When Pacific Rim exploded into theaters in 2013, it didn’t set box office records or redefine the monster movie. But it was fun as hell, and its 2018 sequel Pacific Rim Uprising follows suit.
[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]
Inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s endlessly creative mind, the storied tradition of Japanese Kaiju films, and a masterpiece by a legendary Spanish artist, Pacific Rim embraced its B-movie campiness, mixed in some high stakes drama, and created something memorable.
Uprising follows up that original explosive wave of creative energy. Although not as thematically challenging as sci-fi at its greatest, its cast propels the movie to greater heights than just a forgettable action film as it fully embraces what it does best—picking fights between giant robots and monsters.
Something New and Something Borrowed
Uprising kicks off with a kind of “Last Time on Pacific Rim” recap, a quick montage of past events spliced together with the mess left behind by the Battle of the Breach a decade prior. Monstrous skeletons still litter public beaches and the hearts of cities in the Pacific Rim. Jake Pentecost, played by Star Wars megastar John Boyega, is a hustler, selling off cars and other expensive pieces of gear for simpler pleasures, like some Oeros or a case of Sriracha.
The son of Pacific Rim’s sacrificial hero Stacker Pentecost, Jake is far from the spitting image of his old man. He’s reckless, uninterested in the world’s concerns, and happy spending time wasting away in the post-apocalypse. Until he meets Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a orphaned, down-on-her-luck kid with some serious mechanic chops. After she builds her own Jaeger (this franchise’s term for Big Ass Robot), Jake and Amara find themselves in the crosshairs of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, the organization tasked to protect the world from the threat of the Precursors, the interdimensional alien species obsessed with making Earth its new home.
From the get-go, Boyega feels right at home in his role as Jake Pentecost. With great acting, line delivery, and liveliness, he provides the right kind of camp that the script demands. It’s a much better film for having him in it. His co-lead doesn’t get quite as high marks, but for a relative newcomer in Hollywood, she performs the ambitious youngster admirably. A few moments shine an unfortunate light on her less-than-stellar acting, but not enough to pull the film down in any significant way.
Uprising is also a film that feels like it’s in a hurry. Plot points are quickly breezed through, and while the film helps those not obsessively familiar with Pacific Rim’s lore, it definitely helps if you have the 2013 film fresh in your mind.
Other familiar faces return to the cast as well, such as Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day), and Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). It’s the perfect mix of old and new that makes Uprising feel like its own film while keeping enough connective tissue to make you believe giant monsters can walk the Earth.
A Familiar Future
Although never thematically straying to far from a robot-monster beat-em-up, Uprising does mimic some real-world drama about the future of human warfare, specifically the ethical use of drones.
Ten years after the calamitous Battle of the Breach, the world has become somewhat complacent in its defense, thinking the threat extinguished. Governments consider retiring piloted Jaegers and relying on remotely controlled robots of destruction, which are being built by Shao Industries.
This becomes the center tension of the film as training drift-capable pilots—along with frustratingly slow deployment times—makes an ever-present army of remote-controlled Jaegers all the more appealing. Soon, best laid plans and good intentions become explosive mistakes as the world once again descends into carnage.
It’s not a total condemnation of drone warfare. It doesn’t make Liwen Shao, the uber-ambitious maker of these remote Jaegers, as some sort of bloodthirsty maniac, but it brings up some real world thoughts about such machines falling into the wrong hands. It’s a fictional scenario that .
Although this simple explanation of the plot feels painfully predictable, director Steven S. DeKnight is able to squirrel away some surprises with hooks buried deep in the previous film. A more thoughtful script than most explosion-heavy blockbusters, these narrative choices help keep the story as a focused follow-up rather than an adrift sequel that no one ever asked for.
A Good Movie, But a B-Movie
Despite its attempts at a deeper dialogue, it’s above-average acting, and CGI-fueled bouts of destruction, Uprising still comes with its share of bumps and bruises.
A film like Uprising doesn’t have the luxury of letting moments really sit with audiences. It’s a quick one-two punch and we’re onto the next plot point. While some characters like Jake Pentecost get a full backstory and characterization, some side characters feel somewhat pointless. Adria Arjona’s Jules Reyes feels inconsequential and the animosity among Amara and some of the young Jaeger recruits feels manufactured at best. In the end, it feels like this film tried to pack too much in its meager 111-minute runtime.
And by the film’s end, even the most explosion-happy moviegoers (of which I consider myself one) get a bit fatigued by the constant punching, the constant explosions, the constant mayhem, the numerous plot holes, and the liberal use of deus ex machina that allow our heroes to eventually (of course) save the day.
But in Pacific Rim Uprising many of these faults can be overlooked because the film doesn’t try to be more than what it is—two hours of Kaiju fighting. With a whole Hollywood industry that tries to pass off explosion porn as worthwhile filmmaking, Uprising does due diligence to make your care about the characters and their situation. By the end, you can’t help but root for humanity’s increasingly small chances.
Uprising is gratuitous, it’s eye-rolling, and it’s campy. It won’t be dethroning Gojira off of anyone’s Kaiju greatest hits. But what it lacks in substance, in more than makes up for in pure fun.