Dir. Steven S. DeKnight
Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Rinko Kikuchi, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Tian Jing
In 2013, when the first Pacific Rim was released, the film was a breath of fresh air. Guillermo Del Toro showed the bloated Transformers franchise how giant, fighting robots should be done. I loved the way the film transported me back to being a kid, playing with action figures, and watching Saturday morning television. The first film wasn’t an out and out hit, but it made enough money, especially in China, for a sequel to be green lit. Del Toro returns with a producers credit, but the man calling the shots this time around is Steven S. DeKnight, fresh off of ushering Daredevil to the small screen. John Boyega is also taking a more active role in production as a producer. I went in hoping I was going to get more of what I loved from the first movie, and I left pretty happy.
Pacififc Rim: Uprising is set 10 years after the events of the first movie. The breach which allowed the Kaiju (giant monsters) to enter our world from a parallel universe has been sealed, and the world is attempting to recover now that the threat has gone. Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost who sacrificed himself at the end of the first movie. Jake is a drop out from Jaeger academy, a self-professed hustler who steals junk parts to sell to those who are building their own Jaegers (giant robots). When he meets Amara Namani, played by Cailee Spaeny, a young girl who has built her own Jaeger, they draw the attention of local law enforcement and are soon arrested. Facing prison, Jake decides to re-enlist in the Jaeger programme, and train a new batch of recruits, which now includes Namani. He tells his sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and old frenemy Nate (Scott Eastwood), that the programme is waste of time, but soon a new threat emerges.
This film is heaps of big, dumb, fun. Of course, it’s all complete nonsense, that’s part of the point. It’s the simplicity of the plot which allows you to just lean back and enjoy yourself. The world building of the first movie was done so well that you enter this movie believing the world you’re in, and buying into the premise. It’s giant robots fighting giant robots, and giant robots fighting giant monsters. It’s essentially Power Rangers on steroids. There’s a human element to the story too, which drives the plot, and gives the spectacle enough personality that you can connect to the humans inside the robots, and therefore connect to the robots. It’s a similar trick to what Jon Favreau pulled off with Iron Man with the inside the helmet shots of Tony Stark. It’s this balance of spectacle and character which really puts the Transformer franchise to shame.
The film looks fantastic too. The CGI has improved, and by giving the robots distinct looks and traits, you actually know which one is which. DeKnight handles all the action incredibly well, and every time a fight broke out I had a huge grin on my face. The returning cast are all brilliant; Rinko Kikuchi returns as Mako Mori, in a brief but effective turn. We also have the return of Burn Gorman and Charlie Day, as Dr. Herman Gottlieb and Dr. Newton Geiszler, respectively. These two are great fun whenever they’re on the screen, and their chemistry together is a joy to watch. The newcomers do well too. Cailee Spaeny injects an equal amount of bravado and vulnerability into a character which could have easily been too precocious. Scott Eastwood doesn’t stretch himself too far, but is charismatic and likeable. The real star of course is John Boyega. Oozing charm, and natural star power, he easily own the movie.
The main problem with this movie is that it isn’t quite as good as the first one. It gets off to a wobbly start. The first twenty minutes feels too forced, and I worried that I was going to be annoyed by the new characters. The jokes don’t seem to quite land, and the voice over felt too heavy handed. It also lacks the gravitas of the first film. Boyega’s speech isn’t as good as Elba’s cancelling the apocalypse speech, which the film kind of acknowledges. It also lacked the weight of the first film. When the pilots are moving the Jaegers in the first film it felt laborious, as if there was more of a tangible connection between man and machine. The movement in Uprising felt too light and nimble. The biggest thing of all it misses is the Del Toro touch. When I think of the first movie I think of young Mako in a blue coat walking through the wreckage of her city holding one red shoe. It was such a striking image, and sadly Uprising offers nothing as profound as this.
Uprising is an entertainingly stupid watch. A proper popcorn movie which asks you to leave your brain in the foyer, and just enjoy yourself. It’s a rollercoaster ride. It’s not going to stay with you for long afterwards, and it’s not going to change your life. It’s not even as good as the first film, but the charming cast, and the briskness in which it has been directed all amounts to an enjoyable experience. Another film is teased at the end, and I, for one, would certainly buy a ticket for that.