Minor Spoilers Ahead
Five years ago, there was a steady anticipation for Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming film, Pacific Rim. It had been five years since his last feature, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, mainly due to his unfortunate departure from the Hobbit film adaptation in 2010. The first Pacific Rim ended up being a solid but flawed sci-fi/fantasy adventure that largely succeeded due to del Toro’s incredible imagination and direction. The sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising, shows promise in its attempts at building on what del Toro started, but ultimately, those attempts fall flat. Pacific Rim: Uprising suffers due to a lack of the magic that was delivered by its creators spark.
Following Jake Pentecost (played by Star Wars leading man John Boyega), the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba in the first film). The Kaiju war has been over for ten years, and Jake has left the Jaeger program to become a scavenger, which is a hired thief for more dangerous people. But when Jake finds himself fleeing from those who hired him, he finds himself confronting Amara Namani (newcomer Cailee Spaeny), another scavenger and a mechanic building her own Jaeger. The two get caught in the Jaeger trying to escape the authorities and are forced to join the current Jaeger program.
The conflict of the film comes out of left field and expresses how lazy the sequel’s contrived plot is. All the development for the so-called bad guy behind the scenes really calling the shots was done in the first film, and is followed up here in the briefest set up scene. With the seal in the Pacific Rim closed since the first movie, there needs to be a human threat as the antagonist. That’s the direction the writers take this story in, but, rather than take the time to develop that threat even further in a way that’s emotionally and logically justified, they rely on last-minute twists and half-baked OMG moments. This would be disappointing in any movie, but it is more frustrating here when the elements of the first film created enough promising material to work with, resulting in nothing more than a missed opportunity.
Stars Boyega and Spaeny make this film watchable. Boyega, who is involved in almost every scene and is also a producer, commands the screen. This is very clearly and specifically his movie, and for good reason. He has that star quality that hints at well-deserved longevity. While this film has a lot of flaws, his energy and passion for this project is evident through his magnetic performance. The same goes for Spaeny, who holds her own with Boyega and creates a spunky kid bursting at the gate for an opportunity to prove herself. Quite often I found myself more interested in her character’s progression over Boyega’s, and that speaks to the strength of her work in her first feature-length film.
The most exciting parts of the movie though come when the actors are in the pilot’s chair driving one of the big Jaeger suits into battle. The sleek designs are updated and streamlined to match the timeline, with the Kaiju that do show up showcasing the level of detail the artists and digital designers put into their work. Del Toro did serve as a producer for this film too, and even though he had left the director’s chair behind, his fingerprints are all over the Jaeger and Kaiju designs. It is a welcome sight when the film eventually makes it to the highlight fight scene teased in the trailers. But even that scene plays as a wasted opportunity. I won’t spoil the whole thing, but there is a Power Rangers Zord type of moment I didn’t know was coming. It was exciting for a second, but it’s then rushed through and ultimately inconsequential. One wonders what del Toro would have done with this picture had he been the director, and that tells the whole story of Pacific Rim: Uprising.