Pacific Rim: Uprising Takes the Weird Out of Pacific Rim
This giant robot sequel displays very little personality
Pacific Rim: Uprising takes place some 10 years following the events of the first movie. Former Jaeger pilot Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of hero Stacker Pentecost, is making his living as a scavenger and a thief. He ends up in trouble, and forced to return to the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps to act as trainer to a new generation of pilots. He is unhappily reunited with his former co-pilot, Nate (Scott Eastwood), and resigns himself to just staying out of trouble until his term is through. But it turns out that there are forces conspiring to bring the kaiju back to Earth, and Jake will have to rise to the occasion and defend the planet from this brewing threat.
This sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 film doesn’t seem to be as concerned with conveying its own specific personality. In fact, it shares a pretty striking resemblance to 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence, which was also a sequel partly funded by Chinese producers, and also happens to have a main character named Jake. The film shuffles through some formulaic beats, turning this story set in a wild world of giant robots into a strangely tedious slog.
Pacific Rim was a flawed film at best, but it displayed a penchant for world building. Its most interesting sequences broke out of the giant-robot-fighting-monsters paradigm to explore the society created by this unusual situation. This sequel displays none of that attention to detail, and practically no curiosity about the world outside the military context. It establishes a bit of an underground economy in its opening moments, and then never mentions it again. For the most part, the movie is stuck on a military base, playing out familiar beats between our renegade pilot hero and his straight-laced former best friend.
It takes a while to get to the giant robot action, too, and when we get there, the robots end up feeling less impressive. Another part of the appeal of Pacific Rim was how it made its robots feel like real, tangible machines, assemblages of metal and technology that bore real weight. This movie’s sleek, flashier designs lose the practical aspects, and while this theoretically makes for more fluid sequences, the result just feels less impactful. It becomes about watching cartoons flail around in cartoon environments.
Where this film has an advantage over the first movie is in its cast. John Boyega is an entertaining, livewire presence, and he keeps things moving along. Scott Eastwood remains an unknown quantity in terms of real acting skill, but the fact that he looks so much like his father does go a long way. Jing Tian, coming in as the requisite Chinese star in a Chinese co-production, is kind of stuck in a role that calls for much less than what she can do. But her presence works well enough. Burn Gorman, Charlie Day, and Rinko Kikuchi return to reprise their roles from the first movie, and they do some really solid work.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is a paint-by-numbers blockbuster version of the first movie. Pacific Rim was often pretty clunky, but its weaknesses were couched in a compelling willingness to just get weird with things. It is tough to say what makes this sequel different from any other recent VFX-driven blockbuster. There are sequences in here where it wouldn’t be at all strange to replace any of these giant robots with one of the Transformers. Or to just cut in any military base-set scene from any other these action tentpole releases. It wouldn’t really matter. The movie would work just as well as it does.
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.