I was a big fan of the first Pacific Rim. I originally went into it expecting nothing more than mechs fighting monsters, all brought to life with nice shiny CGI, but came out with a weirdly gritty and down-to-earth story about loss and sacrifice. It was Guillermo del Toro afterall, so I suppose I really shouldn’t have been that surprised. And having come out of seeing the sequel, I am again surprised, but to a different degree.
I did not have high hopes for Uprising. The promotional material I saw did not look promising, and the lack of del Toro at the helm made me cautious. I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome, though. It was not fantastic, but it was not bad. It felt like a believable expansion of the universe del Toro created, and was both entertaining and, occasionally, compelling. Needless to say, the effects look fantastic. While the art direction is a noticeable departure from the grey realism dominating the first film, it is cohesive and interesting. Pacific Rim Uprising represents a much glossier, flashier future, with all of the mechs being shinier and brighter, all of the technology being obnoxiously neon and holographic, and even things like the gunshots being being zippy and almost laser-like. If only the aesthetics of the mechs had changed, I don’t think I would have bought it. But with everything from the colours of the giant robots to the look of a cell phone sharing the same artstyle, it felt good, refreshing even, and I enjoyed it.
Another factor that was underselled in marketing was the cast. John Boyega has come a long way from his young days in The Force Awakens, and while his role as the protagonist Jake Pentecost (Son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost from the first film) was kind of campy, he did a great job. The trailers had got me feeling it might just be John Boyega piloting a mech, which would have been fine with me, but his character was silly and frivolous on the outside with an honest and driven core–Something that’s nicely accentuated by some rare dramatic moments. Another core character was Amara Namani, played by Cailee Spaeny, a young woman roughing it in the same place Jake found himself at the start of the film. Becoming a cadet later on, her chemistry with John Boyega is really fun, and they develop a good mentor-apprentice relationship. In fact all of the cadets, including Amara, delivered some really compelling, albeit ultimately brief, performances. It was also nice to see some returning characters, Burn Gorman and Charlie Day returning as the scientist duo Hermann and Newton, and especially Rinko Kikuchi returning as Mako Mori. While her part is not particularly large, it was great to see the character again. Another new character, Liwen Shao played by Tian Jing, made this film filled with some particularly badass Asian ladies. Which is something Hollywood could do with way more of.
While the story was nothing revolutionary, it was not exactly what I was expecting either, and for once was not completely spoiled by the promotional material. It had a couple of good twists that were neither egregiously telegraphed nor out of left field, and helped differentiate its plot from the story of the first film. The action was not as lacking as in its predecessor, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. In fact, I would even go as far as to say the action was not actually this film’s strong suit. Which is wild to say about a film based on mechs punching monsters, but both the new shiny jaegers and monstrous kaiju felt less impactful in the sequel. While there is a fight scene earlier on in the film that does a good job of retaining that weighty realism the first Pacific Rim had in its action, the majority is something more akin to a Transformers film. Meaning pretty and somewhat enjoyable, but lacking the charm and style of del Toro’s world.
As much of the language in this review suggests, this film is middling. I went into it thinking it was going to be a pile of garbage, but came out pleasantly surprised with a perfectly fine film. The casting is strong, and definitely carries the film. I enjoyed the first two thirds, which mostly focuses on the characters and only has a few brief action sequences, but was more or less unimpressed by the finale. I’d say if you were a fan of the first Pacific Rim, think the artstyle looks particularly interesting—or if you’re after an action film with some enjoyable characters—it’s worth a watch. Whatever the case is, I think it’s best if you wait for it to pop-up on the streaming service of your choice.