STARRING: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Jing Tian, Adria Arjona, Zhang Jin, Karan Brar, Ivanna Sakhno, Mackenyu, Shyrley Rodriguez, Levi Meaden, Rahart Adams, Zhu Zhu and Nick E. Tarabay
Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.
Ten years have passed since the Battle of the Breach in Pacific Rim, where Kaiju War hero Stacker Pentecost sacrificed his life to save the world. Now we follow his son Jake, a former Jaeger pilot that makes a living stealing and selling Jaeger parts on the black market. When given the choice between prison and returning to PPDC as an instructor, Jake reunites with adoptive Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots against a new Kaiju threat.
In 2013 Guillermo del Toro released his giant robots versus monster spectacle, Pacific Rim, which either critics and film viewers thought it was decent to not great. Fast forward five years and now we finally get a sequel to del Toro’s Pacific Rim universe in Pacific Rim: Uprising, directed by Steven S. DeKnight, who makes his directorial feature debut here after spending a few decades working in television (creator of Spartacus, showrunner on the first season of Daredevil to name but a few). Here we pick up ten years after the events of the original film where we focus on Jake Pentecost, son of Kaiju War hero Stacker Pentecost, we see him living a life of stealing and selling Jaeger tech on the black market. Once captured by police, he’s given the choice between prison or returning to PPDC (Pan-Pacific Defense Corps) to become an instructor. He reluctantly agrees to return to PPDC, reuniting with his adoptive sister Mako Mori, his former co-pilot Nate Lambert and scrappy scavenger Amara as a new kind of threat from the Kaiju’s surface.
I very much enjoyed del Toro’s original film, particularly the scale of the Jaegers and Kaiju’s once they went into battle in the middle of these massive cities. Uprising replaces the neon-lit night fights in the rain from the original with daylight city brawls and for the most part this works in the sequels benefit as the action is clear-cut and the special effects on show here are mostly impressive. In terms of performances I thought John Boyega was charismatic as Jake Pentecost, and I liked his initial arc of how the son is carrying the burden of being within his father’s shadow, especially considering that he sacrificed his life to save the world, and reluctantly rejoins the programme and gradually takes on the leadership role of a new squad of cadets. I also initially liked Cailee Spaeny’s performance as scrapyard Jaeger builder Amara Namani, a kid with a tragic backstory and her own personal Bumblebee-esque Jaeger Scrapper. Jing Tian, who has appeared in the last few Legendary features (The Great Wall and Kong: Skull Island), was decent as Liwen Shao, founder of the Shao Corporation and head of the program that’s set to replace Jaeger pilots with drones.
For the most part, the biggest issue I had with the film is the multiple stories that is running across the course of the film. There’s four writers behind the screenplay and it shows, there’s Jake’s story, Amara looking to gain a greater purpose, the new generation academy, Jake and Nate’s re-affirming their friendship, the drones replacing humans as Jaeger pilots, Dr. Newt Geiszler’s whole storyline (which I’ll get into in a bit) and of course the Jaegers versus Kaiju. With a film that’s runtime is under two hours, I think it’s rather bloated in that regard and too many stories end up diluting the story arcs that were actually interesting (Jake, Amara’s arcs). For the most part in Uprising, the cast of characters are rather bland and the actors/actresses aren’t given much to work with, particularly Belko Experiment’s Adria Arjona. From the original, I’ll be one of the few that would say enjoyed Charlie Day’s performance as Dr. Newt Geiszler and here he starts out decent enough, but then his character has a certain arc that people will either accept or it’ll completely throw them off the film. The film tries to build on the mythology of the Kaiju, such as they were created by the Precursors, yet we learn absolutely nothing new about them and in terms of an ending, the film literally ends abruptly and we have a stinger that literally feels like it was taken out of Independence Day: Resurgence. For people coming in expecting the film to be filled with constant Jaeger/Kaiju action, I reckon they’ll be disappointed as the action sequences take a while to actually happen, probably more near the halfway mark of the film.
While it has a better lead and its fight sequences and special effects are well done, the sequel attempts to expand upon the mythology of the Kaiju and feels like there is too many cooks in the kitchen of creating a worthy sequel whilst also trying to set up another instalment for the future. 4/10