Pacific Rim: Uprising – Movie Review – An inferior sequel in every possible way.

Believe it or not, the first Pacific Rim film was released five years ago. Time has flown by, I remember being extremely excited for the first film. I went to see it on opening day with my expectations at one hundred. For me personally, it delivered upon my expectations and I loved it. I was immediately anticipating a potential sequel, but as the years have gone by my eagerness for a sequel has fizzled out. The trailers for Pacific Rim: Uprising didn’t impress me whatsoever, in fact as a big fan of the original film, these trailers had left me worried for multiple reasons. Due to this I went to watch Pacific Rim: Uprising with my expectations as low as they could possibly be.

Set ten years after the first, this film follows Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), who is the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) who appeared in the first film. After crossing paths with a fifteen year old hacker named Amara (Cailee Spaeny), Jake must unite and lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots against the Kaiju who have now returned.

Now I’ll start with the positives. The Jaegers and Kaiju were brought to life with solid visual effects work, there wasn’t a single frame featuring them that was lacking polish. The cinematography during the action was great, I had no issue identifying where the Jaegers and Kaiju were positioned and who was hitting who. The action was framed well enough to make this clear and the editing between the shots of action flowed nicely as well.

John Boyega is his usual charismatic self. He’s the type of actor who you could easily watch for hours on end and not become bored by his screen presence. The script gives him just a few brief moments to display emotion and in those moments, it’s clear to see that John excels beyond what is written on the page. It’s just a shame there weren’t more moments like that. Now this is where the majority of the positives end. They don’t really utilise the fact that Jake is the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost that well. It’s brought up every now and then but it’s not used well enough to develop elements of the story and the character of Jake. The script gives John some awful lines of dialogue that are supposed to be funny, but instead fall completely flat. It’s also ends up feeling incredibly awkward. It felt like the type of humour that very young children would find funny. This goes for all the humour in the film, not just the humour John is given. Cailee Spaeny portrays a young girl named Amara, who bares far too many similarities to the young girl featured in the last Transformers film. Amara is a fierce girl who somehow has the intelligence to take old parts from destroyed Jaegers, and use them to create her own fully working Jaeger named Scrapper. To be completely honest, Cailee’s performance wasn’t too bad. I expected her performance and character to be annoying but she wasn’t. As for the rest of the cast, they either provide poor overacted performances or just utterly forgettable ones. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman return as Dr. Newt Geiszler and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb. Burn’s performance felt fairly in line with how he was in the first film, but Charlie’s performance was far too over the top this time round. The cast of teenage Jaeger Pilots were bland and forgettable. The film makes no attempt to even develop these characters or allow us to learn anything about them. They just serve as skeletal teenage stereotypes simply there to pilot some Jaegers towards the end.

The screenplay is so disappointingly bland, it actually feels like it was written by someone who didn’t care all that much about del Toro’s original film. This sequel opens with a lazy recap of the first film, as if it were the season premiere of a television show that was recapping the previous season. Once that recap ends the film begins to reverse and go against so much of what was set up and established in the first instalment. The first film made it very clear how dangerous it would be for one person to pilot a Jaeger, yet not only has Amara managed to create her own, but she also pilots it all by herself. Another thing that bothered me is the Jaeger’s movement. They simply move too quickly, which makes them feel like Power Rangers Megazords and Transformers when they are in motion. The lethargic movement del Toro established in his film added to awe of these machines and their scale. That’s all completely lost in this instalment. The writing is flat, all round. There’s a particular story development involving the villain which is supposed to be a surprise, but the film telegraphs it before the reveal so it ended up being obvious and predictable. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the villain gets cringeworthy dialogue such as “I’m ending the world”. I could honestly go on forever about how poor this screenplay really is.

There’s only two action sequences before the final act of the film. I was fairly bored during the first sequence when realistically a Mecha and Kaiju fan like myself, really shouldn’t have been. The second action sequence was better, I was more interested in that one although it still failed to engage me like all of the set pieces in the first film did. What I found rather disappointing is the lack of Kaiju through out the film. They only make an appearance in the final act and the climactic battle they feature in, missed the mark for me. It simply wasn’t that exciting to me and it felt as if it was engineered towards a younger demographic. I actually ended up becoming more interested in the excessive destruction. We see civilians in buildings that Jaeger weaponry ends up firing through, there’s literally a scene with Gypsy Avenger purposely pulling skyscrapers down. The collateral damage total must’ve been enormous.

I can’t emphasise it enough, I’m a massive fan of the first film and I don’t think there’s a single element of what I loved in that film, present in this sequel. I don’t want to compare this film to the first too much but I can’t help it. The original film is visually breathtaking in so many ways. The sheer scale and weight of the Jaegers is felt. The plethora of anime inspired visuals and cinematography is glorious. The neon lit settings of some of the action sequences are beautiful to behold. None of that is present in this film, not even in the slightest. The colour palette, is far to vivid and colourful, which as I mentioned before, assists in making this film feel like Power Rangers.

Pacific Rim: Uprising has a bit of an identify crisis, it’s evident by the underdeveloped characters and story that the film is first and foremost for children. With that commitment to grasping a younger audience, the filmmakers have alienated their core fan base who appreciated the stylistic flair of the first film. I struggle to find anything positive to say about this film, whereas I can find endless amounts of negative things to say. They bastardised Guillermo del Toro’s world building and attention to detail. One of the biggest forms of praise I can give this film is that it’s just barely watchable.

★★

(2 Star Out of 5)

-T.Graham.

Pacific Rim: Uprising – Starring John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Scott Eastwood and Charlie Day.

Directed by Steven S. DeKnight.

Now showing in cinemas.

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