Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat. (from IMDB)
Sometimes the movies that just fall shy of greatness are the ones perfectly primed for a sequel or an extended franchise. 2013's Pacific Rim was a fun, unexpected monster movie that pit gigantic robots against huge kaiju monsters in a fight against human extinction. Think Transformers vs Godzilla and you pretty much had Pacific Rim. Guillermo del Toro, who recently won several Oscars for his more mature effort, The Shape of Water, helmed Pacific Rim, fusing it with great action sequences and some bizarre, quirky characteristics. Its humor was a bit off, throwing comedic characters into the mix that felt like they wandered into the wrong movie, but somehow, it worked -- at least well enough to develop a small cult following and earn plans for a sequel. However, the sequel kept circling the drain, with news constantly coming and going about it going to happen, then not happen, then happen again. But now, five years later, we have Pacific Rim: Uprising, a follow-up that takes place 10 years after the first one.
Pacific Rim: Uprising has just as many things going against it as it does for it. It's been five years since the first film released, its main character isn't returning, its director isn't returning, and it's not even being made by the same movie studio. However, it is coming during a time when people still seem to like the Transformers films, it has a young cast of up-and-comers, and it's fronted by Star Wars alum John Boyega -- not to mention, a small handful of cast from the first film are back. However, the end result is undoubtedly a mixed bag. The focus on a new cast is typical of these kinds of passing-the-torch sequels, but they even do some really surprising things, like vilifying unexpected characters, and dismissing others entirely.
I've always felt like the first Pacific Rim felt uneven tonally, but Uprising is even worse in some ways. The film opens very differently than the first film, but attempts to tell us what has transpired in the past ten years in the same way the first film set up the plot. However, suddenly, Idris Elba's Pentecost character from the first movie has a son who's older now and they go to great lengths to make it clear that he's not like his father in any way. It gets silly rather quickly, but the story then tries to juggle the lighthearted and the more serious for the rest of the movie -- and it makes the film feel flimsy in its execution. Worse yet, our new Pentecost (played by Boyega) runs into a young, teenage girl who somehow built her own mini-Jaeger and she inevitably becomes the newest recruit in the war against the Kaiju. However, this dynamic also immediately gives the movie a Transformers: The Last Knight vibe, and in no way is that a good thing. The first Pacific Rim, although it wasn't super serious, wasn't unashamedly targeted to a younger audience, but Uprising makes no qualms about trying to cater to them, and the end result is unfortunate. This attempt to widen the audience may have worked if the aforementioned teenage girl was actually likeable, but sadly, that just isn't the case here.
The content for the movie isn't great, but it's probably still lighter than a Transformers film. Along with quite a few uses of "h*ll" and then a handful of other cuss words, like 2 "S," an "S.O.B" and a use of "g*dd*mn," there's also a moment where one of the Jaegers flips off two middle fingers. Finally, there are a couple slightly crude jokes made, and some forced attempts at a love triangle, but nothing too explicit. The violence is what you'd expect from this franchise, but it seldom gets gory or graphic. The most graphic moments involve the Kaiju monsters -- whether it's glowing blue blood or pieces of their flesh getting torn or blown off. Overally, it's lighter fare than the first film.
Sometimes sequels add to a series, but this time around, Uprising may be one of the many sequels that subtracts by addition. Some of the action scenes are decent, but there is surprisingly very few of them. For a Jaeger vs Kaiju franchise, there's very little of that kind of action. Instead, the series takes a surprising side trip that falls somewhere between clever and stupid, using plot elements from the first film as jump-off points to evolve the interactions between the Kaiju and the humans, while trying to not just remake the first film again. One such attempt is having Jaeger versus Jaeger in one sequence, but we've seen that before in all five Transformers films; that's nothing new. Still, it's pretty out-there, giving viewers a pretty hard pill to swallow -- especially when it makes one of the sort-of heroes of the first film a crazy villain that's something right off the pages of a comic book or a scene in a Saturday morning cartoon. (It's almost to the point where you probably wouldn't be surprised if Darkwing Duck suddenly showed up.)
With all that said, Pacific Rim: Uprising is entertaining, but it has its dull moments too (especially a good portion of the first third of the film), with new characters that are hit and very miss (sorry, but little Cailee Spaeny's junkyard genius character, Amara, nearly ruins the movie for me. The movie is always more enjoyable when she wasn't on screen. The opposite can be said for the very few scenes that Rinko Kikuchi appears in). Uprising certainly isn't the worst sequel you'll see this year, but it's not good enough to justify its own existence, and if you absolutely loved the first one, chances are slim you'll love this one, too.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/30/18)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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