It’s taken approximately five years for the follow-up to Guillermo Del Toro’s seemingly questionable Pacific Rim to rear its Jaeger head. It is big and brash in its delivery of its human operated, mechanical heroes and hangs on a script that induces mind-boggling head scratching and comparisons to Michael Bay’s Transformers. Do we really require another giant robot vs. giant monster battle to provide our big screen entertainment? The answer is no but there is still some highly forgettable fun to lose yourself in for at least a couple of hours.
If you haven’t seen the first, there is no need to watch it before venturing to see Uprising. It stands perfectly fine as a standalone though it does vaguely reference its predecessor. Pacific Rim Uprising offers up pretty much the same action and mediocrity whilst appealing to a much younger audience with a whole new gaggle of teenage recruits. John Boyega’s effortless charm and wit give it that slight edge over the first.
Set 10 years after the destruction of the first film, the world is still a wreck trying to rebuild itself after the Jaegers and Kaiju went head to head. Jake Pentecost (the son of the Idris Elba’s Stacker who was killed in battle), is a complete contrast to his father. He has dropped out of the Jaeger Academy, disillusioned by his prior experiences and invests his time earning a living by acquiring and selling robot parts. Jake encounters the young boisterous orphan who has a self-taught hobby of building her own Jaeger’s, Amara (Cailee Spaeny). The pair find themselves arrested and Jake is thrown back into the academy to train up the next generation by his (returning) sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) against a greater returning threat.
Whilst back at the academy, it almost feels like the film is split in two with a fair amount of exposition surrounding Jake and Amara. On one side, audiences have to endure the teenage tantrums and jealousies of the new recruits as Amara tries to fit into the group. On the flip side, Jake mooches around the academy straining the nerve of his once partner, Nate, (played by an ineffective Scott Eastwood, and frankly could have been played by anyone). There is no question that Boyega is this film’s saviour. He contributes his own sense of London swagger, a likeable rogue with his own way of achieving things when pushed into a corner.
With Del Toro off making his passion project, The Shape of Water, he took a backseat as a producer and handed over the reins to Steven S. DeKnight. DeKnight has seen notable success on the small screen with shows such as Spartacus; Uprising permits him to step into the breach for his feature directorial debut. DeKnight, who has made it clear they plan on building this universe further, has enacted some apparent changes transforming the battle scenes from night into the daytime. This not only makes the action slicker but more coherent than the muddled mess of the first. He also brings the picture to life, injecting colour and an even more inflated sense of absurdity with the two-person operated Jaeger set pieces.
There are a few things that hits all the right notes: its diverse casting, human sentiment and message; yes, this monster blockbuster has a message. Layered amongst the unfathomable scale of destruction and convoluted plot it tries to convey that if we put aside our fears and work together, we can conquer our enemies; but in the meantime let’s not take ourselves too seriously.