Anchored by the charismatic John Boyega of “Star Wars” fame, “Pacific Rim Uprising” is an enjoyable, stylish and fast-paced ride teeming with action, but ultimately fails to live up to its 2013 predecessor “Pacific Rim.”
Boyega stars as the son of the fallen General Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba, who gave his life to win the war against the alien monsters known as the “Kaiju” in the 2013 film directed by the renowned Guillermo del Toro, which was generally praised by critics for its fun, fantastical imagery.
Thrown out of the pilot program to build “Jaegars,” the massive fighter robots created to beat the Kaiju, Boyega’s Jake Pentecost takes refuge in the criminal underground that lives in the coastal cities destroyed by the war. After a failed attempt to steal valuable parts from old Jaegers, Pentecost gets thrown back into the world that kicked him out when his sister Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi, offers him a chance to escape punishment. As a ranger, he and his former co-pilot Nate Lambert, played by Scott Eastwood, must train the next generation of Jaeger pilots as a new drone program threatens to make them obsolete when their biggest threat yet arises.
Coming off his “Star Wars” success, Boyega carries the film with effortless charisma and consistent comedic timing as Jake Pentecost, elevating the film’s plot. He perfectly plays off every character around him, building an endearing relationship with the young Amara, played beautifully by Cailee Spaeny, and an easy rhythm with Eastwood’s Lambert. Furthermore, his comedy allows the film to make fun of itself so that its more cliche moments are at least self-aware.
Boyega’s addition to the universe brings more complexity to the family dynamic introduced through Stacker Pentecost and Mako Mori’s relationship in the first film. While Kikuchi’s Mori is a model daughter to the marshal, Boyega serves as more of a rebel disappointment.
Like its predecessor, “Pacific Rim Uprising” cultivates a strong and stylish aesthetic with awe-inspiring visuals that build an immersive universe that feels both like science fiction and fantasy. Many of the shots feel like the pages of a vibrant graphic novel brought to life, such as a still of a massive Kaiju carcass nestled between destroyed homes. Both the robots and the Kaiju play central roles to the monster film as if they were characters themselves.
“Pacific Rim Uprising” features many callbacks to the first film in addition to Mako Mori, such as the enjoyable oddball scientist pair of Dr. Hermann Gottlieb and Dr. Newton Geiszler, portrayed by Burn Gorman and Charlie Day. However, the film also introduces new characters — offering chances for diverse audiences to see themselves depicted as heroes on screen.
The sequel adequately addresses the consequences of the last film, especially in the characters of Gottlieb, Geiszler and Amara. The colossal fear and trauma of the apocalyptic war from the previous film is present in this film, as the scars on the characters add credibility and emotional depth.
The film relies on certain major plotlines from the first. For example, the Jaeger pilot program is under threat of termination again — but instead of a government losing faith in it, drones are the enemy. Tian Jing commands a powerful presence as Liwen Shao, the fiercely intelligent and headstrong leader of the organization creating the drone replacement program, bringing depth to what could have been a one-dimensional role.
While the film is fast-paced like many action films, at times it can feel almost rushed. For example, the relationships between Amara and the other cadets felt rushed, making the final battle scenes feel somewhat inauthentic. Despite the emphasis on training a new generation of pilots, very little time seemed to be dedicated to them. The original had a stronger control of its tone and pace, which gave the film rawer depth and purposeful action.
Furthermore, the final battle scene arrives very quickly and dominates a good portion of the film. At times, the abundance of action is slightly confusing, as some elements are thrown in with little explanation. Steven DeKnight’s “Pacific Rim Uprising” has a blockbuster feel to it with even bigger action, but it lacks a certain visual quality to it that Guillermo del Toro brought to the first.
“Pacific Rim Uprising” offers plenty for fans of the original to enjoy as well as hardcore action fans, while introducing some great new additions such as Boyega and Spaeny.