Movie Review: Pacific Rim Uprising

The second installment offers action but doesn’t stray enough from the formula

Pacific Rim Uprising (Pacific Rim: Povstání)
Directed by Steven S. DeKnight
With John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Zhang Jin, Charlie Day

The earth is once again under attack from some sort of giant monsters coming from the sea. The action in Pacific Rim Uprising picks up 10 years after the events of the original, 2013’s Pacific Rim.

Recent Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro, who directed the original, returns as one of the producers this time.

The sequel, like its predecessor, plays as a slightly better version of the Transformers films, with a bit of the 2012 film Battleship, the Godzilla series and the rather obscure 2011 robot film Real Steel mixed in.

For those who somehow missed the first installment, giant semi-reptilian monsters called Kaiju started emerging from the ocean. They were fought back with giant robots called Jaegers that require two people inside to operate, using a combination of physical and mental controls.

Things have been quiet since the end of the first film, but as the title of the sequel indicates that is about to change.

John Boyega, who appeared in the two most recent Star Wars films, plays Jake Pentecost, who just can’t stay out of trouble. He is the son of a major character from the first film. Early in this installment he is forced to choose between jail and going back to the military, called the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC).

Scott Eastwood, looking more and more like his father Clint, plays Nate Lambert, a by-the-rules member of the PPDC who has an old conflict with Jake.

Amara Namani (played by Cailee Spaeny) at the start of the film is making a Jaeger from scrap left over from the conflict a decade ago. This brings her to the attention of the PPDC and into the main plot. She struggles to fit in with the other cadets in the training program.

Everything is going along fine until it is announced that drones built by Chinese-based Shao Corporation will be replacing the human-operated Jaegers. There has been peace for a decade, and the Jaeger program is massively expensive. It is one of those what-could-possibly-go-wrong stories.

Liwen Shao (Jing Tian) is pushing hard to get the drones working so that all of the world is reliant on her company for defense.

Actress Jing Tian was in such films as Kong: Skull Island, The Great Wall and Police Story 2013. The film is produced by Chinese-owned Legendary Entertainment, and China is one of the world’s biggest markets for film. This explains the prominence of China in the plot.

Much of the rest is a bit too predictable since unless something went massively awry there would not be much action in the action film. And once the action starts, it is pretty much paint-by-numbers for the remainder of the show.

The chemistry between actors Boyega and Eastwood is passable enough. Eastwood, like his father, can be a bit stiff and wooden. Boyega, coming from his Star Wars success, seems more comfortable in his defiant rebel character.

Cailee Spaeny, who is also a singer in real life, is actually 20 years old although in the film she seems a lot younger, more like in her early teens. It is a stereotypical orphan tomboy role with no surprises.

Adding a bit of comic relief is Charlie Day, back as Dr. Newt Geiszler, one of the characters back from the original. He has been working with Shao Corporation on the drones and is a bit of a fish out of the water as the only person who is not Chinese in the company’s entourage.

Burn Gorman also returns as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb, and tries to do an absent-minded professor but doesn’t quite pull it off.

The CGI-filled action scenes live up to expectations, but the film can never get past the idea that it is a Transformers meets Godzilla clone, with a gratuitous cast member from every country where the film is expected to do well at the box office.

The target audience for the film is teens, and the film obliges by several plot twists that put adults into the background and force the barely trained kids front and center.

More than with other sequels in franchises, Pacific Rim Uprising feels like a monetary proposition to siphon off a predetermined amount of cash from specific age groups and global regions.

Mexican-born director Guillermo del Toro usually makes character-driven fantasies, and the original Pacific Rim stands out on his resume as an oddity.

He takes a back seat as a producer this time, and without his hands-on touch, the sequel — directed by Steven S. DeKnight in his feature film debut — lacks whatever slight charm the original had.

Pacific Rim Uprising does have a coherent if not fully original story. This makes it a few notches better than the most recent Transformers films. But with the people involved it should have been a standout, and it isn’t.

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