Pacific Rim: Uprising is an ambitious re-presentation of one of this decade’s most hedonistic thrill rides, and it quickly becomes clear director Steven S. DeKnight knows it.
Much like the war-scarred setting its filmmakers have constructed, this movie is riddled with vestiges of past glory that have been carried on from its predecessor. Giant Kaiju (great beasts from another dimension) skeletons litter beaches; tall Jaegers (the state-of-the-art, mobile weapons of the time) walk overhead; and young soldiers in the style of ‘97’s Starship Troopers exchange vocal taunts in metal lockers.
The same action tropes from Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 original, that he so gleefully revelled in, make a comeback too, and while they are no less apologetic, they’re definitely not as smooth. The fallen soldier, tired commander and their increasingly desperate acts to quench the insurmountable odds that rise against them, are ultimately a comfortable, if not slightly worn, vehicle.
Exposition is built quickly in the first 30 minutes, but then vanishes just as rapidly, only to be sporadically revisited for weak character development every time there’s a lull in the action. Posturing, over-dramatic conflict and soldier bravado drive the majority of the narrative, as well as the internal politics of a near post-apocalyptic world; as opposed to the looming threat of a second Kaiju invasion, which I think should have garnered more attention. While this focus on conflict is great, and interesting to see, it did make the first two-thirds of a 100-minute film feel like a hype-machine for its own blockbuster ending; an ending which, though a little road runner-esque, packs in an enormous amount of seat-gripping, mind-boggling eye-candy.
There is one particular scene where, in typical superhero fashion, our protagonists spend a good thirty seconds watching their foe ‘power-up’ impotently; this always grates on me. It’s a shameless overture for visual grandiosity, as opposed to say, plot seamlessness, and I think it might be DeKnight’s most telling moment. Superhero and action shtick are relied on far more heavily than Del Toro’s signature construction of a dark, dystopian world. The result is an almost Disney-fied cinema-going experience. DeKnight makes it extremely difficult for the audience to fear for any of the protagonist’s welfare, and even harder to sustain a genuine dread of cataclysm. We know the world is in danger, but we don’t necessarily believe it. But the film balances a blend of storytelling styles from Transformers, The Avengers and Top Gun throughout, and, despite my criticisms, serves to create an effective and powerful expository flow.
The casting is excellent, with the ever-topical Star Wars star, John Boyega (Jake Pentecost), taking the leading role and absolutely nailing it. He’s at his most likeable yet, exchanging sarcastic bravado with co-stars Scott Eastwood (Nate Lambert), and motivational put-downs with Cailee Spaeny (Amara Namani). Spaeny’s character, a young tech genius with a tragic past, bears the brunt of leading the film’s exposition, and as a result loses a fair chunk of personality—but her on-screen chemistry with Boyega is a key redeemer. They’re fun to watch together, as is Eastwood’s performance as Ranger Lambert, the stiff but likeable wet-blanket. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia-legend, Charlie Day, reprises his role from the original (much to my delight) and brings his trademark goofy charisma to every scene he’s in. Day becomes critical in setting up the potential for a third chapter, an eventuality I hope comes to pass. The universe originally built by Del Toro still feels fresh and virtually unexplored, and although DeKnight may not have fully done it justice, it’s clear the franchise has a lot more to offer.
Action, adventure, sci-fi dystopia and hints of comedy freely intermingle throughout Pacific Rim: Uprising, resulting in a safe but enjoyable cinematic experience. Really, Uprising delivers exactly what it promises, and if you want to see giant robots fight alien monsters (who doesn’t?), you’ll definitely get an expected thrill from watching this film.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is in Perth cinemas now.
Image sourced from variety.com.