Just in case you missed the 2013 original (directed by recent Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro), Pacific Rim: Uprising kicks things off with a recap: giant monsters invade our planet from another dimension through a rift at the bottom of the Pacific rim. The various militaries of earth, led by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), rally together to create giant robots so big it takes 2 pilots psychically synched to operate them in order to fight the monsters off and save our world. Of course, victory would not have been possible if it weren’t for scientists Newt (Charlie Day) and Herman (Burn Gorman) having their own little mind meld with one of the monsters to learn the secrets of how to defeat them.
Well, now it’s a decade later. The monsters are gone, but we’re still building 2-pilot giant robots and using them as a sort of global police force around the world. Meet Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of war hero Stacker. He initially was following in his father’s footsteps, but now he’s a criminal, stealing robot parts for the highest bidder. His most recent luting expedition forces him into a run-in with preteen Amara (Cailee Spaeny) who’s built her one single-pilot giant robot from scraps. The two get captured and forced to serve in the military as pilots of the much larger robots. It’s here that Jake reunites with his adopted sister, war vet Mako (Rinko Kickuchi) and his old rival Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood).
One of the top giant robot manufacturers in the world, that has Newt as their lead designer, has come up with new tech: remote controlled giant robot drones! This is a game changer that has them ready to corner the world market despite the pilots being pissed this will make them obsolete. The unveiling of the new tech comes when a rogue giant robot rises (get it?) from the ocean and kicks the crap out of our heroes before retreating. The drone program is instantly put into global distribution to seek out the mysterious robot, but tensions grow quickly as it looks like Mako may have warned our heroes with her dying breath that the giant monsters may have had something to do with it.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is a total popcorn movie… however, it’s just not as good as the original. Don’t get me wrong, it was still loads of fun, but with fewer (albeit bigger) battles than the original I felt like the pacing slowed down from time to time making me just want to get back to cool larger than life fighting.
That said, this film does a better job of filling in plot holes than the original did, though the ones it left were doozies (that I won’t get into as I’m trying to be as spoiler-free past the 30 minute mark as I can be). On the plus side, you won’t find yourself going “What?! They had a sword?! Why didn’t they bust that out to begin with?” Our heroes bring out the big guns right away, which helps the story evolve into far more of an underdog story than a “well that was convenient” annoyance.
The acting was a little wishy-washy. Some humans (Boyega and Eastwood, specifically) were great and really took control of their roles. Others (Kickuchi, Day, and the handful of teen pilots-in-training) were less fun to watch as their performances ranged from forgettable to bizarre to just painful in that Local Community Theater sort of way.
But you’re here for giant robots and explosions! The special effects in this will rock your socks off and the production design is straight up badass. Oh, and watching Tokyo get annihilated during the climactic end battle was just so much fun!
I was curious how Steven S. DeKnight would handle the material as this is his first feature film (he’s most known for his television work like Daredevil, Spartacus, and fan favorites Buffy and Smallville). I’m still not entirely sure what I thought of it. He took the material that came from four writers (himself included) and pulled out a fun popcorn flick, yet at times it felt like those TV episodes you know were just written as filler because they had a gap in their season’s outline that needed something no matter how mundane it might be.
Overall, Pacific Rim: Uprising is much like the original film, a fun time if you don’t think too much. Unfortunately, the fun times are fewer and farther between, and the cast do their best with what little they have to work with. But still…giant robots and total destruction, and when the fights do come, they are pretty damn epic.