Movie Review – Pacific Rim Uprising

Summary from IMDb

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

PacificRimUprisingPoster

Pacific Rim Uprising is a science fiction action film directed by Steven S. DeKnight and starring John Boyega as Jake Pentecost, the son of Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) from the first film. 10 years have passed, with Earth having enjoyed relative peace since the sealing of the breach, an act that stopped the monstrous Kaiju from invading. Through a series of mishaps trying to sell machine parts on the black market—salvaged from Jaegers, the giant robots that humanity used to fight the Kaiju—Jake is forced to rejoin the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) to instruct new recruits as Jaeger pilots. An attack from a powerful rogue Jaeger reveals that times are not as peaceful as they thought and that a plot is brewing to restart the Kaiju invasion once again.

Though considerably weaker than its predecessor, which I will get in to, this film was undeniably a lot of fun to watch. If you’re a fan of the spectacle that is giant robots clobbering otherworldly leviathans whilst wrecking up a city, this film has a lot to enjoy. The action is well shot and the visuals look great. I also really appreciate that while the concept is somewhat fantastical, they manage to make piloting a Jaeger look really taxing for the pilots themselves. Damage is frequent and costly, and while these machines can get the job done if the pilots work well in tandem, one or two false moves can lead to swift defeat. I liked this prevailing sense that the Jaegers are powerful, but far from indestructible.

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Image from IMDb

My main problem with the film is they could not decide whose story they were telling. It opens with exposition from Jake, whom much of the story centres around, but we are soon introduced to Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who is forced into service along with Jake and becomes a cadet within the PPDC. The plot tries to balance Jake’s instructor/cadet relationship with her, living in the shadow of his father, and his strained relationship with his former co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), which includes a love triangle between the two and an officer named Jules Reyes (Adria Arjona) that goes nowhere and was a baffling waste of screen time. Meanwhile Amara, despite her talents, finds being a pilot harder than she thought and has to deal with friction from some of her peers. It’s all not hard to follow, but none of these threads follow a clear path. Ultimately, we’re left with an amalgam of character scenes dealing with varying issues, each allowing only small amounts of development to take place. Few, if any, follow a particularly coherent arc.

Outside of the concerns of the main characters, Doctors Gieszler (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) return in semi-supporting roles. I say “semi” because Jake and Amara are largely absent from the plot points involving this pair of old friends. For what it’s worth, I did enjoy seeing these characters return. They make an entertainingly quirky couple. The true threat of the film emerges through developments centred on them as well, which goes on to tie in nicely with events from the first film. The character threads may have been all over the place, but the threat itself was straightforward enough, which redeemed some of that lack of focus for me.

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Image from IMDb

This next point may have much more to do with a personal lapse than anything else, but something that shocked me days after watching this film was that Nate Lambert was not the protagonist from the first film. That character was Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), but it has been five years since I’ve seen it so I had forgotten his name. There was so little distinction between Becket (as I remember him) and Lambert that I went through the entirety of Uprising assuming they were the same character. This incorrect assumption didn’t impede the film at all. I don’t recall a single reference to Becket either, despite his pivotal role in the original, which would have clued me into the fact that they’re not the same guy. Maybe this is just unique to my experience with it, but I feel like it is telling of  something when characters are that indistinct from one another.

Pacific Rim Uprising is a good, fun movie with some decent twists and turns in the plot along the way, it’s just not told as cohesively as the original. The characters and their development are a little too all over the place, but the performances are good and I could still connect with them enough to care what happened to most of them. The original main characters do get majorly sidelined though—with one absent altogether—so if you cared about them you will be disappointed in that respect. It may not build on the original in a way that surpasses it, but it does connect to it in appreciable ways. Definitely worth checking out if you temper your expectations and are looking to have a fun time.

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