Back in 2013, which seems like a very long time ago now, director Guillermo del Toro put Michael Bay’s overblown, convoluted mess of a Transformers franchise to shame with Pacific Rim, a teenage boy’s wet-dream featuring Idris Elba commanding a rag-tag army of titanic mech suits against increasingly aggressive waves of giant monsters from a dimensional tear beneath the Pacific Ocean. It was a mad concept, one perhaps more suited to anime or manga and, despite being a pretty basic concept, was actually surprisingly good.
Reports of a sequel circulated and were rumoured for quite some time and, despite missing del Toro’s presence in the director’s chair and star Charlie Hunnam, the Jaeger’s finally return to battle again in Pacific Rim Uprising (DeKnight, 2018), which picks up ten years after the events of the first film. Apparently, this fictional world is far more productive and efficient than ours as not only have they practically rebuilt and restocked many of the world’s cities and resources, they’ve also managed to construct a veritable army of bigger, better Jaeger’s despite the fact that the Kaiju have been dormant and gone over the last ten decades.
Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of Elba’s Stacker Pentecost, has lost his way; having walked away from the Jaeger some time ago, he scavenges Jaeger parts and technology to sell on the black market. During his most recent job, he ends up literally falling in on amateur Jaeger enthusiast Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who has illegally built herself a one-man Jaeger named Scrapper.
Although they attempt a spirited getaway, they are both arrested and drafted (re-drafted, in Jake’s case) back into Pan-Pacific Defense Corps at the request of Jake’s half-sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Jake is reunited with his former Jaeger partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), with whom he shares an antagonist relationship, and tasked to train the new generation of Jaeger pilots, who are facing the prospect of being made redundant by the Jaeger drone programme spearheaded by Liwen Shao (Jing Tian) and Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day).
After a devastating attack by a rogue Jaeger, Obsidian Fury, Jake’s trepidation at being redrafted is replaced with a dose of good, old fashioned thirst for vengeance. However, in the course of hunting down and bringing Obsidian Fury to justice, Jake and Nate uncover a deeper plot to fuse Kaiju’s with the Jaeger technology and realise Dr. Hermann Gottlieb’s (Burn Gorman) fear that the Kaiju are poised to return for another round.
Unlike Pacific Rim, Pacific Rim Uprising is less about giant monsters fighting giant robots and more about giant robots fighting other giant robots and the boot camp-style training of the young Jaeger pilots. I found the Jaeger pilots’ enthusiasm to be commendable but flawed; they’re up in arms at the idea of being grounded with desk jobs piloting remote mechs rather than putting their lives on the line in the field, which is a bit strange. Judging from both of these movies, the average lifespan of a Jaeger pilot is scarily short so you’d think that they world prefer to remotely engage the Kaiju.
The film effectively expands and builds upon the world of the first movie; I kind of glossed over, or trivialised, how quickly the world has recovered from the Kaiju war but, to be fair, Jake does narrate quite heavily about how not every part of the world has recovered and that life is a struggle for a lot of the less fortunate people. Between movies, however, Newton and Gottlieb have discovered (from drifting with that Kaiju brain) that the Kaiju are created and controlled by beings they call “the Precursors”, whom they postulate are plotting to wipe out all life on Earth, which is an interesting concept to introduce and build upon.
Given that the rift between dimensions has been sealed, however, the main thrust of the narrative is about preventing the Precursors from reopening the rift and seeing this plan through. As a result, there is a lot less Kaiju action in this movie compared to the last for a good chunk of it. Luckily, however, the narrative in between of world-building and trying to figure out the identity of Obsidian Fury and the true motives of the Shao Corporation, is actually pretty good and the banter and dialogue between the characters works quite well. Once the Kaiju do appear, it’s for the entire last act of the movie and the pay off is totally worth the wait if you like giant monsters fighting giant robots (and you should!)
While the first film was all about being an effects showcase, this is more another example of why John Boyega is becoming one of the hottest, fastest-rising commodities in Hollywood today. So much of this movie hinges on and revolves around his character and he carries it beautifully; Jake is conflicted at living in the shadow of his father’s legacy but still wanting to make him proud, at being a snarky loner but also his deep-rooted obligations towards being a Jaeger pilot.
The cast around him is good and he plays off of them really well. Scott Eastwood fulfilled his role really well; his relationship with Jake is frosty, at best, but while they do butt heads it’s mainly because Nate feels betrayed at Jake’s departure rather than from actual hatred. Amara fulfils a role very similar to Mako’s from the first movie, having been orphaned by the Kaiju war as a child and desperately trying to prove her worth in a sea of other arguably more worthy pilots. However, as good (or, at least, passable to satisfactory) as the rest of the cast are, but make no mistake, this is Boyega’s showcase.
In the end, Pacific Rim Uprising is what it is. If you go into a movie like this expecting an intelligent, deeply emotional, life-changing experience then…well, you’re a fool. This is a unique franchise; basically a live-action anime that features giant mech robots fighting Kaiju and, for me, all I want to see is giant things fighting other giant things. Pacific Rim Uprising may feature less of that than its predecessor but the characters were enough to sustain my interest long enough for when the fighting did start and it was totally worth the wait.
Recommended: If you like good, mindless, fun then yep.
Best moment: The entire last act, once the Kaiju are finally released from the drift and the rookie pilots are forced to suit up and jump into action.
Worst moment: Nothing massively glaring comes t mind; maybe the scenes at Shao Corporation, which feature corporate dialogue about the drones and stuff and isn’t as interesting as seeing things in action.