Despite not having revisited it since my initial viewing I have good memories of the first Pacific Rim, it managed to capture the awe-inspiring nature of watching giant robots fight giant monsters. The less than stellar reviews for the sequel had me disheartened, but enough goodwill had carried over and I was willing to give Uprising a shot.
Turns out I probably shouldn’t have.
Set ten years after the first film, the film finds Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Idris Elba, living off-the-grid and making a living selling black-market Jaeger parts. After a run-in with Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a young orphan living in a workshop and building her own mini-jaegers, the two of them are arrested by the PPDC (Pan-Pacific Defence Corps) but instead of jail-time, Jake is invited by Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), his adoptive sister and now Secretary General of the PPDC, to join them and bring Amara as a new recruit.
Upon arrival at the PPDC headquarters in China, Jake is initially hesitant having already tried and failed to be a Jaeger pilot before his father’s death and the animosity between him and former co-pilot Nate (Scott Eastwood) is still lingering. Despite this, he stays and Mako reveals that the Jaeger programme is under threat from a drone programme developed by tech giant Shao Liwen (Jing Tian), aided by Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) from the first film. However, during a summit in Sydney to discuss the future of the drone programme, a rogue Jaeger called “Obsidian Fury” attacks and kills Mako before making its escape.
With little information to go on, Jake becomes determined to find Mako’s killer and doubles-down on helping the PPDC, but the further they dig, the more they realize that their fight with the Kaiju is far from over.
This is a difficult plot to explain because there’s a whole lot going on, and yet nothing at the same time. To properly explain the main plot I’d have to cover the first hour and change this to a 100 minute movie review. The film always feels like their building something up then it just keeps building and building to the point that you’re no longer interested in what it becomes. You just want something concrete to build the rest of the story around, then when you do find out what’s going on, it leaves you with a severe case of ‘Really? That’s it?’
I’ll give the story some credit for avoiding a lot of clichés. Making Amara a teenager allowed them to avoid any shitty romance subplot between her and Jake and instead focus on a mutual friendship. Likewise, while there were hints that Jake was going to steal Nate’s girlfriend, that never became a thing after the Kaiju attacked and more pressing matter became the focus. But it takes way, way too long for the Kaiju to be brought back into the mix and the motivations of the real villain is nicked from Man of Steel and at least two Transformers movies.
Characters were a bit of a let-down, despite them all being the focus of the final act. The Jaeger recruits that Jake and Amara join are a bunch of nobodies filling out the film’s diversity quota including the tough blonde one, the friendly Asian one, and a Russian who (and I’m not joking here) watched the “Troll Song” to calm down. Nate’s girlfriend doesn’t get a name because she’s such a non-entity, while Nate himself exists solely because the film didn’t want to put Jake and Amara in the same Jaeger until we needed the stakes raised at the ending, otherwise, complete waste of space. Shao Liwen almost falls into that same category, starting off as a cold-hearted businesswoman, but she does enough to redeem herself that I’m almost willing to give her a pass.
Newt and Hermann (Burn Gormann) both return, now working on opposite sides with Newt working for Shao and Hermann staying with the PPDC. As nice as it was seeing them again, I didn’t care for either one. Hermann was one step above a comic relief character and where Newt ends up is almost laughable, except it’s not funny. It’s definitely a much bigger role for Charlie Day and could’ve worked under different circumstances, but the film just doesn’t make it work.
In her short time onscreen, Kikuchi reminds us of why Mako was the best character from the last film and why killing off was a dumb idea because there was a lot of potential to actually build something between her and Jake. Both of them being adoptive siblings, but screw that cause we need people dead. For his part, Boyega does a good job as Jake, a couple clichéd developments with him being the underachieving son of a war hero and a charming rogue who doesn’t play by the rules. But to Boyega’s credit he is charming enough to pull it off and plays Jake as someone who does actually give a shit, but plays it off because he didn’t want to be his dad. He rises from cheeky git who puts too many toppings on his ice-cream to battlefield commander which is subtle and Boyega pulls it off quite nicely.
Amara had the potential to be the film’s best character, she’s young but clearly capable having survived on her own, and built her own Jaeger. The film spent a lot of time on her then there’s a whole chunk where she’s just not in the film while they focus on Jake and the rogue Jaegers before she’s just there again in the finale. She’s probably still is the best character in the film and I think they do just enough to build the friendship between her and Jake, but there was definitely room for more. Honestly, I kinda wanted her to play a bigger part in the ending.
With Del Toro off winning Oscars for Merman sex, the directing duties fell to Steven S. Deknight, creator of Spartacus and show-running for the first season of Daredevil in his feature debut. As a fan of both of those shows, I’m sad to say that Deknight doesn’t cut it here. I was with him initially, with the first major action scene being a Jaeger vs. Jaeger fight and I was into it as being something new. It was a case of who had the better tech rather than fighting off against brute strength. But then they repeated again in Siberia and even with the novelty of robots fighting in the land of the ice and snow, that can’t change the fact that it’s essentially copying itself from moments earlier.
The kicker comes during the finale when they finally bring the Kaiju in and it’s fairly disappointing. The first film made such a big deal out of Category 4 and 5’s being nearly impossible to kill and yet the big action set-piece at the end has the PPDC facing off against two Cat 4s and a 5 and making easy work of them until the Mega-Kaiju shows up which, despite what the name suggest, is not as impressive as it sounds. The problem is there’s no sense of scale to the battles, sure everything is huge and crashes through buildings, but there’s no weight to anything. It all looks big without feeling big, there’s nothing about the fights to give you that feeling that you’re watching something awesome, nothing like watching a Jaeger use a container ship as a baseball bat against a Kaiju’s face. The final battle tries to recapture that with a slow-motion sequence, then another, then another, another, and another until it’s lost all meaning within the 20 minutes they show the ton of them. I’ll admit that the film is never boring and there’s a few breaks of levity with decent comedy, but it’s all an empty spectacle. It’s never as exciting as it wants to be and suffers for that.
Coming off the first Pacific Rim, it’s hard not to see Uprising as a disappointment, as its own film, and it’s pretty sub-par. The story takes too long to kick in, most of the characters are barely worth mentioning, and the action struggles to recapture that same massive scale robots VS monster battle majesty of the first film. Not bad, but far from good.
I am giving Pacific Rim: Uprising a 2 ½ out of 5 Hairpieces!