“Pacific Rim: Uprising” needs better pilots to win the war

Illustration by Iain Duffus .
Illustration by Iain Duffus

“Pacific Rim” was released in 2013 with lot of hype, leading to a cult following in the U.S., despite a less-than-stellar box office return. Despite North American audiences not taking to the mech vs. monster blockbuster, Chinese audiences came in droves to see the monster movie love letter from Guillermo Del Toro.

Thanks to the increasingly important Chinese market, “Pacific Rim: Uprising” was put into production, though Del Toro stepped down as director. With first time film director Steven S. DeKnight taking the helm, the question became not how similar this sequel would be, but how it could still achieve success without its original captain.

Set nearly 10 years after the original film, the sequel follows the son of Stacker Pentecost, Jake, as he and fellow Jaeger pilot Nate Lambert must train a new generation of pilots to fight the Kaiju menace that is expected to return to Earth. With a tech company making new drone Jaegers, a dark plot reveals itself, sending the pilots back into action.

The movie’s biggest strength was its impressive fight scenes and interesting setting realized with loving detail. Despite its larger budget, the film still had the sense of sincerity and childlike wonder found in other Del Toro films. His love of robots fighting giant monsters was apparent in every frame.

With Del Toro reducing his role to producer, that sincerity is absent in “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” resulting in the amplification of the original’s biggest problems.

Similar to the original film, “Uprising” spends too much time with its cast of bland characters and yet not enough time developing them into characters viewers care about. There’s talk of family and interpersonal bonds saving the day, but it’s difficult to feel those connections when there are so many different plot lines. It’s difficult to figure out character relationships until the the movie simply tells you how to feel at each story beat.

The actors are doing their best with what they have, managing to play the dramatic and comedic moments with an equal amount of mediocrity. John Boyega is as fun and charismatic as Jake, while Tian Jing proves once again how powerful of a force she is on screen as the leader of the drone production company.

The poor script and multiple storylines muddle the overall plot, which attempts to criticize drone warfare and celebrate interpersonal bonds. Sadly, the breakneck pace and odd editing leave little time to focus on even one of these ideas, leading to an uneven execution.

Luckily, “Uprising” finds its redemption in the same place its predecessor did: focusing on the giant, spectacle fights and developing the interesting near-future world.

The fight scenes between the Jaegers and the Kaiju feel massive and terrifyingly destructive. One sequence in Sydney, Australia pays special attention to how these massive machines can tear apart an urban city, putting the lives of thousands in severe danger.

This attention to detail is also seen in how the Jaegers operate, with the camera zooming in on different mechanical parts and slowing down to show the impact of every punch or blast. It’s thrilling to watch, with every fight finding some way to wow the audience or show off a new way these giant machines work.

Yet, these fights also lack the sense of weight and impact felt in the original, where every movement seemed to take a massive amount of mental and physical effort. Here, the Jaegers are just as nimble and acrobatic as ninjas. While they make for cool “looking” moments, they lose the awe-inspiring, almost realistic feel of Del Toro’s original.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is by no means a bad movie, in fact it’s more fun and exciting than I was originally expecting. Yet, without Del Toro’s touch and the studio’s increased involvement homogenising the cast and plot for a perceived simple international audience, this film loses a lot of what made the original special in the first place.

Sam Goodrich Staff Writer 

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