Pacific Rim Uprising; the sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 Pacific Rim, is a great time if you love the following: Giant Robots, Giant Monsters or cancelling the Apocalypse (again.) Though del Toro did not return to direct, the movie still has its moments of shining as a love note to the giant monster genre (including a cameo from Tokyo, Japan!) Also notably absent is Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Beckett, co-hero of the Kaiju War from ten years ago, as we now focus on life moving on after the war. (Minor plot spoilers in the next few paragraphs. Skip down three paragraphs for the less spoilery stuff.)
The movie starts with John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost, living a life of partying within the remains of a Kaiju-attacked city from years ago. While trying to heist a power core from a decommisioned Jaeger, he finds he is too late and that Amara Namani (Cailee Spaney) has beaten him to it. He tracks her down and finds out she built her own adorable mini-Jaeger, Scrapper. After getting scooped up, the pair find themselves off to the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC)’s Australia Shatterdome; Amara more excitedly as a Jaeger fan, and Jake begrudgingly as his adoptive sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) gets him out of jail on the condition that he returns to the PPDC and finish instructing the current crop of recruits.
At the Shatterdome, we meet our new Jaegers (including Gipsy Avenger – the sleeker, sexier version of GIpsy Danger from the first movie) and new recruits who all happen to be teenagers. Jake meets up with his former co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) or as he is lovingly referred to in the movie, “The Chin.” There’s some cliche alpha male squabbling as Ranger Lambert is meeting his sense of duty training the recruits, and Jake not only left years ago, but is waiting to leave and not taking this at all seriously.
As the film progresses, we see the main conflict being that a company wants to launch remote controlled Jaegers with the idea that they could reduce response time, while Mako, the deciding vote on the launch of them, is concerned that they could be easily hacked or manipulated. Gipsy Avenger investigates a rouge Jaeger Obsidian Fury, the sleek black Jaeger showcased in the trailers who is causing all kinds of havoc. By the end of the movie, it’s up to Jake, Nate and Pacific Rim: The New Class to mount up in the jaegers and save the day from the threat of new Kaiju.
The movie’s highlight is the Jaeger fights. The new Jaegers are fast and sleek, especially Saber Athena. Gone are the clunky Jaegers from Pacific Rim (though ten years has passed, so it makes sense that there were some upgrades) and the Jaegers can hold their own. Having more fights in the daylight, though risky (night can hide any shortcomings in CGI better), really does pay off and they look great. It’s touch to choose a favorite, but any of the new sleeker ones like Saber Athena, Gipsy Avenger or Obsidian Fury are such highlights. While they really defy the laws of physics, they move with such a grace and power it’s hard to not be enthralled during a fight scene.
However, as this movie was really made as an action movie, there’s a lot of dropped or shallow character plots in the movie. There’s an odd hint of a love triangle between Jake, Nate and a girl (I didn’t even try to look up her name because I feel it’s that irrelevant to the movie.) There’s quite a bit of hanging plot with the teenagers (Pacific Rim: The New Class) that’s never touched on, and the movie just abruptly ends (of course stay for the post credit scene, which is actually directly at the end of the movie!). It feels like they hit their minimum required run time and called it a day.
Boyega (or Bojaeger, as he said he’s good with!) has so much fun in this movie and absolutely is a highlight of the film. While we touch on how living in his father’s shadow, or not being able to prove him wrong (because of the end of the first Pacific Rim), I think we could have spent a bit more time working on some development there. Though he gets to lampshade his father (Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost- which is hard to live up to anything Idris Elba does), we don’t see a lot more touched on the relationship there (probably due to the fact that Jake’s first mention is this movie, the relationship is a retcon.) There also is not as much focus on the Jake and Mako relationship, and there are so many great things that can be done there. Jake and Amara, however, end up having such a great dynamic, in large part to the fact that you can tell that they are two people who both need something in each other that they are missing – a family.
Our returning characters from the first movie, Mako, Newt and Herrman don’t get much time to shine. Mako serves as the means to the end of a plot point and is in the film briefly. Charlie Day’s Newt loses the charm of what makes his character great from the first movie, and though one could argue that though the plot continues the story arc from the first movie – with an unsure future for a third movie and no chance of redemption, the character becomes a smudge of what he used to be, and Burn Gorman’s Dr. Hermann Gottlieb ends up being stuck in a lab.
In an oddly ironic twist, in a movie where teenagers pilot giant robots to stop giant monsters, I can’t help but think at how wonderful it would have been if we could have had some more of the exciting third act action be tacked on to last year’s Power Rangers movie for the perfect movie. If you are looking for a movie with a lot of plot and development in between your giant monster action, check out 2014’s Godzilla. If you are okay with sitting through some clunky plot and dialogue for giant monster chaos, then this is the movie for you.
While the film lacks the heart of del Toro’s love letter to the genre which the first one has; the sequel is full of action, mostly giant robot on robot, and plenty of robot on monster. And after all, isn’t that what matters in a movie like this?