by Benjamín Harguindey
It’s tempting to think of Pacific Rim Uprising (2018) less as a sequel to Guillermo del Toro‘s mecha-vs.-kaiju love letter Pacific Rim (2013) and more as a franchise pitch, retconning any sense of urgency or achievement from the original movie while laying down the groundwork to “expand the universe”, as director Steven S. DeKnight has said. “You can go main canon, you can go spin-offs, you can go one-offs,” he goes on to fawn in the same interview.
Turns out the apocalypse wasn’t cancelled so much as delayed some ten years. The world continues to lick its wounds from the kaiju onslaught and we’re introduced to the son of the late, heroic Pentecoste (Idris Elba) as he wastes away from party to party in a life that looks cut up for MTV. Jake, played by John Boyega, makes a living bartering giant robot loot until he crosses paths with one those young genius self-taught junkyard orphans of awesome mechanical skills and impeccably coiffed hair (Cailee Spaeny). They partake in some harmless cops-and-robbers routine and as punishment are forced to join the brave ragtag resistance, around the time when comparisons to The Force Awakens (2016) can no longer be ignored.
Partnered with the stern Lambert (Scott Eastwood), Jake proceeds to train protege Amara as well as a new batch of Jaeger pilots, never mind that it’s been a full decade since the last kaiju attack and business woman Shao (Jing Tian) is about to render the Jaeger program obsolete with her new line of automated mecha drones. Of course this goes awry in all sorts of ways, and around the time there’s a new kaiju invasion too. So now it’s up to Jake et al to cancel the apocalypse a second time, or delay it long enough for a third movie to brew.
For what it’s worth, ‘Uprising’ does right a lot of points of contention regarding the original movie. There’re more action scenes, they’re all showcased under crisp sunlight, the other Jaegers get their foot in rather than being offed from the get-go and the biggest battle is saved for last. For all intents and purposes this is the “bigger and better” sequel a lot of disappointed would-be fans were clamoring for back in 2013. It’s just that the movie is lousy at coming up with compelling characters or getting us interested in them. There’s very little personality under all the spectacle, nothing to call an identity for itself.
Despite its The Force Awakens-esque premise, the movie actually ends up hewing dangerously close to something like Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) or a Transformers entry, forcing unsubtle characterization on its borderline cartoon characters and toting a gung-ho energy that is nowhere near as upbeat or charming as was the case with the original movie. For the most part it just seems to be going through the motions, withholding characters from having any real impact on the story. Every relationship seems pointless and like it has no real pay-off: not the rivalry between wise-ass Jake and by-the-book Lambert, not the tepid love triangle with Jules (Adria Arjona), not Amara’s cliché tragic backstory or any of her interactions with her equally generic bunk buddies. Nothing matters, nothing stands out, nobody will remember any of them.
Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are the sole returning cast members. It’s hard to say who’s treated the worst because there’s a different reason for each of them, all spoilers. Suffice to say that the movie is at odds as to whether it’s continuing a story or retelling it altogether. On the other hand there’s a neat twist in there that checks all the marks: it’s surprising, it makes sense (sorta) and it’s cleverly hidden in plain sight.
Ultimately Pacific Rim Uprising delivers on giant-robot-on-giant-monster punchy action. And oh look, there’re flaming swords, and laser katanas, and there’s a gun that pulls matter together to form spiky katamaris ready for launch. The fighting is even more ludicrous, which is good enough for the fuck yeah crowd, but there’s nothing going on in between or indeed beneath the fight scenes to endear us to the characters or their future adventures. Del Toro is gone and so is the magic.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).