In Pacific Rim: Uprising, the sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 film Pacific Rim, one-time military cadet Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) rips off junkers in a war-torn city to make his living. 10 years prior, Jake’s father (Idris Elba) sacrificed himself to stop a breach in the sea floor that allowed building-sized Kaiju into the world.
After a run-in with the law, Jake is brought back into military service as a ranger tasked with training a new squad of cadets to fight inside Jaegars—building-sized robotic suits that can only function when piloted by two people whose minds must sync up and work in tandem.
Steven DeKnight’s sequel doesn’t require much more setup than this. We know that there will come a point where Jaegers must face off against Kaiju. We are pretty certain that the entire movie will be an excuse for this to happen, most likely in the form of a prolonged climax.
And we are correct. After a long time passes, in which characters and vague apocalyptic plots are established, we got a good chunk of metal clashing with metal and/or rigid alien hide. It can be exciting. At the very least, it is largely coherent. It can also be visually clunky and somewhat awkward. It is also too repetitive to justify the length of the sequence.
What really sinks this film is not its sequences of action, but the buildup to them. Much of this two hour movie is comprised of boilerplate characters interacting in conventional ways. Boyega’s Jake returns to the military base to find an old rival (Scott Eastwood). The tension that comes from this is lazily scripted, and it also never really amounts to actual conflict.
Then there are the squadron of cadets, who have little to no characteristics and function more as props until the film requires more bodies in order to have more Jaegers. Save for Cailee Spaeny’s Amara, who at least as a vague backstory and thus some motivation. Not to mention that Spaeny gives the best performance in the movie, and one of only two serviceable performances alongside Boyega.
The script’s attempts at conflict, humor, and genuine emotions all fall resoundingly flat. This problem may stem from the poor character development, but it mostly feels as if the screenwriters are jamming in these emotional appeals because they feel obligated to. What they really want is to get to the loud, explosive battles. Putting in the plot and the character and the energy is secondary, it seems.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is essentially what one would have expected from a Pacific Rim sequel that does not include del Toro. DeKnight does not fail when it comes to the action, but there is so little charm or energy to it. Perhaps it will service whatever desire fans of the first film are looking for in a sequel, but it nevertheless fails to compel on its own merits.
Pacific Rim: Uprising: C-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)