In 2013, Guillermo del Toro produced, co-wrote and directed Pacific Rim, an entertaining, big-budget, sci-fi action film. In that movie, giant monsters (or kaiju) from another dimension emerged from a rift in the Pacific Ocean and only a special group of people, trained to use giant robots called Jaegers, could stop them. The heroic Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, sadly missing from the sequel) gave his life to destroy the monsters, closing the rift and ending the war. Pacific Rim: Uprising (which del Toro only serves as a producer on) takes place ten years later as the world is still recovering from the damage done by the kaiju.
The protagonist this time is Stacker’s son, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega, Finn from the current Star Wars trilogy). He is a scavenger, stealing old Jaeger parts and selling them for food and other necessities. One day, while trying to steal a valuable part, he meets Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a girl living on her own. She ends up getting John into trouble with the police and, due to an assist from Jake’s sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, returning from the original), they get sent for training as Jaeger pilots instead of jail. Soon, a new threat arises and Jake and Amara must try to become heroes to save the world. Also involved is Scott Eastwood (son of Clint) as Jake’s former partner and Charlie Day (from the FX series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Burn Gorman (most recently on the AMC series TURN: Washington’s Spies) reprising their roles as scientists.
Uprising, while not altogether bad, is a far cry from the original. Though not a classic by any means, the first Pacific Rim felt somewhat fresh. It was something of a passion project for Guillermo del Toro (who just won Best Picture and Director Oscars for The Shape of Water) and his care could be seen onscreen in the look of the Jaegers and kaiju. The story was fun and the movie as a whole was very enjoyable. With del Toro giving up writing and directing duties this time (he handed the reigns to Steven S. DeKnight, his first big-screen work), that same sense of care and delight has almost completely disappeared. They have been replaced by an unoriginal story that picks up where the first left off, but does not really feel much like the original.
The visual effects are fine, but there is nothing new or creative to see here. The action is the same way. There is nothing wrong with it, except that it lacks purpose. The story is arbitrary, so the action scenes are, too. If the filmmakers cannot make viewers care about the story or characters (who are all pretty thin and uninteresting), then the big action scenes will not have much of an impact. That is especially true of the climactic final battle, which seems to go on forever and is quite boring.
There just is not that much to say about Pacific Rim: Uprising (100 minutes, minus the end credits). It is exactly what it looks like: a big, goofy, sci-fi, action/adventure that brings back just enough of the original to appeal to fans, but not so much that it could alienate potential new viewers, who never heard of the original. It never tries to be its own thing. Pretty much everything about this movie is just good enough. It is a thoroughly average experience. This is the type of film that is probably better enjoyed viewing it at home while also doing something else. It will appear to be more exciting if you do not give it your full attention.
2½ out of 5
John Boyega as Jake Pentecost
Cailee Spaeny as Amara Namani
Scott Eastwood as Nate Lambert
Burn Gorman as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb
Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler
Tian Jing as Liwen Shao
Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori
Directed by Steven S. DeKnight
Written by Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin