The sequel to Pacific Rim is finally releasing! Does Pacific Rim: Uprising do the first film justice? How is John Boyega as a leading man? Come inside for our official review!
A Sequel Full of Surprises
10 years have passed since the Apocalypse was cancelled in the first Pacific Rim film. The world has started to rebuild itself. Cities are beginning to thrive again, except for the ones directly affected by the last great Kaiju attack. Meanwhile, the government has started to restore order by turning Jaegers into peacekeepers, but always with one eye on the possible return of the other-worldly creatures.
The first act of the sequel takes a page out of the first Pacific Rim film by introducing us to an unlikely hero who for one reason or another has left the military, specifically the Drift program. Instead of Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket, Pacific Rim Uprising follows Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Idris Elba’s late great hero from the first film. As you can probably guess, Pentecost couldn’t stand living in his father’s shadow so he turns away from the Jaeger-life he was promised in favor of being free in the Kaiju-free world. It isn’t until an encounter with a Jaeger savant, Amara Namani (Cailee Spainy), goes awry that he’s forced to return to the Jaegers, just in time for a threat no one saw coming to present itself.
In fact, that’s one of the coolest parts of Uprising, all the twists and turns. Unlike the first film, which seemed pretty straightforward, Pacific Rim Uprising features a villain that is so out-of-nowhere, no one could possibly have seen it coming. One of the common themes in the action genre of American cinema is the need to have a hero and a villain, otherwise the film feels lacking. That trend holds true for about 50% of the film, as you wonder who is this film’s big bad. Director Steven S. DeKnight tries to use smokescreens and red herrings to throw you off the scent until he’s ready to present the true villain. The great thing is, he’s able to pull it off in spades, creating a jaw-dropping plot twist that’s just amazing to experience.
New Characters Make Their Own Way
Where Uprising differs from the first is that it doesn’t spend nearly as much time using the Drift function as a vehicle for exposition. Sure, they use it once or twice, but it’s not as frequent as the first Pacific Rim film. Instead, they use more dialogue and moments with the new characters to help develop the future of this franchise. It becomes clear, early on, that Uprising is meant to tell us that the torch has already been passed and now it’s time for us enjoy this new crop of “Rangers”.
This message feels forced in the first act, as the introduction of Jake and Amara feels dangerously close to one of Michael Bay’s abysmal Transformers films. However, their chemistry throughout the film grows to a point where you’re able to connect with these new characters and even root for them.
Boyega and Spainy aren’t the only new players added to the Pacific Rim team. In fact, Universal added at least 9 new characters to help connect the film to a younger audience, while growing the franchise. Once Jake rejoins the Jaeger program, it appears that the film is mainly going to focus on Jake and his rivalry with Scott Eastwood’s by-the-book character, Nate Lambert. If you ever saw Fate of the Furious, think of his CIA character but in a Jaeger, so not much range being shown by the young Eastwood. It’s actually really strange how the film pivots from a love triangle based on Jake’s affections for what’s assumed to be Lambert’s girlfriend, Jules Reyes (Adria Arjona), to an afterthought once the action starts rolling to a joke.
This rivalry ends up being pushed by the wayside in the second half in favor of focusing on the cadets and their mission to stop the impending threat. The new kids do a good job of selling their motives and personalities in a short amount of time. It’s enough to make even the most cynical filmgoer root for the new youths.
If you’re thinking that this film just forgets about the more established characters, that’s definitely not the case. While Charlie Hunnam doesn’t return and Idris Elba can’t, Uprising sees the return of Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), and Charlie Day’s Dr. Newton Geiszler reprising their old roles, just with higher job statuses. Hunnam and even Ron Perlman are noticeable misses in Uprising, but the return of these beloved characters, along with Boyega’s talent as a leading man more than makes up for their losses.
Lack of Balance of Villains Highlights the Problems
While the first Pacific Rim didn’t give us as many Jaegers in action as we would’ve wanted, they did give us a healthy portion of Kaijus. In Uprising, they reverse that and give us way more Jaegers with hardly any Kaijus to fight. What’s more disappointing is that, when there are several enemies and the situation is starting to get dire and exciting, those enemies are quickly defeated. The use of enemies feels similar to a standard episode of Power Rangers, just bigger. Several enemies → fewer enemies → one giant enemy. I understand that the point of a sequel is to try and not re-do exactly what was done in the first film, but if I’m going into a giant monster movie, I want to see massive creatures fighting giant robots on a more frequent basis. Not make quick work of them at break-neck speeds.
The lack of enemies is definitely the biggest issue, but another problem I had was with the humor. What I liked about the first film was that the humor seemed to be spread out in decent-sized portions at much-needed times. In Uprising, they turn the humor up a few notches, so much so that a lot of the jokes don’t tend to hit as well as they should. With comedy, sometimes less is more.
Furthermore, at times it felt as if Boyega was reprising his role as Finn, in Star Wars, with the heavy helping of comedic moments from a character who is supposed to lead these new characters. Granted, he accomplishes his mission toward the latter half, but the similarities between his two characters are pretty darn close, in the beginning. I’m not saying he needed to be Idris Elba, but allowing him to stretch his legs and be his own character, not a cross between Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, and Finn would’ve been nice.
Ready for More?
The first Pacific Rim film didn’t explicitly open itself to more films, but it did hint that more could come, especially when Gypsy Danger jumped to the other side. Contrary to that approach, Uprising takes the more direct method and all but confirming that they’re doing a 3rd film. The way it’s done feels presumptuous, but not at all unwelcome. Actually, it would be a shame if Universal didn’t do a 3rd film to follow the events of Uprising. I would hope that they would bring back the latest characters, instead of having to go through the process of re-introducing new players to a movie that needs a lot of action.
All in all, Pacific Rim Uprising is well-worth the price of admission. The CGI was on point, even if they didn’t give us nearly as many Kaijus as we may have wanted. The introduction of new characters and watching them grow as they fight together makes up for some of what the film is missing. Surprisingly, the film could use more action, but the action that is shown makes this film an experience worth watching in IMAX.