Written by Madison Drew Daniels
Images courtesy of IMDB
Pacific Rim: Uprising – Once More unto the Breach
There is a small theme of “bigger is better” in Pacific Rim: Uprising. This is generally what Hollywood tries to do with sequels. Make it bigger. Make it better. With Guillermo del Toro stepping down from the franchise to direct The Shape of Water (and four Oscars show that this wasn’t a dumb decision), Legendary Entertainment turned to Steven DeKnight to make this a bigger and better sequel. DeKnight served as the show-runner for Marvel’s Daredevil. So while his name is relatively new, you’ve most likely seen his work. But did he succeed? Is Pacific Rim: Uprising bigger and better than its predecessor?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is also no, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. In fact, it was actually pretty all right.
John Boyega’s performance as Jake Pentecost is a good enough reason to see the movie. He is the interesting, charismatic lead that we didn’t get from Charlie Hunnam in the first film. Jake is the son of legendary war hero Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) who famously cancelled the apocalypse. While the whole caught-in-the-shadow-of-my-father trope is old as dirt, Boyega brings enough heart and relatability to the character that Jake’s arc works.
Actor Cailee Spaeny also gives an enjoyable performance as Amara Namani. Spaeny did a good enough job that I wish her character was given a better plot in the movie. Or that the other teenage actors that serve to support her character were just a hair better.
We even get Rinko Kikuchi reprising her role as Mako Mori from the previous film. Though, she is less instrumental to the plot this time around. Which is a shame because she was part of what made the first film work so well. And we even get actors Charlie Day and Burn Gorman returning as the quirky, mad-scientist pair.
What genuinely surprised me was that the plot was actually somewhat interesting. It wasn’t amazing. But it was at least interesting. Some of the early plot conflict is around the immanent introduction of Jaeger drones to the fleet, replacing the human pilot in the cockpit. This creates tension between the Jaeger pilots’ and the corporation building the drone. Where this initial plot leads is what surprised me. I won’t spoil anything but it calls back to events in the first movie in a pretty interesting way.
The main problem Uprising faces is the original Pacific Rim which was just really good. The Jaegers felt heavy and colossal. The Kaiju felt dangerous and terrifying. And the world del Toro created felt real and lived in. Despite having a bland protagonist in Charlie Hunnam’s character of Raleigh, Pacific Rim was amazing. To this day, I am still defending its merits to my lesser informed friends.
Uprising failed at being bigger and better than its forebearer because it was neither bigger nor better (ok duh, but let me explain).
Watch any of the battle scenes from the first Pacific Rim again. The Jaegers and Kaiju both feel epically massive. The Kaijus were inspired by real life animals like gorillas and sharks, which gave each one a personality that was both familiar and grounded. Finally, the cinematography of Pacific Rim was instrumental in making everything huge. The camera was on the ground most of the time. The camera angle forced the perspective on the audience. Not only that, but the Jaegers or Kaiju crowd almost every frame they’re in, making them feel huge. There were very few shots where you could see the entirety of the machines or the monsters.
In contrast, Uprising‘s Jaegers look and feel more like toys. They have an agility which doesn’t look right for something of their size which makes them feel smaller. Plus their designs are pretty dull and unimaginative. As for the Kaiju, the four in the film are nearly indistinguishable from each other. This makes the battles slightly confusing. All of this could be fine if Uprising‘s cinematography didn’t sometimes work against itself. There are lots of high, pulled back shots that make cities look fake and robots look like silly. It feels more like a Transformers movie than a Pacific Rim movie.
Suffice to say, Uprising is the son that can’t step out of its father’s shadow. If this were the first and only Pacific Rim movie to date, my review would read different. I would have walked out of the theater grinning ear to ear because I love giant robot spectacles. Jake Pentecost is a really enjoyable character you want to root for and the franchise shows promise. But, del Toro’s Pacific Rim was just so strong. It is impossible not to compare them.
However, if the only thing that matters to you is giant robots fighting giant monsters, Uprising won’t disappoint you. Giant robots fighting giant monsters is what it does best. There are some really beautifully choreographed fights that you will remember upon leaving the theater.
If you can summon your ten-year-old self, this might be reason enough to buy a ticket.