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March 26, 2018

Pacific Rim: Uprising

by Franz Patrick


Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” managed to turn a sci-fi action movie that features giant robots, or Jaegers, fighting equally colossal alien-like creatures, called Kaijus, from another dimension into a nearly fully realized work. Under his vision and direction, the project became more than a simple homage, a nudge, or a wink to the Japanese Kaiju pictures of the 1960s; it stands strong as a work that is entertaining as it is imaginative.

Enter the sequel “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” this time directed by Steven S. DeKnight and the screenplay co-helmed with three other writers, and it pales by comparison. Although enthusiasm is present, particularly in its leads (John Boyega and Cailee Spaeny who share solid chemistry), the story suffers from a lack of potent world-building. Although we are informed through narration that ten years has passed since the epic showdown between Jaegers and Kaijus, therefore ten years of peace and reconstruction, this piece of information is most unconvincing because we are not shown how the world has actually changed since then. I felt that the material is neither concerned with nor curious about details—which is strange because what makes great sci-fi flicks memorable are details and specificity. Hence, this oversight leads to a lack of required level of authenticity so that we can buy into the story and engage with the upcoming turn of events.

Our conduit to the story is Jake Pentecost (Boyega), son of a general who sacrificed himself in the previous war in order to save the planet, who survives by breaking into restricted facilities and stealing robot parts. There is a semblance of an interesting character because Jake almost despises being known as the son of a hero. Boyega is up to the task in delivering the more difficult emotions, but notice how the material brings up Jake’s paternal connection only when convenient. As a result, it does not work as a dramatic character study because the character’s history is utilized as a mere tool in order to get a reaction out of him rather than presenting it as an enveloping aura that the character must live and contend with. In other words, our conduit lacks complexity, intrigue.

Even the supporting characters are forgettable. Scott Eastwood plays Nate Lambert, Jake’s former co-pilot during his time in the Jaeger program. They exchange supposedly macho lines and smoldering glances. There is even a whiff of the duo being romantically interested with the same person—played for comic relief that fails each time. In addition, they find themselves co-leading a group of recruits, but we do not actually see them leading in a meaningful way. There are one or two inspirational speeches, but that is not what true leadership is about. Further, with the exception of Amara (Spaeny), who is impressive as someone who can singlehandedly build a Jaeger from scraps, the young recruits are not given strong backgrounds and so their possible fates become rather predictable.

Compared to its predecessor, the robot-monster bashing scenes take place in daylight as opposed to nighttime with heavy rain. In theory, it should be an area of improvement from the original because it gives us the opportunity to see the action unfold under well-lit conditions and appreciate minute details that may escape us due to shadows and weather conditions.

Yet, despite the clarity of its images, it is less intriguing visually, certainly less atmospheric. While there is excitement from time to time due to some twists I did not see coming, once they are revealed, the thrills tend to deflate rather than build off one another. One develops a sinking feeling that “Pacific Rim: Uprising” is engaged in fighting an uphill battle against itself even though elements that can make it great are there. They just need to be focused on and fine-tuned so that we are convinced we are experiencing a specific story with specific characters in a specific universe.

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