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Pacific Rim Uprising Review

March 23, 2018 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Pacific Rim Uprising
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Pacific Rim Uprising Review  

Directed By: Steven S. DeKnight
Written By: Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight and T.S. Nowlin
Runtime: 111 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

John Boyega – Jake Pentecost
Scott Eastwood – Nate Lambert
Cailee Spaeny – Amara Namani
Rinko Kikuchi – Mako Mori
Charlie Day – Dr. Newt Geiszler
Burn Gorman – Dr. Hermann Gottlieb
Jing Tian – Liwen Shao
Adria Arjona – Jules Reyes
Dustin Clare – Joseph Burke
Ivanna Sakhno – Viktoria
Wesley Wong – Jinhai
Karan Brar – Suresh
Levi Meaden – Ilya

Legendary revives the Pacific Rim franchise for more giant robot vs. giant monster action in Pacific Rim Uprising. Longtime TV showrunner, Steven S. DeKnight, steps up to the plate as director and showcases a new cast of characters.

The first film is a lot of fun, and it’s an endangered species at this point. Even in 2013, it had become exceedingly rare to see a new blockbuster based on a completely original script. Not to mention, the concept was something that had never really been realized for a major Hollywood film before.

Pacific Rim Uprising is not without its flaws. It suffers from some similar problems that a lot of franchise installments have struggled to overcome in the past. It’s still an immensely entertaining and cool film that makes some improvements to the original, but also failing in others.

The new central protagonist for Uprising is the wayward conman, Jake Pentecost (Boyega), the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost. 10 years after the events of the first film, Jake washed out out of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC). He now spends his time living in broken cities that are still in ruins after the war with the Kaiju, stealing and bartering what he can for supplies. It’s somewhat understandable considering his father likely left a large shadow and big mecha boots fill.

Jake’s latest heist is bungled when some valuable Jaeger parts he wanted to steal are taken right out from under him by a young orphan, Amara (Spaeny). Amara uses the purloined parts to build her own homemade, pint-sized by comparison to the real McCoy, Jaeger that she calls Scrapper. Unfortunately, she and Jake, after he hitches a ride aboard Scrapper, are abruptly captured and incarcerated by the PPDC. The first film’s Mako Mori (Kikuchi), Jake’s adopted sister, has been promoted up the ladder to a war council position. She gives Jake one last chance: Go to the Shatterdome to train Amara as a new recruit along with other cadets or return to jail.

Jake is reluctantly brought back to the life he had left behind, much to the chagrin of his ex-partner, Jaeger ranger Nate Lambert (Eastwood). Amara is joins another batch of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young recruits, who all hail from countries across the globe. Russian recruit Viktoria is less than impressed that Amara was basically given a free ride into the Corps because she built her own Jaeger. Meanwhile, Jake and Lambert have to get over their past differences and the fact that they both have the hots for Jaeger tech, Jules Reyes (Arjona).

Mako Mori has a lot on her plate as the war council is looking to approve a new Jaeger drone program headed by a giant Chinese technological conglomerate, Shao Industries. The project is headed up by the company’s CEO, Liwen Shao (Tian), and the chief engineer appears to be the first film’s Dr. Newt Geiszler (Day). Geiszler has seemingly moved on to the private sector in order to create Shao’s vision of an automated anti-Kaiju drone program that would make the current model of two humans piloting a single Jaeger obsolete. However, something about the plan is bothering Mori. Meanwhile, the alien masters of the Kaiju, the Precursors, still aren’t finished with their plan to terraform and take over Earth. While the rift to the Anteverse was closed, it appears the Precursors have another plan to get through.

Pacific Rim Uprising is not without its issues. Unfortunately, Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket is nowhere to be found. Mako Mori, who was central to the first film, is generally swept aside despite the welcome return of Rinko Kikuchi. The film opting to focus on new lead characters is understandable, but it does so at expense of the unceremonious exits for the original’s main characters. Charlie Day’s Geiszler and Burn Gorman’s Dr. Hermann Gottlieb are the only characters from the last movie with significant roles this time around. No one even gives Ron Perlman’s Hannibal Chau a ring, when there are plenty of ways he could’ve been written in to make a token appearance.

