By Casey McKairnes
The first Pacific Rim was Guillermo del Toro’s affectionate geek-out for all things anime and giant monster movies, with a little touch of Frankenstein thrown in for good measure. Its sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a wearisome 114 minutes. In the world of the film, groups of massive, interdimensional monsters known as Kaiju (Japanese for “monster”) are invading our world. The only hope is in the form of equally massive robots known as Jaegers (German for “hunters”). It is more than just a science fiction movie, it is also a war movie, chronicling the last days of battle where victory seems impossible. Hope arrives in the form of a retired veteran pilot and an inexperienced rookie piloting an obsolete Jaeger. However, if the characters of the first movie had any idea of what their future held, they probably would have been just fine with letting the monsters win.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is set ten years after the first film and focuses on a new generation of Jaeger pilots clashing with a new generation of foes. Star Wars’ John Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, son of one of the heroes from the first movie. Forced to reenlist after getting arrested, Pentecost and his former partner, Nate Lambert, attempt to train new pilots while an unseen enemy plots the Kaiju’s return. Uprising tries its hardest to replicate the highlights of the first movie, while trying some different ideas, and fails spectacularly. It is a shallow, joyless mess that served as a reminder that, sometimes, sequels just should not happen.
After del Toro encountered a multitude of issues, ranging from studio disputes to financial problems, he handed the directorial reigns over to first-time director Stephen DeKnight. The writing shifted from del Toro and Travis Beacham, who was responsible for the original idea of Pacific Rim, to a team of four writers, including DeKnight. Del Toro stayed on as a producer. The poor pacing, hyperactive nature of the story, and painfully hokey dialogue reflects that there seems to have been just too many pilots in the Jaeger.
The characters are largely unlikable and devoid of any depth or charm, even those returning from the first movie. Ramin Djawadi’s fun and effectively rousing score was all but abandoned for this movie; the title theme is thrown in somewhere in the middle for an ugly montage of hasty Jaeger repairs. The replacement score is little more than sonic wallpaper, skulking in the background. The visual effects are adequate, but they still look like they are from the 2013 movie. A frequent complaint for the first movie was how nearly the entire movie was set during the nighttime; Uprising tries to solve that by doing the opposite. Spoiler, it does not work.
The nighttime setting is significant because it helps to set the mood for Pacific Rim, that cliché of “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Daylight does not come until the very end of the film, when the last Kaiju and the invaders have been defeated. The darkness adds to the tension because the heroes have no idea of when the next attack will be or why they are being attacked, so they are both literally and metaphorically in the dark. Uprising’s constant illumination helps to reveal to the audience all of its flaws.
One of the biggest themes in the first film was the importance of familial connections; everyone in the movie had either a family member that was lost to the Kaiju or was fighting alongside a family member. The gimmick for piloting the Jaegers was called Drifting–two pilots connecting via a neural bridge to ease the strain of steering the metal behemoths. The catch was the pilots have to have some level of compatibility, so family members were often recruited. Uprising still mentions this, but largely ignores it; it seemed as if any two people could do it, reducing the importance placed on the idea in the first movie. Considering how unimpressive and awful most of the actors were, it seems understandable. I could barely stand watching these people on screen, let alone wanting to share a mental bond.
A large portion of Uprising focuses on the new Jaeger pilots being trained by Pentecost and Lambert, which are primarily young adults. The reasoning given is that younger pilots supposedly have a higher chance of Drift compatibility. The problem is that they are all so unlikable, bland, and grating, the already terrible dialogue only serves to reinforce my dislike for them. Casting so many young adult actors really makes Uprising feel like an episode of Mighty Morphin’ Millennials. This superficial lightheartedness takes out all the gravitas of an otherwise dire situation, especially when the kids are laughing and giving the finger to a giant monster.
Pacific Rim featured a speech by Stacker Pentecost, Jake’s father, portrayed by Idris Elba. He delivered it with such conviction and confidence, I even felt inspired. It includes the line, “Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” It is, admittedly, a little cringey and silly, but it is effective, punctuates the finale of the speech, and sets the tone for the final battle. His son tries to deliver a similar speech with comedic results. The apocalyptic nature of this world ended with the first movie. Uprising’s nature and overall feel is not much more than an episode of Power Rangers; the human antagonist even stands on a rooftop during the final battle, cackling like Rita Repulsa.
There were a few positives that, I guess, are worth mentioning. The designs of the Jaegers and Kaiju were fun and interesting, even if their main purpose was to sell a couple action figures. The one performance I did enjoy, in some capacity, was Charlie Day, reprising his role as Newt Geiszler. In his usual fashion, Day somehow brings a great deal of energy and charisma to his role, while still being fairly grating and unlikable. Despite how much I did not enjoy practically the entire movie, its open-ended finale and promise of a third entry got me a little hopeful for it. Now that del Toro has won a few Academy Awards, maybe he will not have as much trouble securing the money or a studio so that he can do more than just produce.
Ultimately, Pacific Rim: Uprising barely deserves to be a popcorn flick, one you go to see to be strictly entertained and not worry about thinking too much. It is tedious, repetitive, and lazy, but the most heinous issue is that it is boring. I kept waiting for something interesting or exciting to happen all throughout the film, but nothing ever did. I highly recommend skipping it to watch or re-watch the first one, anything else from del Toro’s library, or the original 1954 Godzilla to satisfy that itch for colossal sci-fi mayhem. If I had to give it a rating, I would give it a D-, and that is being generous. Pacific Rim: Uprising is a disappointing sequel that fails to live up to the goofy fun and thrills of the original. The apocalypse was better off being kept on schedule.
Casey McKairnes is a Biology & English major, cat dad, and perpetual grump. Don’t ask him what he plans to do with them.