‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ Review

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Our Rating

Cities Trashed8
8

Robots (not) in disguise…

10 years on from the events in ‘Pacific Rim‘, Jake Pentecost, son of the legendary Stacker Pentecost, is making a living stealing and trading disused Jaeger tech. When an encounter with another young scavenger lands them both in jail he’s offered the chance to return to the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps to help train a new generation of Jaeger pilots. Because it seems the Kaiju threat is still very real…

If I was a betting man (and, barring the odd flutter on the Grand National, I’m not), I’d bet real money that the world wasn’t crying out for a sequel to ‘Pacific Rim‘. Released back in 2013, the Guillermo del Toro-directed original seemed like quite the sure thing. A big budget sci-fi actioner featuring giant robots battling giant monsters? Written and directed by one of the great storytellers of modern cinema? And featuring an international cast of up-and-coming stars and reliable character actors? What could go wrong… In the event, not that much, although the things that didn’t work proved to be rather more important than those that did. The movie received decent reviews, certainly, with many critics impressed by the excellent effects work and the sheer spectacle of the whole endeavour, while some of the acting also received praise. Please note my use of the word ‘some’, as while performers such as Charlie Day, Burn Gorman and Ron Perlman turned in sterling performances in relatively comic relief-esque roles, those occupying the central roles fared less well. While Idris Elba did okay as the phenomenally-named Stacker Pentecost, the leader trying to hold everything together, Charlie Hunnam is less successful as the former pilot brought back to help save the day, being described by one critic as a “charisma black hole”. And to the person who conceived the idea of casting Max Martini (an American) and Rob Kazinsky (an Englishman), two actors who look like brothers, as an Australian father-and-son, I simply say this: I wish to try whatever you are smoking… However, in amongst all this weirdness, Rinko Kikuchi proved a stand-out as Mako Mori, a Japanese orphan adopted by Pentecost, and who ultimately becomes the true hero of the tale, and received plenty of plaudits as a result. Taken as a whole, ‘Pacific Rim’ is an efficient and enjoyable summer blockbuster, but one that only really takes off when the humans give way to their massive (and CGI) co-stars, and as such, only made $400 million at the box office (against a budget of $190 million), and most of that coming from international markets. With that in mind, not-to-mention the fact that the movie has a pretty definitive ending, a sequel hardly seemed likely. And yet, here we are…

Set 10 years after the climactic battle that saw the Kaiju defeated once-and-for-all (yeah, right…), we find ourselves in a world that seems to be struggling to get back on its feet, or at least some of it is. We’re introduced fairly early on to Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of the man who saved a world and something of an itinerant bum, as he drifts around Los Angeles stealing and trading decommissioned Jaeger tech, mainly, it seems, for copious amounts of hot sauce. After a chance encounter with Amara (Cailee Spaeny), another scavenger who may also be a borderline genius, lands them both in the clink, Jake is offered a choice: do time or return to the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps, the service he washed out of many years previous after trying and failing to live up to his fathers example. Recognising a last chance when he sees it, Jake opts for choice ‘B’ and soon, and with Amara in tow, he’s back at one of the PPDC Shatterdomes, the gloriously-named Jaeger bases. Alongside newcomers, such as colleague/rival Nate (Scott Eastwood) and tech support Jules (Adria Arjoa) and returning faces, including Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and big sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who’s now in charge of the PPDC, he’s charged with training up a new batch of young Jaeger pilots. To face what? I hear you ask. Isn’t that the question…

If giant robots still exist to defend the Earth, there has to be threat right? And indeed there is, although it doesn’t come in the way you expect it to. Like so many recent blockbusters, ‘Uprising‘ has chosen to make China a large part of it’s plot, with trailers revealing the presence of Liwen Shao (played by Tian Jing), an industrialist who simply must be up to no-good, as industrialists always seem to be. And her plan to replace the Jaegers with unmanned drones certainly seems designed to cause maximum trouble for our heroes, no-to-mention the people of the earth. and when a tragedy results in her drone plan being approved, you’ll probably start patting yourself on the back, safe in the knowledge that you guessed how it was all going to play out. And you’d be quite wrong, as you’ll soon find out…

