Director: Steven S. DeKnight
Cast: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Charlie Day
Watch Pacific Rim: Uprising online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Two big trends dominating Hollywood right now are blockbusters and nostalgia. So what happens when a group of film execs encounter a script that nestles cozily right between the two?
Combining the offbeat appeal of the original Pacific Rim – the magic touch of Guillermo del Toro keeping it stylish through the silliness – with all the familiar elements of a franchise kickstarter, Pacific Rim: Uprising already sounded like a cash grab disguised as, well, a franchise kick-starter. As the film gets going, the familiar tropes that scream ‘green light a sequel’ start coming thick and fast. There’s a feisty young tech genius and a new wave of teenage cast members to endear a new generation, a limp love triangle for the older teen audience that pits two old friends against each other, a shady tech corporation vs. the might of traditional manufacturing and the welcome return of a few faces from the first film.
On paper, it sounds like the perfect formula. But that’s where Pacific Rim: Uprising starts to come apart at the joints.
Like the old Jaegers that John Boyega’s scrapper Jake Pentecost raids for parts to support his attempts to recreate every music video ever made’s examples of success, it’s slightly heartbreaking to watch the corpse of the original be gutted and reassembled in such a banal way. The reason Pacific Rim worked so well was that, at its heart, the premise was outrageously simple: big monsters vs. giant robots. All the visual flourishes and casting embellishments were there to flesh out what was essentially a toothier, higher budget episode of GLOW. By contrast, Pacific Rim: Uprising is much heavier on the early exposition, to the point that you don’t actually see a Kaiju until you’re a good halfway through, but you’ve been introduced to five different subplots. Even the most magnetic cast would struggle to make that work over a 10-episode TV series, and over an impressively meager 1hr 50m (to give you a clear indication that this is a kids’ film), the cast do their best, but struggle.
There are some great moments among the ridiculous. Boyega – a one-man charisma machine – is on terrific form and inhabits the part of Jake (son of Idris Elba’s heroic apocalypse-canceller Stacker) with ease and swagger. From smashing up rival drone-operated Jaegers (obviously) to piling toppings on his ice cream (in a decidedly weird but rather cute bonding scene where he and similarly macho former co-pilot – Scott Eastwood – bicker over desserts), he owns every scene he’s in, which is something that couldn’t necessarily be said of the first film’s protagonist (Charlie Hunnan). The young support cast is sound, most notably Cailee Spaeny in full Jyn Erso mode as the engineering wunderkind Jake must train. And where Pacific Rim fell down on establishing a likeable group of charisma-filled newbies you could root for, Uprising’s group rises to this challenge and holds its own (again, can you say sequel?).
Bizarrely, the same praise can’t be lavished on the returning cast, largely because attention is being paid to the new one. The delightful double act of Burn Gorman and Charlie Day largely carried any comic moments of the first film, but initial delight at seeing them both in posters fades as – like Rinko Kikuchi as ass-kicking Mako Mori – their underuse is revealed. This old cast provides the flimsiest of threads tying this sequel to the original, and those threads start to fray.
That’s the main issue with Pacific Rim: Uprising. The concept of the Jaeger pilots working in pairs to drive the giant robot craft relies on a ‘neural handshake’, a mental bond between each person to move the Jaeger in sync. The link between this film and the original is weak at best, and disjointed at worst.
Plot holes and inconsistencies loom large and bright – so much of the original’s thrill came from battle scenes illuminated solely by city lights and Kaiju phosphorescence, but all of these are shot in exhausting, enchantment-free daylight – and the new cast and production team (including Lorne Balfe doing a masterful but muted attempt to mimic Ramin Djawadi’s epic score) struggle under the mantle they’re bearing, each contributing their part, but rarely being given the space to shine. The plot – compared to ‘monsters vs. robots’ – requires the rewriting of some relatively crucial features of the original film’s plot. The soul of the old has vanished under the chaotic attempts to turn the new into a hit, resulting in a relatively generic action film that makes you yearn for the strange magic of the original. They call it an Uprising. It would have been better if it had stayed down.
Pacific Rim Uprising is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.
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