OnScreen Review: "Pacific Rim Uprising"

Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

It should be surprising to no one that a sequel has been made to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 blockbuster Pacific Rim. It made enough money worldwide to catch the eye of the studio and put out a sequel nearly five years later. It’s always a bit of a crap shoot as to what kind of sequel you’re going to get when the director moves on and is just in a producer role the second time around. Pacific Rim Uprising definitely falls into a specific of category of sequel, the one where the original star is jettisoned but enough of the familiar faces return to make it bear enough of a resemblance to the original.

Uprising is set 10 years after the conclusion of Pacific Rim, where the world has not had a Kaiju attack since The Breach was closed. The Jaegers, giant robotic mechs controlled by two people sharing a mental link, are still in use, but are now used as sentinel patrols to police safety and to crack down on the Jaeger black market. This black market is where Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost, is living on the fringes of after washing out of the Jaeger Program. While scavenging for Jaeger parts, he gets arrested along with Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a teenager who built her own small Jaeger. Jake and Amara are given a last and second chance, respectively, by Jake’s adopted sister Mako, (Rinko Kikuchi), a former Jaeger pilot from the first movie who is now in charge of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. Jake begins training cadets alongside his former Jaeger co-pilot Nate (Scott Eastwood). They are soon thrust into action when a new and more dangerous threat appears in the form of an unidentified Jaeger and a plot to re-open rift and end humanity.

pac1.jpg

While the action is solid and the special effects relating to the Jaegers and Kaiju remain on par with the original movie, this film is a notable step down from the first one. There just is not much to recommend about this movie other than being an action movie where giant robots fight giant monsters and other giant robots and you can shut your brain off and just watch $150 million is spent on a blockbuster because the majority of the budget for this film was spent on the visuals aspects of the film. There’s always a place for that kind of movie. Pacific Rim was slightly more than that because Guillermo del Toro as a director always brings a baseline competence and emotional resonance to the storytelling that grounds the characters in something human and relatable, even when they are fighting giant monsters from another dimension. There is very little complexity to be found here.

The movie pays nominal lip service to the public debate in the real world about drone strikes; a Chinese company run by Liwen Shao (Jing Tian) is on the verge of replacing the Jaeger pilots with drone Jaegers piloted remotely. Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) now works for Shao instead of the PPDC, though Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) is still in their labs. Having the existence of a Jaeger black market is a fairly unique twist on the existence of a Kaiju black market that was so prominent in the original film, but both of these aspects of the film only service as delivery devices of characters and plot twists and don’t do much to enhance the quality of the story.

What is most surprising with this movie is the complete removal of Charlie Hunnam’s main character of Raleigh Becket from the storyline. There is literally no mention made whatsoever of him in this sequel. Mako, his Jaeger co-pilot and love interest is back, but he is completely scrubbed from the picture. Part of this is because Hunnam was unavailable to film to sequel and they apparently wanted to leave the door open for a potential third installment, but it’s still a rather bizarre and notable absence.

In fact, Hunnam’s absence made me think of another sequel that Pacific Rim Uprising closely resembles: Independence Day: Resurgence. There are a lot of similarities between these two blockbuster sequels, beyond “uprising” being a synonym for “resurgence.” A major star of the original does not return (Will Smith and Charlie Hunnam). Both sequels are about fighting off bigger, alien invasions. The sequel prominently features the son of one of the main characters from the original. A main character from the original gets killed off midway through to up the stakes. Finally, without giving away too much, their codas express the exact same sentimet, this time around in a mid-credits scene.

If you are a fan of action films and need something to occupy your eyes while your brain shuts off, Pacific Rim Uprising is probably one of the better options out there. It is a better version of Independence Day: Resurgence or any of the Transformers movies, but this sequel does not come close to reaching the spectacle or the overall quality of the original.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars