“Pacific Rim: Uprising,” dir. Steven S. DeKnight
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.
It’s been almost five years since the release of “Pacific Rim,” a dazzling action extravaganza from the brilliant mind of Guillermo del Toro. It was a film full of pure fun and grand, stylish sequences. Unlike the similar “Transformers” franchise, there was a clear passion for Kaiju movies and giant robots that made the end result a piece of entertainment not only for kids but the kid at heart. Steven S. DeKnight takes over directing duties this time around as del Toro was busy making this year’s Best Picture winner, “The Shape of Water.” With a new cast of characters as well as a few returning faces, “Pacific Rim: Uprising” carries over a certain level of fun but feels more stale.
One of the few areas where this film improves upon its predecessor is with its main character. John Boyega plays the son of Idris Elba’s character from the original film. Just like with his work in “Attack the Block” and the recent “Star Wars” films, he has a commanding screen presence and solid comedic timing, a welcome change from Charlie Hunnam’s stoic performance in the first film. Co-star Cailee Spaeny does a good job early on as Amara, conveying a childlike sense of awe seeing these larger than life Jaegers up close.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn’t offer much in terms of fun or investment. In del Toro’s film, even when the characters didn’t have the most complex backstories, they had lively personalities like Ron Perlman’s Kaiju black market dealer, Hannibal Chau. Here, the supporting characters are dull and uninteresting, worst of all being Scott Eastwood’s character who drags the movie down every time he’s on screen. It’s even more disappointing when compared to the leads.
Two characters that return for “Pacific Rim: Uprising” are Charlie Day’s Dr. Newton and Burn Gorman’s Dr. Herman. In the first film, they were certainly quirky characters providing exposition as well as being comedic relief, but that goes completely overboard this time around making both characters overbearing. Their slightly strange antics that once were fun to watch have now become annoying and tedious. It’s clear that the actors are having fun playing these roles again, but the writing does a major disservice in translating that fun for the audience.
But enough about the characters. Most people go see a “Pacific Rim” film to enjoy giant setpieces where big robots fight big monsters. In that aspect, this sequel mostly delivers. Even though there aren’t as many memorable action scenes as there were in the first film, there’s some really enjoyable fights that take place here. The visual effects are top notch and there is fluid cinematography by frequent J.J. Abrams collaborator, Dan Mindel. DeKnight brings a nice Saturday morning cartoon sensibility to the big battles that pay off particularly in the entertaining final act.
There was a lot of talk back in 2013 after “Pacific Rim” released about whether or not a sequel would ever get made. The film took a while to find an audience and barely broke even at the box office. Unsure about the future of the franchise, del Toro shared some of his ideas for what he would like to explore in a sequel with some really bizarre concepts. Some of those ideas made it into this film and while they might have sounded fun on paper, a good chunk of them are poorly executed and dumb down the film considerably.
Steven S. DeKnight had a difficult task taking following in the footsteps of a visionary director like Guillermo del Toro, especially considering its his first time directing a feature film. In an attempt to recapture the fun of the original, “Pacific Rim: Uprising” lacks the heart. There’s definite fun in watching Jaegers fighting Kaiju, but it doesn’t amount to much more as passive entertainment if there isn’t enough style or charismatic characters. Even though it’s not a complete misfire, it’s a definite disappointment that just might be proof that “Pacific Rim” was just lightning in a bottle.
Are you excited to see “Pacific Rim: Uprising?” Do you wish that Guillermo del Toro returned to direct? Leave a comment down below and let me know your thoughts.
If you want to stay updated with all my reviews of films as soon as I see them, follow me on my Letterboxd.
Thanks for reading!