Director: Steven S. DeKnight
Cast: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Rinko Kikuchi, Adria Arjona, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Cailee Spaeny, Zhang Jin
Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins
Rating: PG13 (Violence)
Released By: UIP
Official Website: http://www.pacificrimmovie.com
Opening Day: 22 March 2018
Synopsis: John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) stars as the rebellious Jake Pentecost, a once-promising Jaeger pilot whose legendary father gave his life to secure humanity’s victory against the monstrous “Kaiju.” Jake has since abandoned his training only to become caught up in a criminal underworld. But when an even more unstoppable threat is unleashed to tear through our cities and bring the world to its knees, he is given one last chance to live up to his father’s legacy by his estranged sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)—who is leading a brave new generation of pilots that have grown up in the shadow of war. As they seek justice for the fallen, their only hope is to unite together in a global uprising against the forces of extinction. Jake is joined by gifted rival pilot Lambert (The Fate of the Furious‘ Scott Eastwood) and 15-year-old Jaeger hacker Amara (newcomer Cailee Spaeny), as the heroes of the PPDC become the only family he has left. Rising up to become the most powerful defense force to ever walk the earth, they will set course for a spectacular all-new adventure on a towering scale.
With all due respect to newly minted Academy Award winning director Guillermo del Toro, his 2013 love letter to Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda’s monster films was an all-too self-serious affair that took the fun out of watching giant robots fight against giant monsters. So as admirable as del Toro’s intent of injecting dramatic heft with the concept of ‘drifting’ (i.e. where pairs of pilots gain intimate knowledge of each other’s memories and feelings in order to operate the neural load of one of them giant mechas known as ‘Jaegers’) may be, the movie just wasn’t as fun as it should have been, which was probably one of the reasons why it underwhelmed at the US box office.
How much you love Steven S. DeKnight’s continuation of that universe depends on how much you were in love with del Toro’s empathy metaphor as well as his tone of sobriety. Indeed, much as one of the lead characters – namely, the teenage orphan Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) – has to overcome her own traumatic loss of her family in order to properly pilot a Jaeger, there is much less emphasis here on the so-called psychic link that the pair of pilots have to forge in order to ‘drift’. At the same time, DeKnight and his three co-screenwriters have opted for a much lighter tone throughout, which is evident not only in the wry banter that the characters engage in but also in almost all of its robots-versus-monsters brawls now take place in the brightness of day (than the darkness of night).
Truth be told, ‘Pacific Rim Uprising’ is a lot more straightforwardly entertaining than its predecessor. Compared to the wounded survivors of the previous movie, our hero is here a roguish slacker Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) – who, for what it’s worth, is the son of Idris Elba’s martyr hero Stacker – happily passing his days partying and selling parts from decommissioned Jaegers on the black market. On one of his scavenger hunts, he runs into fellow scrounger Amara, who is collecting parts for her own DIY Bumblebee-like Jaeger creation named Scrapper. Given a choice between jail and service when arrested, Jake opts to join his former partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) to train a new generation of Jaeger pilots at the Pan Pacific Defense Force’s new Chinese headquarters, while Amara chooses to enlist as one of his cadets.
Like we alluded to earlier, character isn’t so much a priority here as it was in del Toro’s 2013 original, so it doesn’t go much further with the new additions than Jake as a reluctant hero with outsider cool, Nate as a square-jawed duty-bound soldier and Amara as a Jaeger fanatic whom Jake will come to personally mentor. Fans of the original will welcome the return of some of the surviving characters – including Jake’s half sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and the two vaudevillian scientists Dr Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) – and be heartened to know that they are important pieces in the narrative puzzle.
Without giving away too much, let’s just say that there is a good conspiracy woven in that has to do with a rival drone project led by tech tycoon Shao Liwen (Jing Tian) of the shadowy Shao Foundation as well as the leftovers of the ‘kaiju’ from the earlier apocalyptic-cancelling battle fought a decade ago. Uncovering the puppet master behind a rogue Jaeger is what brings Jake and Nate on a globe-trotting mission from Sydney to Siberia and finally to Tokyo, the last of which is also where the climactic battle with a trio of Category 4 and 5 ‘kaijus’. Besides being utterly befitting of the cultural origins of the ‘kaijus’, the cross-country trek also adds freshness to the stream of nicely choreographed CG destruction.
Oh yes, the very raison d’etre for most audiences of the ‘Pacific Rim’ universe is really to witness mountain-sized robots and monsters punching each other, and DeKnight satisfies that desire for spectacle by pulling off some impressive, even jaw-dropping, shots of mayhem. There are two mano-a-manos between the Gypsy Danger 2.0 that Jake and Nate pilots and the aforementioned rogue Jaeger of pure gleaming steel, the first in downtown Sydney and the next on the ice in Siberia; and the piece de resistance is no doubt the showdown in central Tokyo that sees three ‘kaijus’ transform into a mega-‘kaiju’ (much like how the Power Rangers ‘zods’ combine into a Megazod). To his credit, DeKnight eschews the nausea-inducing cinematography of the ‘Transformers’ franchise, so you can see the battles in their full glory; notwithstanding, there is no shaking off the feeling that the fights don’t feel as epic as they ought to be, even coming off cartoony at times.
And so, while del Toro’s franchise opener was probably too sombre for its own good, this sequel pivots quite drastically to the other extreme, thereby diminishing the stakes involved as well as the gee-whiz grandeur. We do wish there were more personality to the Jaegers though, apart from being the one with the electric whip or the ‘gravity slings’ or the plasma swords. That said, it is engaging in a fun way which the original never was, in huge part due to Boyega’s infectious charisma as well as his spontaneous chemistry with his co-stars Spaeny and Eastwood. The action too is frequently thrilling, and the visual effects work top-notch. If only it had more edge and threat, as well as more personality, this ‘Uprising’ would indeed be worthy of its title.
(As long as all you're looking for is fun and thrilling robots-versus-monsters spectacle, this straightforward blockbuster of a sequel should do fine)
Review by Gabriel Chong