Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)
Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight
Written by: Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight, T.S. Nowlin
Starring: Burn Gorman, Cailee Spaeny, John Boyega, Scott Eastwood
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 111 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Ten years after the Battle of the Breach, former Jaeger pilot Jake Pentecost – son of Kaiju War hero Stacker Pentecost – makes a living by stealing and selling Jaeger parts on the black market. He meets Amara, a young orphan with a gift for piloting homemade Jaegers, but after that both are arrested. His adoptive sister and PPDC General Secretary Mako Mori gives Jake a choice between prison and returning to the PPDC as an instructor. Jake starts training Jaeger program recruits with his estranged former co-pilot Nate Lambert, but the Jaeger program is threatened by Shao Corporation’s drone program, which offers to mass produce remote controlled Jaegers. Then a rogue Jaeger attacks….
Though like many of these films it didn’t seem as impressive on a second viewing [and I saw this one in the cinema twice], I found Pacific Rim to be easily the entertaining and satisfying of the big CGI-heavy ‘blockbusters’ of its year, with a wonderfully innocent tone devoid of much of the knowingness and indeed the cynicism prevalent in so many similar efforts, and director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro’s obvious love for the material and the kaiju and mecha movies and TV series’s from Japan, shining throughout. Its box office take was only average though, except for China where it was huge. And that’s why, after del Toro trying to get a sequel off the ground and eventually giving up [something I doubt he regrets given the success – even if I wasn’t too keen on it myself – of The Shape Of Water], it’s Chinese money that has largely made this direct follow-up possible. Therefore you’d expect there to be a fair bit of pandering to the Chinese, though aside from some Chinese cast members there’s not really as much of that as you would think – at least in terms of explicitly informing the story – except for a notably goofy bit in the final act where one character basically transforms into a different person to help save the day. But I’m probably getting ahead of myself.
A very quick perusal of a few reviews seemed to reveal that many think the film suffers from spending too much screen time on robot vs robot, and robot vs monster battles. As if that’s really a criticism in a movie like this! It’s praise! Those battles are the main reason why we go to see a film like Pacific Rim: Uprising in the first place! If there’s one way in which Uprising tops its predecessor, it’s in the amount of showdown sequences, with virtually the entire second half consisting of them. But it’s mostly lacking in the idiosyncratic flavour that del Toro brought to his film, and seems more aimed at kids too, despite a really rather out of place scene which suggests that one character habitually enters into some kind of imagined sexual congress with an alien [maybe this was del Toro’s input]. It’s lighter and funnier, with some nice little touches like a battle beside a museum’s dinosaur exhibit, and there are a few signs that its creators did possess some of the required affection for the subject matter, but the main ambition was obviously just to provide more bang for your buck. And it does sometimes seem that the four screenwriters were sometimes at odds with each other, two of them genuinely trying to do some new things and not just rehash the original movie, and two of them just content to give us the same thing all over again.
So it’s ten years after the events of Pacific Rim, and a voice over allows to catch up and learn that Stacker Pentecost had a son even though this was never mentioned before – though it’s not as silly as, say, Son Of Frankenstein and Ghost Of Frankenstein which introduced not one but two sons of a character [who died in the film preceding Son] out of absolutely nowhere. Jake Pentecost was once a Jaeger pilot but is now content to illegally sell Jaeger parts illegally and party with the money he makes. John Boyega again plays a humorous survivor who would rather run than fight but whom you know contains a buried sense of honour that will surface when it’s required. It seems to be a genuine screen persona that he’s developed, and he’s never less than likable. Unfortunately, he seems to have trouble sharing the necessary chemistry with his co-stars, the main ones here being little Amara who can fly homemade Jaegers, and his old co-pilot Nate Lambert, the latter played by Scott Eastwood who here seem to be largely trying to imitate his father though he doesn’t really have his coolness and definitely doesn’t have his screen presence. Oh, and there’s also a love triangle, if you can call it that, with both Jake and Nate interested in colleague Jules Reyes. I don’t know if this counts as a spoiler or not, but I’ll tell you now – this love triangle is totally unresolved and in fact totally forgotten about come the end of the film which renders its inclusion virtually pointless! The same thing can be said for Amara’s flashbacks to a traumatic Kaiju-related childhood event which just seems to rehash Maro Mori’s similar troubles in the first one without its genuine sense of personal development.