Before we go any further, there are a couple of major issues with ‘Uprising‘ that need to be addressed. First and foremost is the very existence of Jake Pentecost. There is no mention of him at all in the original movie, a situation compounded by the fact that Stacker Pentecost (seriously, what a name) is not shy about discussing family, Mako Mori being a constant, living reminder of how important family really is. So quite why an actual blood-relative is completely ignored is quite the brain-teaser… (before we go any further, I should stress that I know exactly why he wasn’t mentioned, i.e. he hadn’t been dreamt up when the first movie was made, I’m merely being sarcastic…). The other problem is the ending of ‘Pacific Rim’ itself. All through that movie we’re constantly being told that this is the absolute last chance for humanity to survive, because the Jaeger programme is being completely shut down, with no more Jaegers, pilots or money available. And, as the end credits role, the last two Jaegers in existence (and some of their pilots) have been sacrificed to save the world and the Kaiju threat is no more. Done. Finished. So how is it that, 10 years later, and with no Kaiju to be seen anywhere, there seems to be more Jaegers than ever, along with more bases, pilots and money? Now, this has apparently all been explained in a tie-in comic book series, as well as a Wiki, but none of this is mentioned here. Maybe it’s been done that way to put us more in the mindset of Jake, a man who only really seems to care where his next bottle of hot sauce is coming from. Or perhaps I’m giving the writers a bit too much credit. Either way, it’s a bit jarring. However, I should also point out that those same writers have managed to craft a genuinely excellent twist that comes out of nowhere, and turns the whole story on its head, while also laying the groundwork for a potential third entry in the franchise. So, swings and roundabouts…

Despite looking great the first film was slightly marred by it’s gloomy tone. Granted, an impending global apocalypse can lend events a certain air of melancholy, but that doesn’t mean people can’t crack wise every once-in-a-while. Thank the lord above then for Charlie Day, Burn Gorman and Ron Perlman who, as mentioned earlier, provided some much-needed levity amidst the ruined cities and scowling heroes. Happily that’s not an issue here, as ‘Uprising’ is an altogether breezier affair. This time around the admittedly slowly-recovering world seems a much happier place to spend some time, with much of the action taking place during daylight hours, as opposed to the grim night-time battles that populated the original movie and which, believe it or not, makes a huge difference to the overall tone of the movie. The effects work is also excellent, with the new Jaegers looking absolutely gorgeous as they stride around the glorious futuristic cities they are sworn to protect. Looking more like the sleek machines more normally found in Anime movies than the hulking brutes that populated the original movie, they are still blessed with the most incredible names, so step forward the likes of Gypsy Avenger, Guardian Bravo, November Ajax, Saber Athena and Obsidian Fury. However where ‘Uprising’ really scores big is in its casting. The returning old-reliables (Kikuchi, Gorman and Day) showcase nicely developed characters, all of whom have seemingly been through some shit in those ten years, putting them all in very different situations as the new story begins (While Kikuchi and Gorman are still very much part of the PPDC, Day has gone corporate). But its the newcomers who stand out. If you still needed proof that Boyega is the worlds next big movie star, then please look no further. Despite working against every father/son cliché the script can throw at him, Boyega infuses Jake with a distinct coolness that never leaves, from the first time we see him, asleep on a jetski, in a swimming pool, with a scantily-clad lady draped all over him (as if that’s how he sleeps every night), right up to the point he’s marching a Jaeger through the streets of Tokyo, every inch the hero, and a far more inspiring lead than Charlie Hunnam managed to be in the first movie. It’s a hugely confident, impressive performance.

Alongside him Scott Eastwood (a man who may well forever be trying to escape his fathers shadow) also impresses as Nate, resentful that he’s once again playing second fiddle to someone who washed out of the Jaeger program, but grateful to have someone his own age to shoot the breeze with, although his relationship with Adria Arjoa’s mechanic Jules could’ve been better developed. Elsewhere Spaeny does well with a role that could’ve degenerated into annoying sidekick territory, standing out amongst the young recruits, none of whom are particularly memorable. Jing also deserves credit for rising above her clichéd role as ‘cold-blooded businesswoman no.1’, and investing the character with some depth and humanity that proves invaluable as the plot unfolds. It should also be noted that director Steven S. DeKnight, up until this point mostly known for his TV work, does an excellent job of marshalling the action on what is his feature debut. It’s a good, confident start to what could be a very interesting career.

Despite seeming like a re-tread of the first movie (Giant robots! Giant monsters! It all goes tits-up!), ‘Uprising‘ is a far more enjoyable beast, at least for this reviewer. Unlike it’s predecessor this doesn’t take itself remotely seriously, instead revelling in the daftness of its basic concept, and inviting the audience to join in. Despite the potentially dire situation (the world is still very much in danger), you’ll still find yourself watching this with a huge smile on your face, partially due to the unrestrained spectacle playing out on the screen, but also thanks to another star-turn from John Boyega. Cocky, arrogant, self-confident, and yet utterly heroic, dedicated and determined to succeed, he drives the whole film, with able support from a cast who all seem to be having a great time, and a script that, for the most part, keeps everything moving at a decent lick. It’s the perfect, early-summer, blockbuster really, designed to keep us occupied until the big boys (with their shields, hammers, suits of armour and infinity gauntlets) come out to play. And that’s fine by me.

About author

TheMetalHead

Long-time fan of all things geek-related. Comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, Warhammer, video games, mythology, you name it, I probably like it. This also extends to pro-wrestling and heavy metal, hence the name. Particular loves would be the Star Wars sage, Game of Thrones (books and TV), Judge Dredd, Assassins Creed, and many more. Born and raised in Essex by parents who have broadly supported these passions over the years, so much so that they now share many of them.