the light of day, and it still feels diminished in comparison. There are a few nice moments, but there’s nothing as riveting as the sword reveal in the first film, or when Gipsy Danger goes to town on a Kaiju with a freighter as a baseball bat. Here we just get more. Guillermo del Toro had input on the Kaiju and Jaeger designs, and it shows, but it’s not enough to sustain interest.
For those looking for simple Saturday matinee entertainment, Pacific Rim Uprising might fit the bill. It certainly feels like a movie one would enjoy while eating sugary cereal on the couch. Guillermo del Toro has obviously moved onward and upward since the first film, but Pacific Rim Uprising needed someone with vision to take fans of the first film into uncharted territory. Instead, we get a diluted copy of the original. Perhaps this will do well enough overseas to warrant a third film – Pacific Rim was saved through overseas box office. If so, hopefully a filmmaker will come at this with fresh eyes and perspective. For now, though, Pacific Rim Uprising is all roar, no bite.