Mako’s back too, though she’s not in it very much. So are Newton Geizler and Herman Gottlieb, and Charlie Day and Burn Norman do get more to do though their silliness gets a little tiring. Jake and his multi-cultural group of recruits embark on a training programme, and thank goodness that they do, because the peace is soon threatened, first by a rogue Jaeger which starts attacking Sydney, then by the robot drones that Liwen Shao seems to intend to replace the Jaegers with. But the culprit couldn’t be Liwen, could it? The film could have done with spending more time on some of the themes it throws up, like the poor Jaeger pilots frightened of being replaced by these drones, a theme which is quite pertinent for the times we live in. At one point we have some things which are half-Jaeger, half-Kaiju, but the idea is then thrown away. Then there’s a sudden event which I won’t describe but which seems a bit of a spit in the face to the fans of Pacific Rim especially considering that we’re not given time to feel the effect and the emotion of the event. The middle act feels ridiculously rushed, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there was a fair bit of cutting to keep the running time down and the pace fast, but I think that some more footage around the middle would have greatly benefited the film. Kids beginning to shift in their seats would still have been rewarded with nearly an hour of nonstop mayhem.
It probably goes without saying that the gorgeous use of colour we saw before isn’t really present in this one at all. This time the action takes place in broad daylight, which is a nice change even if that means that much of the original’s atmosphere is now gone, though technically the visual effects are quite high class – not really far behind the effects in the last Transformers film which was probably made on a much higher budget – aside from some seriously crappy explosions. Explosions hardly ever look right done digitally and I really cannot understand how it’s obviously beyond the imagination or know how of so many modern filmmakers to actually go and blow something up. Director Stephen H. DeKnight, whose participation initially had me worried as he was the creator of that godawful Spartacus TV series, mostly follows del Toro’s approach to the fight scenes, with the camera swooping all over the place [so much so in fact that I began to get a little dizzy, which makes me glad I didn’t fork out for the 3D version], though there’s slightly less use of close-ups. Visually the most impressive set piece is a duel in the snow, though there aren’t really any “wow” moments this time around like the use of a ship as a weapon or two fighters carrying on their battle in outer space. And this time around the monsters aren’t given the majesty that del Toro gave them, though by contrast there’s a bit of an effort to make them uglier and scarier. Still, the Godzilla movie fan in me couldn’t resist getting excited when the biggest set piece took place in – yes – Tokyo, with buildings crumbling galore. He got even more excited when the action then relocated to Mt. Fuji, site of some of Godzilla’s greatest battles, though the climax is oddly perfunctory and undramatic, as if they ran out of money to do it properly.
The film suffers a bit from a typically bland score by Lorne Balfe which seems to have been inspired by several listenings of Daft Punk’s soundtrack for Tron: Legacy. The score by Ramid Djawadi for Pacific Rim, the main theme from which is heard twice in the sequel, was similarly uninspired, and it’s a shame that neither film has benefited from the employment of a composer who was genuinely inspired by the material. But in the end, I have to say that I rather enjoyed Uprising, even though I’ll happily admit that it’s not all that good. It’s a pretty impersonal effort, there’s no getting away from that. But it’s also rather charming in its simple, silly, toy-like manner, the way in which it’s not trying whatsoever to be smart or trendy. And now we’re clearly set up for a sequel. In the run up to its release there was talk of Uprising totally tanking at the box office, but this hasn’t really happened. Del Toro did envisage a trilogy, so I’d be happy to see a third film, but let’s try and give it a bit more personality, let’s find a director and screenwriter[s] who truly love this kind of stuff but can also really bring something to it. You could still cram in as many battles as you want – in fact please do.