John Boyega does fine work as the new lead. He’s probably the best thing about Uprising. He’s generally more charismatic and entertaining than his staunch, straight-arrow partner, Nate Lambert. Scott Eastwood has still failed to impress in one of these major blockbusters. Just like with his appearance in The Fate of the Furious, he seems to only fulfill a certain studio-mandated quotient. He’s just a bland and generic presence. When you think about Raleigh Becket having to work with Stacker Pentecost’s misfit, ne’er-do-well son, then the conflict of Pacific Rim Uprising becomes infinitely more interesting. It’s a lost opportunity.

The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out by the group of new Jaeger cadets, with Amara Namani chief among them. None of them really get much more than really shallow development. Amara’s Goose and Maverick-esque rivalry with Viktoria also gets a bit goofy and unbelievable at times. To their credit, it’s not that the kids are bad or annoying, but it’s the one subplot that doesn’t get much time to develop or really get fleshed out. Amara’s relationship with Jake does get a nice amount of development and becomes the new central one for the film.

Another weird subplot is that civilians have started worshipping and protesting in support of the Kaiju. This idea could’ve been wildly interesting if the concept was explored more. Geiszler had shades of having an unhealthy fixation on the Kaiju in the original. However, it’s an idea that is jettisoned from the film just as fast as its introduced.

What Pacific Rim Uprising does have going for it is that there is a lot more action than the original that’s spread out in a much more efficient way. The film actually begins with a fun chase sequence with a tiny Jaeger trying to evade a giant, regular-sized one. As seen in the trailers, a group of Jaegers also throw down with some of the new Kaiju. The original Pacific Rim did a poor job of showcasing the capabilities and action of the other Jaeger mecha. Here, the other pilots and Jaeger are showcased a lot better in the third act. The new Jaeger designs and their capabilities are all executed well.

The 2017 Power Rangers utterly failed to deliver on its promise of delivering some cool giant robots vs. giant monster battles. The monsters that were in that film looked like trash. The Zords looked like trash. The Megazord looked ugly, and the fights were nothing to write home about. Here, the fights are at least fun and compelling to watch. They actually showcase how cool it is to watch this type of battle and giant mecha and giant monsters throwing down in the middle of a big city.

The visual effects are all decent for the most part, but it appears there’s been a slight downgrade from the first film. Guillermo del Toro might’ve been on to something by having many of the fights take place in dark and wet environments with lots of water and rain particles in the frame. It might’ve added a bit more texture. Many of the major battles in Uprising take place in brightly-lit environments. The visuals aren’t obscenely bad as how the CG turned out in Justice League, but the effects work does seem a bit exposed at times.

Lorne Balfe replaces Ramin Djawadi as composer here, which is rather disappointing. Djawadi provided a great rocking soundtrack and theme for the first film. Balfe is at least smart enough to use Djawadi’s theme again in Pacific Rim Uprising, and those are great moments. However, the rest of the score is mostly uneventful and nowhere near as good as Djawadi’s work. If anything should’ve been retained from the first film, it’s Djawadi as composer.

Pacific Rim Uprising is lacking in the sense that it misses some of the stronger storytelling and direction by Guillermo del Toro and original writer Travis Beacham. Steven S. DeKnight does at least manage to put together a big action movie that’s generally entertaining and moves fairly well without. The action all looks really cool, looks well executed, and it’s never hard to see what’s going on. It’s a decent, workman-like sequel.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Pacific Rim Uprising does have some problems with the way it unceremoniously deals with the exit of the central characters from the original in favor of the new central cast. John Boyega does a good job as the lead, and there's some better helping of action, Jaeger and some interesting, new Kaiju. Steven S. DeKnight overall does an adequate job as director, but the script definitely could've used more polish. Some characters and ideas also could've used a bit more fleshing out, which wouldn't have hurt the film's fairly quick pacing. The giant monster fights are satisfying, and Pacific Rim Uprising basically does Power Ranger better than the 2017 movie.