Uprising is recklessly fun and, sometimes, so beautiful to watch.
There’s only so much that you can expect from a movie about giant robots punching giant monsters to decide the fate of the world.
Robots, good; monsters, bad. Punch. Meaner punch. Monster squeal. Robot crashing into things. Everyone goes home happy.
Coming off the back of a successful debut with the first Pacific Rim in 2013, Pacific Rim Uprising adds the zing that was missing from the first: fun.
This is mostly down to its new lead star, John Boyega who is not only different from Charlie Hunnam, the star of the previous movie, in skin tone, but delivers a more charismatic performance.
The story dump at the beginning of the movie helps the audience catch up with what has been going on in the world since Idris Elba‘s Stacker Pentecost sacrificed his life to snatch victory for humanity in the 2013 movie.
It’s been 10 years, and the world has been safe from further attacks from Kaiju monsters. By some lick of awkward retconning, Jake Pentecost (Boyega) is Stacker’s son who is nothing like his father, and not only does he make this very clear by telling the audience himself, the opening sequence has him doing things that are…unsavory.
Living recklessly as a black market dealer in all things scrap Jaeger, he soon runs into Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), an innovative young orphan and their lives take a turn.
Boyega plays his character with the sort of unrestrained charisma more easily associated with an Han Solo type (or maybe this is just because he’s appeared in Star Wars): he lives around the edges of the law and has a lot of fun doing it.
Jake’s arrival at the Jaegar Academy, where his father remains quite the legend, happens just shortly before the world has to suit up again and show monsters that animals have no rights on God’s green Earth. This is when the movie starts to exhibit signs of creative lag that weighs it down a bit in the general sense of things.
The movie has a lot of supporting characters that might feel a little underdeveloped and underwritten so much that the onus rests largely on Boyega to breathe all of the life the movie has into it.
Scott Eastwood plays Nate Lambert, Jake’s copilot who exhibits a personality that’s as cheerful as a wet pile of garbage; while Adria Arjona plays Jules Reyes, a…love interest for both characters to…swoon over…? It’s a little confusing but robots, good; monsters, bad. Punch. Meaner punch. Monster squeal. Robot crashing into things. Everyone goes home happy.
Best buddies Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) reprise their roles as the lab geniuses, while Rinko Kikuchi also returns as Mako Mori even though she barely has anything to do.
While Uprising is indeed fun to watch, especially when compared to the first Rim movie, it has to sacrifice everything else that made the first one a success.
While the first movie did an incredible job of building the world of the Jaegers troubled by alien Kaijus, Uprising undoes some of that and even spits right at it.
Most crucially, the practice of drifting, the mental link which usually determines the compatibility of Jaeger pilots with each other, is poorly explored and even more maliciously executed as Spaeny is compatible with anyone that the script demands without any real dramatic impact.
Even though the movie does its best to retain some of the first movie’s great features, director, Steven DeKnight fails to keep Uprising grounded enough to care so much about all the emotional handholding.
The movie also delivers a rather unfortunate dramatic twist that should probably have been left in the Reddit forum where it was tapped from as it tampers quite unnecessarily with the events of the first.
The twist is overwhelmingly dull but the audience is compelled to overlook it with fancy upper cuts and electric whipping, and it works.
To DeKnight’s credit, one of the movie’s most significant changes is that the big showdowns are staged in the daylight making it a lot easier to catch every bit of the action when robots and monsters duel, and it’s all so magnificent.
The robots are big and the monsters ponderous, but they are also beautiful and have quite a few moves up their sleeves to make the audience feel buzzed.
While Uprising might not be a high point for a lot of the actors in the movie (other than Spaeny who also acquits herself well), it is another notch on Boyega’s belt as he continues to rack up an impressive filmography.
Pacific Rim Uprising is the kind of movie you might just easily forget about when you leave the cinema, but it’s quite the trip when you’re feeling it in the moment: recklessly fun and, sometimes, so beautiful to watch.