Review: Legendary's 'Pacific Rim: Uprising' is a Blast from the Breach
by Adam Frazier
March 25, 2018
In Guillermo del Toro's 2013 movie, Pacific Rim, a dimensional rift opened at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and through it emerged Kaiju, giant monsters engineered by the alien Precursors to move between dimensions and terraform planets. The Kaiju unleashed their fury on cities along the Pacific Rim and proved virtually unstoppable with conventional weapons. Gigantic humanoid mechas called Jaegers — piloted by humans connected via a neural bridge — were engineered to fight back. Jaeger Gipsy Danger, piloted by Raleigh Becket and Mako Mori, successfully closed the rift by detonating a bomb, aided by legendary Jaeger Marshal Stacker Pentecost, who gave his life to ensure the success of the mission. Ten years after the Battle of the Breach, the oceans have become restless once again. Enter Pacific Rim: Uprising, the sequel directed by Steven S. DeKnight (Marvel's "Daredevil") and starring John Boyega as Pentecost's son.
A once-promising Jaeger pilot, the rebellious Jake Pentecost (Boyega) left behind the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) for a lucrative career as a black market scavenger for Jaeger tech. While trying to steal a highly valuable tertiary plasma capacitator, Pentecost is apprehended by the PPDC and brought before his estranged sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Mori offers to have his charges dropped under one condition: that he trains the next generation of Jaeger pilots at the Shatterdome in China alongside his former co-pilot, Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood). One of those young cadets is Amara Namani (newcomer Cailee Spaeny), an orphan of the Kaiju War who built her own Jaeger: Scrapper. Both Amara and Jake are strong-willed and self-sufficient, and while they tend to pull away from others, their many similarities lead them to form a bond — one that makes them drift compatible. As the cadets' formal training begins, an unstoppable new threat is unleashed by the Precursors, and PPDC command is destroyed, leaving Jake and his squad of rookies as the planet's last line of defense against extinction.
A spirited love letter to Japanese manga and anime, including Mazinger Z, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Kaiju movies like Godzilla vs. Megalon and Destroy All Monsters, Pacific Rim Uprising honors the universe Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beachem created while allowing it to grow and evolve. As much as I love the first movie, it has its issues. First, Charlie Hunnam's underwhelming turn as the lead character, Raleigh Becket. Whether it's Hunnam's performance or Beachem's writing, the role can't carry the emotional weight of the storytelling. You invest more in supporting characters like Mori, Pentecost, and Ron Perlman's Hannibal Chau because it's nearly impossible to care about Becket. That is not the case with DeKnight's sequel. John Boyega shines as a magnetic leading man, more than capable of carrying the Pacific Rim franchise forward. And what I love most about his performance here is that it isn't just a rehash of his Star Wars character, Finn. Ironically, Boyega's Jake Pentecost is an amalgam of his The Force Awakens counterparts, Han Solo and Rey — part-scoundrel, part-scavenger.
Another issue of the first movie rectified in the sequel is the staging of big, dynamic action set pieces. As dazzling as the special effects are in del Toro's original, many of the fantastic Jaeger and Kaiju designs are obscured by darkness as 90% of the movie's action sequences take place at night. And while the scope of the first film is huge, you never really get an opportunity to be in awe of it, simply because there aren't many wide shots that let you appreciate the scale of these enormous monsters and mechas as they hurl each other through skyscrapers. The action isn't as incoherent as a Transformers movie, but it's far from the epic grandeur of the final battle in Gareth Edward's Godzilla. Here, DeKnight, fight coordinator Liang Yang, and cinematographer Dan Mindel (of Star Trek, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) stage some beautiful, sweeping fight scenes in broad daylight, allowing the audience to take in the Jaegers and Kaiju as actual characters, not just pixels smashing into each other.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Uprising is the introduction of Cailee Spaeny's character, Amara. She's Newt from Aliens, John Connor from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Lex from Jurassic Park all rolled up into one fiery persona — a resilient survivor with a mind for engineering who will no doubt inspire countless young girls. Her Jaeger, the 40-foot-tall Scrapper, is an adorable mini-mecha that feels inspired by Wall-E and Batteries Not Included. Due to its smaller size (compared to the 300-foot-tall, 200-ton Jaegers), Scrapper can interact with environments and Kaiju in different ways than we've seen before. It can also curl up into a ball and roll fast to dodge attacks or debris, which makes for a few fun moments. While Boyega and Spaeny are no doubt the highlights of DeKnight's movie, Scott Eastwood is one of the low points, as his role doesn't add much at all to the proceedings. He's essentially a substitute for Charlie Hunnam as the franchise's Least Interesting White Guy™. Other newcomers to the series include Jing Tian (Kong: Skull Island) as Shao Liwen, head of a rival drone Jaeger program, and Max Zhang as Marshal Quan, the PPDC's laser-focused leader.
Another low point is the underuse of Kikuchi's Mako Mori. The fan favorite gets shortchanged here, and little is said about what happened between her and Becket in the ten years since the first movie. Also reprising their roles from Pacific Rim are Burn Gorman and Charlie Day as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb and Dr. Newt Geiszler, respectively, brilliant (and super-weird) scientists on the frontlines of Kaiju defense. Day seems to be operating somewhere in between Bobcat Goldthwait and Paul Reiser as a kooky corporate shill, and his subplot is by far one of the most unusual parts of a movie filled with giant robots, massive monsters, and interdimensional alien overlords.
