Review: Pacific Rim Uprising

Did you like Pacific Rim? If so, you will like the sequel! Did you not care for Pacific Rim? This movie won’t do anything to change that.

Fundamentally, it’s more of the same. A male protagonist with a military family legacy bonds with a female protagonist who lost all her family in the Kaiju war. Precursors are once more trying to end the world, and the PPDC’s giant mechs, the Jaegers, are the only weapons that can stop this apocalyptic threat.

But fans of the original will recognize that a simple premise might belie the great fun contained within.

I love John Boyega, and he definitely doesn’t phone in the role here as the new Big Hero. Boyega portrays an incredibly charming survivor, the soldier-turned-scavenger son of war hero Stacker Pentecost. He has a big legacy that he’s turned away from, and he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder too, but almost every line is delivered with cheeky humor early on. Boyega appears to be channeling more than a little bit of Harrison Ford’s young Han Solo here, and it works.

Many of the principal actors of the original reprise their roles here, and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler, and Burn Gorman as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb are all delightful on their return. The sequel also allows these characters to have truly grown and changed in the elapsing ten years, and some of these changes are surprising–though never disruptively implausible. Franchise newcomers Cailee Spaeny (who plays a traumatized young junkyard mechanic who gets drafted into Jaeger cadet training) and Scott Eastwood (who seems to be a spiritual replacement for the original’s military loyalist Chuck Hansen) are great in their roles as well. Sadly, Charlie Hunnam’s Becket does not appear at all, and while the name is referenced once, we’re never told the fate of the previous film’s primary protagonist.

In terms of plot and mythos, this film builds upon what happened in the original, but takes things in exciting new directions. Some elements of the original are fleshed out a little more, with new details inserted (chief among these details: Pentecost had a son–I don’t believe that was ever mentioned before). There are also some fun throwaway nods to the first film, like the quick allusion to black marketeer Hannibal Chau in an early scene. Most fun is where the film takes the lore to new places, especially in regards to the Kaiju and the motivations of the Precursor alien villains. There are a lot of deaths (both old and new characters), and there are many twists and turns. One of the biggest twists was a surprise reveal about a character I didn’t see coming, but which made perfect sense–it was also probably my favorite moment in the film.

If you’re just here for the robot-versus-monster slug matches, there are plenty of those, and they look just as great as ever. There’s continued variety in the types of mechs and monsters, and the cuts between the large-scale battles and the reactions of the pilots within (and, sometimes, the innocent bystanders down below) give a greater emotional weight to every moment that would surely have been lost if limited exclusively to Giant Things Wrestling.

The dialogue has always been high camp in this franchise, but I would say that it felt less memorable in this film and tended to veer more in the direction of goofy one-liners and casual banter. All in all, this film maybe felt a little fluffier and more feel-good (although Pacific Rim is obviously not a particularly deep franchise, and–thankfully–it’s not a grim-dark one either).

Overall, Pacific Rim Uprising retains the goofball earnestness of the original. Pacific Rim had an obvious love for anime, and Pacific Rim Uprising feels rather like a live-action anime, dialing up the nods to genre conventions even further. It’s fun.

There’s a clear set-up for at least one more film at the end, and based on the continued evolution of this property, I’m excited for another round.

 

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