In Guillermo Del Toro’s original Pacific Rim, written by Carnival Row scribe Travis Beacham, giant monsters called kaiju rise from the depths of the oceans and proceed to destroy major cities around the world.
But what begins as the usual Godzilla formula takes a turn with humanity’s last hope: rather than guns or bombs or a nuclear arsenal, it’s giant robots (called jaegers) piloted by humans that pummel the monsters to death in WWF-style brawls.
It’s an inherently silly premise that dares us to take it seriously. But it worked, somehow, thanks to its neon style and goofy verve courtesy of the Oscar-winning director, and a monsterific subplot involving scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman.
The good news about Pacific Rim: Uprising is that director Steven DeKnight (making his feature debut) faithfully recaptures the tone of the original film without missing a beat, and Day and Gorman, two of the only returning cast members, are back in more prominent roles.
But unless you were dying to see just what was up next in the world established by the first Pacific Rim, there simply isn’t that much going on here.
Ten years after the events of the original Pacific Rim, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) – the son of that movie’s hero, played by Idris Elba – is living the high life as a jaeger scavenger in razed coastal towns.
But after a run-in with young fellow scavvie Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) that sees them both detained at the hands of a giant jaeger, Jake is blackmailed and Amara invited to join the ranks of jaeger trainee pilots by Jake’s sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, the only returning cast member apart from Day and Gorman).
At the academy, Jake re-teams with former co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) as the film proceeds to sink into the same arc as the first movie: the jaeger co-pilots need to establish a strong link with each other, work as a team, overcome personal prejudice and cocksure attitudes, and so on and so forth.
This time, however, the threat is not the kaiju, but automated jaeger drones created by Day’s Newton Geiszler and billionaire Liwen Shao (Tian Jing). When the technology goes bad, it’s up to our young untested heroes to come in and save the day.
Yes, half of the appeal of the first movie, the giant monsters, are almost eliminated from this one. The first kaiju not glimpsed in a dream sequence or flashback doesn’t appear in Uprising until after the 90-minute mark.
At that point, we get a satisfactory rumble through Tokyo that reminds us of what these movies ought to be focusing on.
And I love how the movie, like Batman v Superman before it, excuses the mass destruction of an entire city with a single line of dialogue: “all of Tokyo’s inhabitants have now safely taken shelter underground…”
Pacific Rim: Uprising has all the required story elements for a film like this to work, and doesn’t shy away from the inherent silliness of the premise like the recent Power Rangers movie. But there’s just nothing to recommend this film beyond a mild diversion.
Still, I liked the cast here. Boyega hasn’t been given much to do in the recent Star Wars movies, but his commanding bad boy here recalls his appealing breakout turn in Attack the Block. And Eastwood still hasn’t found his breakout role, but he’s a charismatic, likable chiseled hero in an era where that has become a rare thing.
If you needed more Pacific Rim in your life, Uprising delivers the goods. All others proceed with caution.