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Movie Review: Pacific Rim Uprising
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Pacific Rim Trailer Header

Pacific Rim Uprising
Director: Steven S. DeKnight
Screenwriter: Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight, T.S. Nowlin
Cast: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Jing Tian, and Adria Arjona, with Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, and Burn Gorman
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 111 Minutes
Release Date: March 23, 2018

The first Pacific Rim was more style over substance. Where the film excelled in its visual spectacle, it clearly lacked in strong character development and an engaging narrative. With so much missing, it’s hard to believe that a sequel could ever be greenlit. And yet, here we are, with Pacific Rim Uprising. An unnecessary sequel, that no one asked for, and yet, it’s still so much fun to watch. My full review below.

Set years after the original, survivors of the first war against the Kaiju will now be recruited to fight them again. Yes, that is basically the entire plot of the film. Sure the breach has been closed. And people are now building their own Jaegers from decommissioned factories. But the Pan Pacific Defense Corps are still preparing for the worse. And guess what, the worst happens. It’s not even trying to approach the sequel with an original story.

In order to defend against the inevitable, the PPDC is recruiting a new generation of Jaeger pilots. One would be led by the disillusioned Jake Pentacost (John Boyega), son of Stacker (Idris Elba), who is trying to get out of his late father’s shadow. But he does this by living a playboy lifestyle bay bargaining Jaeger parts for rooster sauce. However, this loose lifestyle leads him into some trouble, which has him cross paths with the scrappy Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), an eager jaeger pilot who built her own tiny jaeger so that she would not have to experience the inability to protect her loved ones.

As the sequel progresses, it splits into a variety of subplots that don’t do anything for the film. It’s just one calamity after the other. Or just a subplot that never follows through. If it’s not focused on the rivalry between Jake and Nate (Scott Eastwood), then it wants to shoehorn in a subplot about jaeger drones making human pilots obsolete. Then it shifts its gears to Jake teaching Amara, which then shifts to Amara getting into her own rivalry. Which then shifts into some half-baked mini Scooby-Doo episode where they have to investigate an abandoned Jaeger factory.

At least the first Pacific Rim had the decency to establish the rules and how the world works. In it, we understood that the world came together to defend the planet against the towering Kaiju. That the Jaeger mecha needed to be piloted by two pilots because one could not handle it. And these two pilots must work in sync with each other. The transportation of the mechs also felt very grounded. They weren’t transported instantaneously by portals or air dropped by a large carrier, they had to be lifted by helicopter and transported slowly to Kaiju locations.

But Pacific Rim Uprising is like watching kids play with their action figures and they are just creating the story as they go. All the while making those laser and explosion noises. And there is so much going on, it’s hard to tell if there are any stakes at all, aside from the tired old save the world from the Kaiju. And even then, we don’t get to see the monsters well into the third act of the film. But we are treated to some nice mech vs mech fights.

Even those fights can be dizzying as the camera makes some strange cuts. Which is made infinitely worse when it goes to the cockpit, and it doesn’t even give us time to settle before it jocks the pilots around as much as it jocks the audience. To add even more confusion, we get to see some of the pilots’ innermost thoughts, most of which doesn’t really do anything with the character development, it just fuels the rivalry and has us think it has something to do with building character. Even the population of major cities seems to be unfazed by the destruction that the jaegers leave behind. Devastation used to mean something, and now, it’s merely an afterthought.

Instead of trying to do something different or original, the sequel just doubles down on the style over substance, never giving us a reason to care about what’s going on. The dialogue is reduced to childish quips and generic military speeches. The film is barely a mildly interesting level. But at least the Jaegers are far more interesting than their predecessors. They are more colorful and have more personality to them, despite the pilots lacking anything that resembles one. Plus most of these fights take place during the day, making it so much easier to see and easier to tell the robots apart from each other.

Pacific Rim Uprising has very little going for it. But, in its confusion, and the decision to double down on style over substance, the sequel manages to be a far superior film than the entire Transformers film franchise. Which isn’t saying much since the Transformers sequels lower the bar on a consistent basis.

But I am of two minds on this sequel. Despite all of its flaws, the thin narrative, the cartoony banter, the weak motivation, and a lack of a plot, Pacific Rim Uprising still manages to be an entertaining film. Boyega and Spaeny are looking like they have the most fun in the film. Eastwood’s by the book offers some nice balance to Boyega’s wild child, while Spaeny’s rebelliousness does bring some humor to the film, even though the reasons behind it deserve just a bit more attention. Still, when she gets the screen time, the film shows us that young girls can build their own Kaiju and be scrappy fighters as well.

It is also a very inclusive film that brings in people of color together for a common goal: defend the Earth against the Kaiju. And the script from director Steven S. DeKnight and cowriters Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, and T.S. Nowlin make sure that everyone is equal. They stress the idea of the pilots not being a team, but a family. As cliche as that sounds, it’s an idea that works.

Sure, Pacific Rim Uprising may not be the sequel that lives up to the original, but it sure as hell will go down making sure you are having fun.

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