I honestly didn’t want to see Pacific Rim: Uprising, much less review it. 2013’s Pacific Rim didn’t wow me, even with its larger-than-life, IMAX-sized monsters vs. machines WWE-style matches. Truthfully, films like these – even comic book films of late – are just rehashes of Irwin Allen disaster films. There’s not a whole lot of imagination in watching a city get demolished six ways from Sunday, and it’s not something I enjoy with any great relish.
As the adage goes, “it’s easier to destroy than to create.” I think director and co-writer Steven S. DeKnight had this in mind when he took the reins on this film and went a different route; the legendary Jaeger robots and the extradimensional beasts called the Kaiju take a backseat to an actual story and conflict. Sure, they’re the foundation upon which this entire film is based, but we’re given more than that this time out.
It starts with our main character, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega). He’s not exactly a hero like his father Stacker (Idris Elba, appearing via archival footage), who gave his life trying to seal the Breach through which the Kaiju came in the first film. Nah, Jake’s more of a scavenger, squatting in abandoned mansions and selling anything he can steal, from Sriracha sauce to highly-prized Jaeger parts.
He’s a former Jaeger pilot, the knowledge of which guides his scoring runs into government junkyards to find the most prized parts to sell. So when someone steals the exact part he was going to steal, both he and the other thief – teenage tech whiz Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) – wind up going to jail, only later to be pressed into service with the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC). There’s a rogue Jaeger on the loose, and Breach activity has been detected after ten years of silence, which is enough for Jake to agree to stay on and help investigate.
See? Simple. Not too much baggage, no fragile egos making bad decisions. Just a straightforward story of good versus evil and friendships made along the way. Yeah, some will say DeKnight made a Disney movie out of something previously thought of as belonging solely to the fanboys. The film does get a little corny at times, with how Amara – who’s now in the Jaeger pilot program – is treated.
Being a young teenager stuck in a world of adults and monsters, she’s bound to stick out like a sore thumb. Thankfully, Spaeny plays Amara as driven and smart, with a lot of guts to boot. She’s capable of holding her own against her peers and the Kaiju alike, and although she may be like the kid sister who’s tagging along for the ride, she’s a force to be reckoned with in her own right.
Boyega gives Jake a mix of his rugged criminal from Attack the Block and his go-get-’em spirit from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, lending Jake a humility and a determination without being a tool. Completely opposite in every way from Charlie Hunnam’s lead character from Pacific Rim, Jake’s a guy who adapts to any situation, whether it’s sliding away from a gangster’s gun barrel or having to work with his old PPDC squadmate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) again.
Pacific Rim: Uprising tries to maintain a straight-ahead vibe through its plain story and even plainer characters. The script – co-written by DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, and T.S. Nowlin – relies on archetypal roles to keep things moving and nondescript. There’s not much in the way of standout characters, which is more of a personality trait shared with the 2013 original, giving way for the leads to breathe and do their thing.
There’s an interesting moment which has turned suddenly timely in recent weeks. Jake, in delivering what he knows isn’t that much of an inspirational speech to the cadets, says that it’s the young people’s turn to make a difference. The adults have failed, and they’ve got to pick up the slack. We see how the adults have failed throughout the whole movie, where science gets perverted for personal gain, and how much it’s going to take to get it all back to normal. It might take more than expected, and there’s definitely a bit of a shocking loss to deal with.
But the weight of that consequence gets shoved aside for the sake of tying the film off with the big action bonanza ending, and Pacific Rim: Uprising doesn’t disappoint. For everything I didn’t like about the first film, the second has more than made up for it with instant goodwill from the actors, a kick-the-tires-and-light-the-fires pace, and being about more than some whiny, petulant flyboy. I dare even say you’ll have a great time at the movies with Pacific Rim: Uprising, as it’s entertaining, fast, furious, and grand fun.