Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’ is, unashamedly, a favourite of mine. Taking the craftsmanship and dedication of the man behind genuine classics like ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and applying it to a giant monsters vs giant robots film just worked. Del Toro loves Japanese culture and their obsession with kaiju, and that comes across in every beautiful, neon splashed frame of ‘Pacific Rim’. You can imagine my, and the rest of the world’s, hesitation when a sequel was announced, but sadly Del Toro wouldn’t be in the director’s chair. That hesitation, as it happens, was not wrong.
‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ takes place 10 years after the events of the original. They cancelled the apocalypse and restored order to the world after closing the portal at the bottom of the ocean at the end of the first film. Jaegers are being built again, but with less need than previous given the lack of kaiju around the place. Corporations, though, are hell bent on making Jaegers AI-operated in order to be mass produced, eliminating the need for drift-compatible pilots. When a rogue Jaeger attacks a demonstration of this, it’s up to the John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost, son of Idris Elba’s Stacker, and the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps to find out who is behind the defected Jaeger.
Immediately, red flags begin to rear their heads. The allure of the first one was the kaiju and their immaculate designs. The second film near enough removes kaiju from the equation entirely. Monster vs robot action is replaced by robot vs robot action, ultimately moving the Pacific Rim franchise towards becoming a little too similar to ‘Transformers’. Thankfully, the robot vs robot action is frequently great and isn’t painful to look at like in ‘Transformers’. For all the problems ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ has, the action isn’t one of them.
One major change between the first and second film is, genuinely, the time of day. Where ‘Pacific Rim’ kept all the major action sequences at night, using neon to its advantage and allowing the colours on screen to truly dazzle the audience, ‘Uprising’ keeps all the action in the day. This was an intentional move by director DeKnight because of what Del Toro managed to achieve with his night-time sequences; DeKnight wanted to try something different. I fully respect that move from a novice director, a man who has largely been known for working on the ‘Daredevil’ Netflix series and ‘Spartacus’, making his directorial debut with a $150million film.
Where the action scenes falter compared to the original is in its weight. Every punch in ‘Pacific Rim’ had weight to it, you really felt like these were two giant beasts going at it and making huge amounts of damage to each other. In ‘Uprising’, while the action scenes are fun, they feel almost completely weightless. The punches and sword slashes don’t have the same impact as the original; the scale of the fights simply isn’t there. A stand-out shot from the first film is Gipsy Danger, carrying a tanker as a baseball bat, walking over the camera looking up from the ground, you saw these robots were literally the size of a skyscraper. In ‘Uprising’, it just felt a little like action figures going at it. That didn’t stop certain Jaegers making an impression (Saber Athena was my personal favourite of the new Jaegers), but the impact of the fight wasn’t as strong.
For a big action blockbuster, you don’t expect to see Oscar-worthy performances, and this remains true here. The acting is serviceable, but given the majority of the cast is young and new to the whole acting game, it isn’t surprising. Scott Eastwood, known for being an actor not understanding that ‘The Fate of the Furious’ is meant to be a fun film, continues to be entirely wooden on screen, lacking any sort of charisma you’d expect from a man who literally fights monsters for a living.
Fortunately, John Boyega is on hand to pick up the pieces left by Eastwood and charisma the hell out of us. Boyega, having won everyone over with his great performances as Finn in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’, is able to slip back into his natural accent for a change. Back to being a boy from East London for the first time since 2011’s terrific ‘Attack The Block’, Boyega is out there just having fun. His charm and humour elevates this film so much because he’s a man that everyone can root for given his outright cool demeanour. Everyone either wants him or wants to be him, and ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’, whatever you think of the film, is yet another example of his talent on his meteoric rise to stardom.
All told, I enjoyed ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’. The action was solid if unspectacular, it was visually impressive, and John Boyega sells the film with everything he has. I found the film fun and enjoyable, and when the action finally kicks in against the kaiju the film becomes even better in the final act. It’s just a shame it takes so long to get there.
Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight
Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman