Mark Reviews Movies

Pacific Rim: Uprising


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven S. DeKnight

Cast: John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Scott Eastwood, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Tian Jing, Adria Arjona, Rinko Kikuchi, Max Zhang, Ivanna Sakhno, Karan Brar, Wesley Wong, Mackenyu, Lily Ji, Shyrley Rodriguez, Rahart Adams, Levi Meaden

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 3/23/18

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 22, 2018

Despite its issues, the original Pacific Rim provided flashes of the sense of awe that should come from the sight of giant monsters. Those sights, of course, were marred by the movie's reliance on murkiness, close-ups, and a lack of coherence in the editing of its massive battles.

The sequel, set 10 years after the characters of the first movie fought back the Kaiju threat, takes a different approach. We can actually see the giant robots and monsters this time, since most of their appearances and battles take place in broad daylight. Director Steven S. DeKnight really wants us to comprehend the scale of these giants, and much of the movie's action is shot with either the entirety or the majority of the robots and/or monsters in the frame. Pacific Rim: Uprising has been manufactured for spectacle, but in the process, the sequel has lost the awe and personality of its predecessor.

It feels manufactured, and that's a significant problem here. Whatever one might say about the original, it was obvious that the movie came from a place of sincere love for the monster movies that inspired it. Much of that adoration undoubtedly came from director Guillermo del Toro, whose fingerprints are absent here, save for a producing credit. DeKnight and his fellow screenwriters for the follow-up (Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, and T.S. Nowlin—none of whom, including the director, were involved in the first movie) don't provide much of an excuse for a sequel. The movie itself, which takes its sweet time getting to an actual robot-monster fight, doesn't convince us of its own value, either.

With the monsters pushed back to the alien realm from which they came, the world mostly has been rebuilt in the decade since humanity's war against the Kaiju. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of that war's hero, lives a thief's life in a coastal city, where property and luxury items are cheap but the essentials are expensive. To survive, he steals equipment from a nearby Jaeger (the name of the giant robots) junkyard for folks who want to build their own, illegal robots.

On one of his runs, he encounters Amara (Cailee Spaeny), a young and scrappy scrapper who's building a personal Jaeger named "Scrapper." Following a wild chase through the city in the robot, the two are apprehended and offered a chance to avoid punishment. Amara will become a cadet in the Pan Pacific Defense Corps—her dream—while Jake will reenlist to train new cadets—his nightmare.

Obviously, a new threat emerges. It comes in the form of Jaeger drones, which can be operated remotely and only require one pilot, as opposed to two-pilot, mind-melding system that's required for hands-on operation. A rogue Jaeger attacks the PPDC's envoys in Sydney, Australia, causing plenty of panic and suspicion about the drone program.

There's a surprising amount of plot here, most of it having to do with the cause of the rogue drones. We're reintroduced to some familiar faces, such as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), who's working for the PPDC, and Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), who has moved on to the private sector and has a strange relationship with a Kaiju brain that he keeps in his bedroom.

His boss is Liwen Shao (Tian Jing), who has developed the drone program and looks like a good suspect for the attack, and Jake's comrades in Jaeger-operation include Nate (Scott Eastwood), with whom he has some bad blood on account of bailing on the PPDC, and Jules (Adria Arjona), who's only here for a jokey love triangle. Naturally, there's a team of wide-eyed, eager cadets, who, coincidentally, number the exact number of people required to pilot the available Jaegers once the monsters come back.

Much of the movie seems to be prolonging the inevitable, and aside from a couple of scraps with the drone, the story is mostly about uncovering the conspiracy. Does any of it really matter? No, it does not, because, on a fundamental level, we're only here for the spectacle of giant robots fighting giant monsters. To deprive us of that for so long seems unnecessarily unkind, especially since there's so little to these characters to keep us involved. The movie gives us some mind-melding therapy in one scene, as Amara has to recall the deaths of her family members at the foot of a Kaiju, but everyone here is disposable.

The fighting eventually starts in the story's climax, as a trio of monsters emerge from the sea. The extended battle is serviceable, if unimpressive. Like the previous action sequences, DeKnight sets it against a late-morning, cloudless light. We can comprehend the skirmish (as well as the considerable destruction, with the monsters and, oddly, our heroes alike demolishing skyscrapers with equally absent regard for casualties), but it's polished to the point of being sterile.

Unlike its predecessor, Pacific Rim: Uprising feels like a product. It's all sheen and spectacle, without the affection or personality of the original.

Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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