The core of the story in Uprising, conceived by a writers room consisting of Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, DeKnight, and T.S. Nowlin, is that anybody can make a difference. What's so cool about this universe is how the world came together to fight a global threat, so much so that all the races and religions of Earth have put aside their differences to work together, and the cast assembled by casting director Sarah Halley Finn reflects that ethos. This is a film co-written by women that, like A Wrinkle in Time, champions the idea that young girls can be scientists, engineers, and monster-punching badasses. Like gender, skin color isn't an issue in the future of Pacific Rim — no one bats an eyelash at the thought that people of all ethnicities and backgrounds can be a family. It's an inspiring, hopeful idea and the perfect escape from a reality in which the world becomes more and more divided every day.
Overall, I had an absolute blast with Pacific Rim: Uprising. It's missing del Toro's unique sensibilities but makes up for the lack of originality with state-of-the-art spectacle, great performances from Boyega and Spaeny, and unabashed enthusiasm for the subject matter. I hope this movie makes enough at the box office to warrant a third entry because I would love to see where DeKnight and Boyega (who also serves as a producer on the film) take it next. Uprising won't convert those that didn't connect with the first film, but monster movie fans will undoubtedly get their money's worth. The quality of the filmmaking isn't as strong as its predecessor but DeKnight's blockbuster sequel just might be more fun in the end.
Adam's Rating: 3 out of 5
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Reader Feedback - 10 Comments
I wanted to like it. I wanted it to be better than the first one. I was wrong. The battle scenes couldn't save this movie. 3.5 is generous. 2.5 maybe.
tyban81 on Mar 25, 2018
Judging by the review summary, the author didn't really watch the movie. -smh-
eltiberon on Mar 26, 2018
What? I have no idea what you're referring to but I'm not tryin' to spoil the entire movie here. A review isn't a step-by-step, detailed summary of the plot.
Adam Frazier on Mar 26, 2018
" least interesting white guy"... wow racists much? the movie was clearly designed to make money overseas to make its budget back... hence the whole chinese bullshit... well given the box office results they probably made the right decision to pander to china
Derek NOLA on Mar 26, 2018
PR Uprising is just bad enough to make one suspect that product was perhaps secondary to purpose in producing this film. This is because - it should be pointed out - that this movie plays like a thinly disguised Chinese Communist propaganda film. No, literally. (** Minor Spoilers **) It's a Chinese who (in the end) saves the day. One or more self-interested Westerners are (ultimately) responsible for world ending problems at the heart of the film. The film’s successful billionaire visionary is Chinese and her underling toady is - you guessed it - a Westerner. At one point, the Chinese boss actually tells the Western employee (in front of all those young, impressionable folks in the audience) they have to speak Mandarin to succeed (she says it in Mandarin, but the sub-titles are in English). One can imagine the Central Committee members in Beijing jumping out of their seats with applause at this point. (The film’s producer is Legendary Pictures, which is owned by China’s Dalian Wanda Group – itself a toady of the Chinese Communist Party, as you can read - for example here ... http://variety.com/2017/biz/asia/hollywood-china-regulations-1202603570/). Looking past the Communist Party approved messaging, there are no parents in this movie. Huh? What? Why is this important? Recall from the original Pacific Rim (“PR1”). The father / son team of Hercules and Chuck Hansen piloted Striker Eureka. Eventual hero Marshal Stacker Pentecost was the (adopted) father to Mako Mori (and arguably a father figure to Charlie Hunnam's Raleigh Becket). Even Cherno Alpha's pilots were the husband / wife duo of Sasha and Aleksis Kaidonovsky (not parents, but at least old enough to be married and certainly post-Jaeger Academy). If you liked PR1's various story lines balancing the yearning of youth against the weight of aged experience, you will find that PR Uprising is just a bunch of kids running around (unbelievably) saving the world. Sure. All Sci Fi requires us to suspend reality and indulge in some fantasy. But to be effective, there is usually some balance between the two. If humans built giant robots to fight monsters, PR1 showed how such a future could play out in reality. PR Uprising shows how monster fighting robots would occur in a 6 year old’s fantasy world (fully dispensing with pesky issues like physics). New and unexplained abilities materialize throughout the movie, seemingly whenever the producers need to fill some gap in plot dynamics. Unfortunately, PR Uprising is just Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers with better CGI (albeit, the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda version of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers).
Alga Ar on Mar 26, 2018
Yeah, I have been mentioning it as much as possible, when Hollywood films are bankrolled by China. This sounds like a PROPAGANDA piece. Damn shame.
DAVIDPD on Mar 26, 2018
Stop being emotional guys. it's a kiddie movie. It's the perfect answer to Transformers. Big giant robots smashing things. Cities destruction. etc. Clockwork orange is at doorstep.
tarek on Mar 27, 2018
How strange that the reviewer would make some nauseating, virtue signalling point about how inspiring and hopeful the film is because it features an annoying teen set against this horrible and divided reality that we live in. And then sow the very seeds of division by dismissing Scott Eastwood due to his gender and ethnicity. Why not just review the film rather than injecting and projecting your social commentary into it. For my part, I felt the film was pretty much the same as the first one. Boyega has more magnetism than Hunnam but the story and script were still embarrasingly lame and cheesy. The characters are written with the deftness of an etch a sketch and plot points set up with the finesse of a Jaegar playing Jenga. I like the director but even I had to stifle some groans at how utterly banal and stupid some of the lines were. Still, it entertained me more than any of the recent Transformers and had some great special effects that really showcased the size and scale of the combatants. Like a Chinese takeaway it was enjoyable whilst you were consuming it but pretty forgettable afterwards.
Payne by name on Mar 27, 2018
Adam Frazier on Apr 5, 2018
That was one really bad movie. Such a disgrace for every decent viewer ...
shiboleth on Jun 3, 2018
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