Movie Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

Pacific-Rim-Uprising-posterThe original Pacific Rim felt so much like lightning in a bottle, and its lackluster sequel does nothing to dissuade us of that notion.

On one hand, how hard could it be to deliver on a simple winning formula? Giant robots fighting monsters? And while Pacific Rim: Uprising has plenty of that (and it is, at times, spectacular) it is weighed down by all of its exposition and human characters and some especially clunky performances.

In this sequel, John Boyega stars as Stacker Pentecost’s son Jake. Set ten years after the last film, and with no sign of kaiju invasion in a decade, Jake is far removed from the Jaeger program but is reluctantly recruited back in to help train a new team of pilots. However, they’re on the verge of being replaced by a new generation of remotely piloted Jaeger drones which don’t require drift-compatible two person pilot teams. What could go wrong with semi-autonomous giant robot drones in every major city? And this, of course, ends in the return of the kaiju and an apocalyptic showdown in Tokyo.

The original worked largely because screenwriter Travis Beacham and director Guillermo Del Toro were so in sync creatively. Despite the film being somewhat formulaic, it delivered a fun, exciting take on “robots fighting monsters” by having interesting human characters. For Uprising, writer and director Steven DeKnight, a veteran of Netflix’s Daredevil, the CW’s Smallville, and numerous Joss Whedon Buffyverse projects, just doesn’t seem to quite mesh with the material.

The script, while serviceable, telegraphs its giant robot punches miles away. If you had stopped the film after ten minutes and asked, “How is this going to end?” it’s easy to predict… and so then the film plays out in a paint-by-numbers fashion. And while the original gives us some great scenes outside the jaegers, including one of my favorite fight scenes of the movie (right), Uprising is a snoozefest when it isn’t being cringeworthily bad.

Chief culprit here is Charlie Day, who provided a lot of comic relief and exposition in the original (especially in his Odd Couple science buddy pairing with Burn Gorman) but who is just the absolute worst in this film. It doesn’t help that Scott Eastwood could be replaced by a cord of firewood and would be more interesting to watch. Also gone is any real character building for the supporting cast, who mostly end up unmemorable. Boyega is the only real standout star, but as much as he tries to carry this movie by himself, it’s just not possible, especially when he is saddled with this sometimes inexplicably bad script.

But the fight scenes? Those are pretty fun. Again, it doesn’t have anywhere near the charm and innovative feel of the first one. But, we were never really expecting it would, right? And when it sets us up for the inevitable sequel, we can only hope that someone is willing to lure Del Toro and Beacham back to work their magic.

If you’re a devoted fan of robots and kaiju, they already have your money. You bought your tickets ages ago and no mediocre review is going to keep you from seeing this. But for general audiences? Save your money for Ready Player One, or go see Black Panther again.

2 out of 5 stars

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