Set ten years after the conclusion of Pacific Rim (2013), Stephen S. DeKnight’s feature film debut finds Stacker Pentecost’s son struggling to live up to his father’s mighty name (not least because his own name is Jake). After getting caught up in the manufacture of an illegal Jaeger (a giant robot designed to defeat Kaiju (giant monsters from a different dimension)), he and his new thieving friend are sent off to Jaeger Pilot School to teach cadets (some of whom have accents which substitutes for character). But as a mysterious rogue Jaeger begins causing trouble, Jake must prove himself worthy of his excellent family name.
John Boyega plays Jake Pentecost and is a very charismatic lead. The dialogue he has been given is fairly rote and more than a little corny, but Boyega has great charm. He’s a dynamic leading man. His supporting cast are relatively generic, with the exception of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman who return to remind the audience of just how strange the previous film actually was. Their over-the-top buffoonery is less cartoonish in this film and therefore a little more enjoyable.
Uprising occasionally indulges in absolute nonsense, and is all the better when it does. There are rockets powered by Monster Blood, a robot going into space to wind up a punch, and bits of alien brains find themselves in the most surprising of places; the film has this wonderful ability to go completely insane.
The action is fun for the most part, though I take issue with the scaled up collateral damage. The effect of having an object on screen moving effortlessly through a building isn’t that the object seems powerful, but rather that the building seems weak. The action feels weightless, even if it is colourful and just the right amount of absurd.
Once again I feel that the most tantilising elements of this world and story have been left unexplored. Jaegars must be piloted by two people, and in order for them to do this they must bond in “the rift” that involves them sharing memories, feelings and, to some extent, consciousness (though they do still need to scream orders at each other). Uprising trumps it’s predecessor by having a whopping two scenes dedicated to this fascinating idea, but once again it is largely overlooked.
There are also glimpses of the world beyond the big robot fights. We’re told early on that the locations of previous monster attacks have become dead zones where looted luxury goods are exchanged for food (it’s not terribly clear how this works). There’s also a thriving business in salvaged Jaegar parts, and it appears that Jaegars are now being used as a police force in this world (one thinks of ED209 and longs for some satire to liven up this sci-fi adventure). Once our main characters are shipped off to boot camp there’s little more of this as focus is shifted to plot exposition.
What is lacking is the style of Guillermo Del Toro. There are very few images that have remained with me. The original had a giant robot collapsing pathetically on a lonely beach, a little girl wandering a deserted city whilst stalked by a giant monster, and Ron Perlman being eaten whole by a new-born creature. There are various attempts to imitate the more memorable moments of the original (a car alarm replicating the desk toy gag), but the sequel offers nothing new.
Pacific Rim: Uprising delivers more of what made Pacific Rim entertaining with less of what made it unique. With a sequel thoroughly bated, it seems that we can expect more from the big robots and their squishy adversaries. I just hope the third part of this trilogy spends a little more tim fleshing out the many ideas that Del Toro introduced in his film.