Set 10 years after the event of Pacific Rim, we follow Jake Pentecost, the son of Stacker Pentecost, who lives as a grifter of sorts, junking and selling Jaeger parts. When he and a young girl called Amara Namani, get caught in an unregistered Jaeger, he is offered the choice of re-enlisting as a Jaeger pilot. However, he does so at a time of uncertainty as a new pilotless Jaeger is about to be launched.
While the first Pacific Rim film was no artistic masterpiece that changed cinema as we know it, it did have a creative energy and curiosity that made the world and its characters uniquely fascinating. It is a meticulously crafted world, with a singular aesthetic of neon, rain and petrol. It understands what it is and lovingly recreates a live-action version of mecha anime with sincerity and heart. The sequel has none of that. While del Toro is still involved in the production, as 1 of 7 producers, it is clear that he had no artistic involvement. It feels flat and uninspired.
The story is an attempt at a redemption arch for Jake Pentecost, the disgraced son of the hero Stacker Pentecost. The first film had that same story, as Charlie Hunnam’s odd accented Raleigh Becket sought to overcome the loss of his brother. However, while Pacific Rim showed us the tragic events that led Raleigh to building a wall to protect cities from the invading Kaiju and the regrets that are obviously eating the man alive, Pacific Rim Uprising shows us none of it; we are told who Jack Pentecost is, we are told why he was kicked out of the Jaeger training program, we are told about his relationship with his father and we are told about some record he has. While this may have been an issue of casting, it would have been nice to have a prologue scene that allowed audiences a chance to connect and sympathise with Jack’s position.
The same can be said about the amount of exposition that Pacific Rim Uprising feels the need to dump on viewers. Not only does it have the job of acclimatising audiences with the world of Pacific Rim, but also catching audiences up with the story of a film that was released over 5 years ago. However, the story fails to deliver on drawing audiences into the world. Instead of creative ways of delivering the information, in news broadcasts, context clues, a prologue, we get a clip show of the previous film. Even the final speech that Jack gives at the end of the film, the one that is supposed to be the rallying cry that Idris Elba’s powerful “Cancelling the Apocalypse” ends in an anti-climatic “Let’s get this done yeah”. Instead of building on the first film, it seems to be badly imitating it.
One area that I suppose it does improve on is the lighting. A major criticism of the first film was that due to lighting and rain, we could not see the fights. In Uprising we are able to see the action scenes, all 4 of them. While, despite the visual obscurity of the fights in the first film, the monsters and robots had weight, they felt real. Here it is like a kid playing with action figures and cardboard box buildings.
While John Boyega, Burn Gorman, Charlie Day and Cailee Spaeny try their best to engage audiences with their charismatic performances, you can’t escape the feeling that this is a sequel by committee. It was clear there was heavy interference from the now Chinese owned Legendary Pictures, and how they inserted Jing Tian (who was in The Great Wall and Kong: Skull Island) as the head of Shao industries, the producers of the pilotless Jaegers and Zhang Jin as the Marshall of the Jaeger program. But it ruins the film series and turns a film made by a fan of giant monsters and anime into a commercial product designed to sell toys and sequels, especially when you have John Boyega teasing such in a post-credit sequence that is vaguely similar to the end of another disappointing sequel to a fondly remembered sci-fi action film.
Truth be told I was worried about this sequel the minute a heard that del Toro was no longer heading it. But I went in with a hope that his legacy would pull Pacific Rim Uprising through. Unfortunately, I was sorely and sadly mistaken. What I got was amateurish and bland while Pacific Rim flopped in the cinema, it has a lasting legacy on home release as a great action film with heart and originality. I hope that Pacific Rim Uprising flops too so maybe we won’t get that sequel after all, particularly if it is just going to be more of the same.
You can watch Pacific Rim Uprising in cinemas now
You can buy Pacific Rim from Amazon now