This review was written for and appears on Punch Drunk Movies. Check out the site when you have a chance.
In the pantheon of clamored for sequels, was a continuation of “Pacific Rim” (2013) high on anyone’s list? I wasn’t a big fan of the original, which says a lot. I love giant robots and giant monsters; a movie that mashes the two together should have been a shoo-in for me. But that film’s director, Guillermo del Toro, and I don’t exactly get along. While visually stunning, it ended up a missed opportunity. So does the sequel right the wrongs of its progenitor? Nope. It improves some aspects, but drops the ball in others, resetting back at zero.
“Uprising” is set ten years after the events of “Pacific Rim,” and follows the son of Stacker Pentecost, the hero jaeger (read: giant robot) pilot who sacrificed himself to save the world from the threat of the kaiju (read: giant monsters) at the end of the first film. Jake Pentecost (an energetic and fun John Boyega, from recent “Star Wars” fame), a former jaeger pilot himself, is reticent to fill his father’s heroic shoes. Though most of the world has rebuilt itself, Jake lives a rogue existence as a smuggler in the lawless remains of cities unable to rebound after the attacks, shanty towns sprouting up in the bones of the monsters’ remains, one of the few neat details this movie comes up and then does nothing with.
Through plot origami, Jake ends up back in the jaeger program (his reason for leaving in the first place is both nebulous and silly, when finally explained) now run by his sister Mako Mori (a returning Rinko Kikuchi), and partnered up with old friend and new rival Nate (Scott Eastwood, squeezing his dialogue through clenched teeth much like his father, Clint, but sounding instead in serious need of an enema, or in the midst of receiving one), training new recruits in the event that the monsters should return. Of course, they do.
At least “Uprising” isn’t a carbon copy of the original, and the loophole it finds to bring the kaiju back is pretty decent, tying into an event from the original film. I’m tempted to call the movie efficient; it does move quickly through its material. At one point, thinking we were still in the first act, I realized an hour had already gone by and we were actually about to breach the third act.
But that hour didn’t fly by because I was kept in rapt attention. Rather, it’s because of how slight everything felt. Director Steven S. DeKnight (del Toro only produces this time around) breezes over everything: The introduction of a whole new cast of characters (and there’s a bunch of them), the post-invasion world, even (spoiler!) the death of a major returning character, all flitz by without emotion, without investment. The funeral for that major character isn’t even seen, only talked about afterward. It’s as if the filmmakers realized this is junk and thus there was no point lingering on anything. True, I can’t say I was bored, but I wasn’t involved either.
At least the movie gets to its reason for existing quickly enough, and there is a decent amount of giant robot action (though, surprisingly, the actual monster part of the equation doesn’t show up until the finale). And it’s decently presented, though not as artfully as in del Toro’s original; the Skittles candy coloring is all but gone and so is the gee-whiz imagination, the personality of the detailed monsters and robots that del Toro came up with all but jettisoned.
But at least there is a sense of scale this time around. They’re not just fighting in the middle of the ocean where the behemoth size of these robots and kaiju is all but moot. Most of the action here takes place in cities, which emphasizes their stature as they stand shoulder to shoulder with skyscrapers (but this begs the question, how much are the heroes actually helping when they’re wreaking about as much destruction as the monsters, using their magnetic energy weapons, for example, to pull building after building down on their enemies?). None of it’s awe-inspiring, but it all works just well enough to satiate that lizard part of my brain that wants to see rock-em, sock-em robots rocking and socking a bunch of ugly monsters.
But working just well enough to impress my basest instincts is not nearly enough to warrant a recommendation, not even a mild one. It’s still an impersonal wisp of a movie. And whatever the faults of the original “Pacific Rim,” at least it had passion, a point of view. This movie just feels like a cash in, an extended toy commercial, one that doesn’t even have any passion for its toys.