For many, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING coming to screens has them shivering with anticipation. Despite a disappointing domestic gross that failed to make back its budget, the first PACIFIC RIM found many advocates. A modern cult hit, RIM boasts a loud and enthusiastic corps of fans. Add in the international grosses, quadrupling the total box office gross, and a flop became a candidate for a sequel, albeit one that took 5 years to hit screens.

I was amongst those who saw the first PACIFIC RIM during its brief US theatrical run. Alas, I was not amongst those who fell in love with it. However, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING boasts an almost entirely new cast, a different director, and different screenwriters. Would that get me on board with this installment of the Jaegers v. Kaiju franchise? Will it satisfy the fans that “got” it the first time around? Let us take a look, shall we?

Pacific Rim Uprising: The cast
Cailee Spaeny, John Boyega, and Scott Eastwood strike a pose against kaijus in PACIFIC RIM UPRISING (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The Idea Behind PACIFIC RIM UPRISING

The movie opens 10 years after the incredibly named Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) sacrificed his life to “cancel the apocalypse.” While kaiju skeletons still dot the land, the world has largely been rebuilt and moved on. Despite concerns, neither the kaiju nor the “breaches” that brought them have returned. Nonetheless, the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) still stands guard with jaegers, the giant robots man built to fight monsters.

One person who wants no part of that life, though, is Stacker’s son Jake (John Boyega). A former cadet who washed out, he lives a sort of aimless hedonistic lifestyle of all-day theft and all-night partying. His thieving leads him to encounter a scavenger, Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) with her own mini-jaeger, Scrapper. Their encounter, in short order, leads them both to be detained by the PPDC and, essentially conscripted into service. Jake becomes a training Ranger alongside former partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), a fate he seems to treat with disinterest bordering on defiance. Amara, meanwhile, becomes what must be the youngest cadet at PPDC, looking about 12 years old.

On the morning of an important vote to move from piloted jaegers to remote-controlled drones, an apparently rogue jaeger emerges from the ocean. Tragedy ensues and the PPDC must move from a peacekeeping force to a combat team once more. But what of the kaiju?

PACIFIC RIM and GODZILLA ’98: Failure of American ‘Kaiju’

The Writing

PACIFIC RIM UPRISING took a four-person screenwriting team, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, and T.S. Nowlin, and director Steven S. DeKnight. However, with the tone consistent throughout, the script never feels like a “too many cooks” scenario.

The team clearly set out to write a lighter—literally, and in tone—and less self-serious film than the original. Largely unconcerned with the world-building and portentousness of the first film, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING focuses more on humor, interpersonal dynamics, and, ultimately, action.

It does take some time to get in gear with the plot not actually arriving until about 20 minutes into the film. During that time, though, we get to know both Amara and Jake well. Additionally, we get a good sense of a world that has largely moved on from the terror of a decade before.

There is, admittedly, also a lot of exposition during this time. Still, except the opening narrated by Jake, this exposition is often dashed off. It doesn’t make sense that characters would be telling one another these facts that they obviously already know, of course. At least everything is moving fast enough we don’t dwell on that though. One can sympathize, too. If PACIFIC RIM UPRISING is to outdo its predecessor’s return, it needs to hope people show up who didn’t see the first RIM. If these people do, it is nice of the movie to give them what they need to know.

The script does raise some intriguing points that it never does anything with, unfortunately. Most prominent of these is PPDC’s role in a kaiju-filled world and how people feel about the organization. It’s an avenue I would have loved to see more of but the movie does not have time for that kind of introspection.

Pacific Rim Uprising: Titan Redeemer
The jaeger Titan Redeemer goes to war in PACIFIC RIM UPRISING (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Casting The Leads

Boyega is a delight. Whether he is making an ice cream sundae with what I can only call bratty zeal, bragging about his good looks, or owning how attractive a cohort is, he sells every line. He is a big reason this less ambitious installment sings in a way RIM did not.

His chemistry with both Namani and Eastwood is also well honed. One can easily see how Jake and Amara might develop a sibling-like relationship verging on respect with one another. Jake and Nate’s rediscovering of their partnership is a bit bumpier, but that seems to be a scripting issue. In terms of how they relate to one another, it all feels honest to the scene. Even if the scene does not quite fit with the one before it or the one after it.

Namani on her own does well. It is her first feature-length film to see release but she acquits herself well. It cannot be easy to act against the amount of green screen in this movie, but she sells it. She has gravity and interacts with the effects in a way that doesn’t let on she’s only looking at a tennis ball.

I have yet to see Eastwood be better than he is here. That is damning by faint praise, certainly, but it’s true. It turns out a role where he can occasionally make a joke, rather than just grimace and shoot, suits him.

KAIJUMAX #1 Review: Fear and Respect

Casting the Rest of the PACFIC RIM UPRISING Call Sheet

Charlie Day’s Dr. Newton Geiszler and Burn Gorman’s Dr. Hermann Gottlieb are back and more or less playing the same character beats. Your enjoyment of them will depend on how much you liked them the first time around. Day does get a late film upgrade but his manner doesn’t change much even as his role grows in significance. He also gets a truly creepy scene about halfway through, although it is mostly his “costar” that makes the moment.

Rinko Kikuchi is the one aspect of this film I can guarantee will disappoint fans as she is criminally underserved.

The cadets are all largely fine with only Ivanna Sakhno’s quick-to-anger Viktoria making much of an impact.

Tian Jing’s possibly evil corporate leader Liwen Shao makes a strong impression and has a decent amount of screentime. However, she’s called up to essentially play two different roles within one character without any kind of connective tissue to make that evolution work. Moreover, the character note she’s given for the second half of the film is way less interesting.

Pacific Rim Uprising: John Boyega
John Boyega in a rare moment of seriousness in PACIFIC RIM UPRISING (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Filming

Guillermo Del Toro is a genius. You know this. I know this. So, please understand I know how ludicrous this sounds when I say it.

I prefer Steven DeKnight’s vision of this world.

I know. Yikes.

But it is true.

A large part of it is undoubtedly that DeKnight rejects the dark rain-soaked vision of the first movie. That may have helped sell the CGI but it also made the movie a slog for me. Action was often muddy or unclear. It also felt purposeless beyond the CGI masking. This was not SE7EN where the darkness and rain sold a theme. It was just there.

UPRISING, on the other hand, is bright. Most of the fights happen in broad daylight. I can actually see and understand the geography of the action.

This does make it clearer how much devastation these fights do, which is both good—consequences—and bad—city destruction is increasingly frustrating for many filmgoers. Still, I’ll gladly take the battles I can see over the ones I have to infer.

Of course, if the CGI looked dodgy, the brightness of the thing might have made it terrible. Surprisingly, I think the computer effects all work. Things have weight. They feel like they are interacting in real physical space, not just the interior of a CPU.

The monster designs are less interesting and varied than Del Toro dreamed up, but that’s only a small deduction for me.

Lara Croft Becomes TOMB RAIDER, Mediocrely

Striking the Set

Brighter, funnier, and more action-oriented than its predecessor, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING is a marked improvement over the first installment. Fans who preferred the tone and pace of the first RIM may disagree. However, we can all agree that the character Mako Mori’s treatment here is a big disappointment.

I have some other problems with the film as well. First, some characterization jumps from place to place without selling us on that evolution. Second, there are intriguing bits of the world outside of PPDC that are raised but never really addressed. I would have loved a bit more follow-through on those.

Nonetheless, I recommend PACIFIC RIM UPRISING as a fun popcorn movie that delivers. I never would have expected it, given my feelings for the first film and the trailers for this one, but there it is. PACIFIC RIM UPRISING: better than the first.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *