I finally climbed out of the Netflix Basement to make it to my local multiplex with my eight-year-old son, who’s also an expert on all things cool these days. I’ve written about my love and appreciation for Pacific Rim, but does Pacific Rim 2 hold up to the high standards of two experts on movies featuring robots punching giant monsters in their ugly faces? Let’s check it out.
PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (2018)
This movie takes place ten years after the events of Pacific Rim. The Kaiju have not come back… yet. But the World is continuing its Jaeger program and training young recruits to Drift and fight giant monsters. John Boyega takes over for star of the first movie Charlie Hunnam, and I’d have to say it’s a trade up. Boyega has charisma, a sense of humor about himself, and a joie de vivre. You know he’s enjoying carrying a $150 million dollar epic on his capable shoulders. He overcomes a badly written character to make the Giant Robot shenanigans believable. He’s assisted by the “handsome and sexy” Scott Eastwood, son of Clint (Boyega’s words, not mine). I reviewed Scott’s Western Diablo last week and I’m happy to say he’s improving as an actor. He banters with Boyega and does stoic action, and he’s decent at almost approximating human feelings. The standout in the cast is Cailee Spaeny as the precocious street urchin who’s also a robotics genius who built her own Jaeger. This character is common in Sci-Fi films: think Rose in the new Star Wars movie, Will Robinson in Lost in Space, Wesley Crusher in Star Trek:TNG, or John Connor in Terminator 2. And he or she is usually annoying. But Spaeny is really good at playing perky and pouty. I wish the movie was about her.
Aside from a glorified cameo from Rinko Kikuchi and extended roles for the comedy relief scientists (Burn Gorman and Charlie Day), nobody is involved from the first movie. This is worrisome, as part of the heart and soul of Pacific Rim came from Oscar Winning Director Guillermo Del Toro (I’m never going to get tired of saying that.) But TV director Steven S. DeKnight actually does a pretty good job of orchestrating citywide destruction and earnest sci-fi melodrama. And the special effects are as impressive as the first movie, which doesn’t hurt.
The biggest problem has to be that Boyega’s character doesn’t make any sense. His character is son of the preposterously named Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba in the first movie. He’s the Maverick style hotshot pilot who doesn’t play by the rules, so he was punted out of the Jaeger Top Gun program to become a street hustler and tech dealer, who stumbles upon Spaeny’s home-made Jaeger nicknamed Scrapper. But then he’s arrested and forced to rejoin the Jaeger program that’s ongoing despite having no Kaiju to punch in their ugly faces since the events of the first movie. So Boyega falls into the tough but fair Pilot Trainer role. This plot synopsis is about 90% backstory and that’s 89% more than is necessary or even desired for a Kaiju face-punching movie.
Eventually we get down to business as a rogue Jaeger attacks Boyega and Eastwood and we get our first Giant Robot throwdown. As I said, Director DeKnight is good at the action stuff, which is important. So there’s a conspiracy going on and then the poop hits the fan and the Kaijus are back to attack our planet and the big third act showdown kicks into gear. There is robots versus giant beast fighting and Tokyo gets decimated again. All of this is good and worth the price of admission. It’s just that getting to that point was a challenge.
What DeKnight doesn’t do that great is choreograph the big moments. Those “Yeah!” moments that make for great action movies. Like the Jaeger busting out the plasma sword in the first movie, or the Kaiji suddenly sprouting wings and flying away. Or just Ron Perlman showing up as Hannibal Chau in Part 1. Spoiler Alert, Ron Perlman is sadly absent from this movie. Or a prime example is Clint Eastwood’s, “Go ahead, make my day!” line from Sudden Impact. That scene still gives me chills. DeKnight is too busy keeping things moving to slow down for an Ass-Kick moment. I’m all for keeping things moving, but without these moments an action movie is missing something.
But the biggest failing of the film is that it’s surprisingly light on Kaiju action until the third act. Also, the monsters and robots are pretty generic. The robots have been given some defining characteristics, but aside from being different colors I couldn’t tell them apart. Sure, one has a sword and allegedly runs fast, and one has a big spinning ball of saw-blades that NEVER gets used, but ultimately there is no difference. That is aside from Scrapper, the pint-sized Jaeger who is also under-utilized.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I enjoyed Pacific Rim:Uprising. I liked all of the characters and, for the most part, I was swept away by the movie. I was thrilled at the right moments and it was pretty well executed all the way through. It’s predictably not as good as Pacific Rim but it’s still better than most Kaiju films, so I’m giving it a recommendation.
Sadly, this movie has tanked at the box office and despite a promise for Pacific Rim 3, I’m concerned that it won’t happen. Spoiler Alert 2, I sat through the entire end credits and there’s no appearance by Ron Perlman or any sort of post-credits scene at all. So aside from reading a lot of names of excellent special effects workers, there’s no Easter Eggs or a good reason to stick to the very end.