It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim introduced us to a world of Kaiju and Jaegers. I had to re-watch the original as I had only vague memories of it, which speak volumes as to why it took five years for a sequel. It was an entertaining and mindless Saturday afternoon matinee adventure, but it didn’t necessarily kick start a franchise. Yet, it definitely had the feel of a del Toro film. Unfortunately, del Toro is now just a producer as he steps aside to let Steven DeKnight take the helm. And if you’ve never heard of DeKnight, that’s an indication of where Pacific Rim: Uprising is headed.
DeKnight is well known in Hollywood as a producer, with such television shows as Daredevil and Spartacus to his credit. However, his directing credits are scare with only seven television episodes to his name, leaving Pacific Rim: Uprising as his feature film directorial debut. His inexperience comes into play as choices are made to move the franchise into a direction where the Kaiju are secondary to the overall story.
It’s now ten years after the war and the world is moving forward, rebuilding and restructuring in the aftermath of devastation. Some coastal cities remain ghost towns and old Jaeger tech is priceless on the black market as people want to build their own Jaegers. Enter Amara Mamani (Cailee Spaeny), a young girl who witnessed a Kaiju kill her family, sending her down a troubled path despite her high intelligence and adaptability. When she steals some tech before Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) can get to it, he follows her back to her lair, where she has built her own Jaeger, named Scrapper. Unfortunately, the authorities soon arrive and it appears they are both headed to jail. However, Jake is the son of the late Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba in the first film) and his sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) saves him by putting him back into the Jaeger program with Amara joining a young group of cadets.
Meanwhile, there is evil on the horizon as Liwen Shao (Tian Jing) has a plan to automate the Jaegers. Of course, all doesn’t go as planned and, eventually, we get to actually see some Kaiju. The lack of Kaiju is one of the key problems in the movie. Much of the first movie was monsters vs. robots but here, it’s mostly robots vs. robots and a lot of plot before we get to the big battle sequence. Now, Pacific Rim barely had much of a plot but it worked for what it attempted to do. Unfortunately, too much plot here in the sequel slows down the pace and the film would have benefitted from another run through the editing room. There were some fun twists but some of the explanations given to justify the plot developments don’t always go in sync with the events of the first film to the point of contradiction.
I enjoyed John Boyega as the main lead but he needs to branch out into something different or he’s going to find himself typecast very quickly. This is the first big film for Cailee Spaeny and I look forward to her future efforts. It was fun to see our scientist pair back from the first film (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) but Scott Eastwood spends most of the film in grouchy drill sergeant mode. I think he’s slightly better than his predecessor from the first but that’s not saying much.
I don’t think Pacific Rim: Uprising is a total disaster but it’s trying hard to generate interest in a franchise that wasn’t really there to begin with. I think the first film was good as a one and done but I can’t say I’m anxious for a third film, which is clearly set up at the end. Time will tell whether the box office is enough to talk about a trilogy. There are worse options out there right now but there’s also better, so maybe wait for the rental and dust off an old Godzilla or Gamera flick instead. They tend to be a lot more fun because they never pretend to be more than they are.