Pacific Rim: Uprising Doesn’t Capture the Old Magic

Hello all and welcome to the second week in a row of movie reviews! Today we’re going to look at the sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s tribute to mecha anime, Pacific Rim: Uprising. The first film teased a sequel in its final act, when the main character of that film almost ended up getting trapped in the monstrous Kaiju’s home dimension. Does Uprising clear the inevitable sequel bar? Read on and find out with me.

Uprising takes place ten years after the original Pacific Rim – it seems as though humanity has prevailed over the Kaiju threat and the war for Earth is over. With no wars left to fight, a once-gifted Jaeger fight named Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) abandons his calling to dive into the criminal underworld.

This is perfect timing however for the portal between worlds to reopen, and there are rumors of a Jaeger pilot gone rogue. Jake is yanked out of retirement by Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), the secondary protagonist of the last movie. Along with Jaeger hacker Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), they train a new generation of Jaeger pilots to face these new threats and defeat the Kaiju once and for all.

In the real world, the original Pacific Rim was conceived by Guillermo del Toro of Hellboy fame, and who most recently won Best Picture for The Shape of Water. It didn’t do impressively well at the box office and the critical reception was little more than lukewarm. But damn it all, I fell hard for that movie.

The magic of the original was that it really felt like watching a live-action anime movie. The characters acted like they came out of a war drama like Mobile Suit Gundam, like the kind you would’ve watched if you were a kid in the ’70s and ’80s. The Jaegers lumbered forth like you would expect a real mecha to move, the characters were internationally diverse like in some of the best series of the Gundam franchise, and their role as guardians of the Earth reminded me so much of Macross.

Pacific Rim: Uprising was not helmed by del Toro, however, and it shows. This was more like a Michael Bay movie. Who knows, maybe you’re into that sort of thing (I am emphatically not). In this case, it means a movie that takes fewer (maybe I should say “no”) risks, with a cookie cutter premise and hackneyed plot. There was nothing unique going on in this movie, and no, unfortunately flashy mecha action does not compensate for that.

And that’s even leaving out the fact that the mecha action was not as visually appealing or dramatically tense as in the last movie, lacking this time in both style and substance. A gripping tribute to one of the most significant anime genres in history has been reduced to a Transformers clone with a dash of Super Sentai (Power Rangers) mixed in. And unfortunately, the twist villain was neither original nor particularly intriguing. Hell, coming out of the original, it was even predictable. What does that leave you with?

On another note, poor John Boyega and Nicholas Cage must have the same agent. The guy is a great actor, and one of my favorite new faces, but he can’t seem to catch a break lately between this and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Granted, he was the best part of this otherwise bland movie. He delivered a strong performance and benefited from generally better writing, while his counterparts were reduced to clever-sounding one-liners (granted, Boyega is also occasionally afflicted by this particular handicap). I guess that’s to be expected from a director whose pedigree once included having to come up with Buffy speak every week.

The movie is also not visually appealing, as I mentioned before. You might even say it’s visually appalling. Audiences may have complained about del Toro’s choice to set all combat scenes (and most other scenes) in the original at night, but in the sequel it’s apparent why that stylistic choice was made. Simply put, neither kaiju nor Jaeger look impressive or imposing in the daylight. Yes, even when the kaiju at the end goes all, “This isn’t even my final form!” (Sorry.) Again, it just looks like another generic Transformers-esque CGI romp.

Uprising had one chance to redeem itself, and that was with the brother-sister dynamic they tried to build for Jake and Amara. It could have resembled a similar relationship between the protagonists in the previous film, Mako and Raleigh. There was almost something there – I wouldn’t say the chemistry was “electric,” but it was there. And I admit, I am a sucker for bonding between characters in a film or show. So I’ll give them that.

I mean, look, I will be the first to admit the original Pacific Rim had its flaws. Was some of the humor cringey? Yes, especially the scenes involving Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day). Was the beginning a little more confusing than it had to be? Sure, at least for me. But you know what the original movie was not? A cynical cash grab, like its sequel.

The original built a whole fascinating world, with a significant b-plot devoted to fleshing out that world. The sequel took a grand total of ten minutes to explore what has happened to it since. We were treated to some flashy but unimpressive action sequences and shallow writing, apparently to only just fill the standard full-length feature time in order to justify charging viewers to see it.

As a friend of mine aptly noted, if they couldn’t even make the trailer look exciting, it doesn’t say much for the movie. Pacific Rim: Uprising is a letdown of a sequel with a 5 out of 10. It’s not bad – you won’t find random mood swings or something crazy like that; it’s boring. And coming out of a predecessor that had so much potential, it’s all the more disappointing that Uprising couldn’t be more than what it was. Thanks for reading, all. See you next week!

Am I wrong? Did you like Pacific Rim: Uprising? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Zach

Rabid Nintendo nerd, music lover, and film buff. I also like to write, hence why I'm here. I hope you enjoy my work.

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