Pacific Rim Uprising | Steven S. DeKnight | March 23, 2018
2013’s Pacific Rim wasn’t a revolutionary or wholly new film, as there have been plenty of international (and some domestic) kaiju and mech films and shows in recent decades. Instead, it was director Guillermo del Toro and writer Travis Beacham’s homage to the genre that delivered what you’d expect, bolstered by Game of Thrones‘ composer Ramin Djawadi‘s amped up (and sometimes bombastic) score. 5 years later, we finally get the long-promised sequel in Pacific Rim Uprising, and like its predecessor, it’s what you’d expect.
10 years after the conveniently recapped events of Pacific Rim, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), is roughing it in a not-fully-recovered coastal California city and resorting to bartering for food a la a Guy Ritchie gangster film. A heist in a decommissioned Jaeger junkyard brings him into contact with Amara (Cailee Spaeny), a scrappy mechanic who has built Scrapper, a minute single-pilot Jaeger. After being caught by the PPDC (Pan Pacific Defense Corps), Jake is convinced by sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to reenlist as a ranger to train cadets, while the Jaeger fangirl Amara joins the small but diverse cadet class at Molyun Shatterdome in China. While there haven’t been any more breaches or kaiju, world leaders feel it’s time to transition from manned Jaegers to unmanned drone Jaegers from Shao Industries, lead by Liwen Shao (Tian Jing from last year’s The Great Wall and Kong: Skull Island) and designed by nerd-resting-on-his-high-horse-a-la-Hannibal-Chau Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day). But when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Jake, fellow ranger Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood from last year’s Fate of the Furious and 2016’s Suicide Squad), and the returning Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) (among others) to investigate and cancel another kaiju apocalypse.
What stands out the most about Pacific Rim Uprising, from first-time feature director (and Daredevil and Spartacus showrunner) Steven S. DeKnight, is that there are lots of great little moments and themes throughout the film, but they don’t fully add up. There are some satisfying fight moments (from both Jaeger and human perspectives) and sneaky chases, as well as people dealing with loss and trying to find closure (including a neural handshake flashback a la Mako’s in the first film), but the character connection with the audience seems to be somewhat lacking. There’s also a particularly creepy and dark turn – maybe halfway through the film, which spurs on a packed third act – which could be a call back to Guillermo del Toro’s oeuvre, but it seems shoddily handled. Maybe all of this is the result of a four-person script (DeKnight contributed a story and outline, first-time feature writers Emily Carmichael and Kira Snyder handled the script, and Maze Runner trilogy writer T.S. Nowlin was brought in for rewrites).
However, while there are some good elements in the hour-and-51-minute film, there’s a lot more that I’m mixed on. The cadet cast, while young and diverse, wasn’t fully developed, and Reyes (The Belko Experiment‘s Adria Arjona) is little more than a potential underdeveloped love interest and a member of the ranger corps. Eastwood is also run-of-the-mill, much like his prior mentioned franchise appearances. Lorne Balfe’s score (his 2nd project out this year following January’s 12 Strong) is stylistically similar to Djawadi’s original score (one key track of which gets remixed by Patrick Stump) with a heaping helping more electronica a la Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy score, but it didn’t fully stand out. Cinematically, tight and medium shakey shots didn’t work well for human chases, and some of the kaiju/mech fights were framed similarly, which didn’t work so well either. There are also some CGI elements that felt and looked cheaper than you’d expect from a March release of this genre with a $150 million budget.
If you’re expecting a kaiju-mech masterpiece, that’s not what you’ll get with Pacific Rim Uprising. There’s a lot packed into just under 2 hours (which could have used some breathing room), as well as underbaked characters and relationships. However, it’s nice to see some familiar faces and mech-on-kaiju action (that is actually more visible than in the last film) with some good but brief hero moments. At least the fights are more convincing than, say, live-action Power Rangers Zord vs. monster of the week fights.