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Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight

Premise: A sequel to the 2013 film. Years after the events of the original picture, the Kaiju war has ended and a robotics manufacturer makes an aggressive play to deploy its products across the globe. Meanwhile, a batch of new recruits prepare for the possibility of a second invasion. 

What Works: Pacific Rim: Uprising takes place after a world war in which humanity has fought off an invasion of giant monsters. As a result, the old world order has been shattered and the filmmakers do a few thoughtful things with the aftermath so that the Pacific Rim sequel isn’t just a rehash of the original film. That’s primarily accomplished through the film’s international cast. The heterogeneity of the cast enhances the impression that the world has changed since the end of the Kaiju war and Pacific Rim: Uprising gives the impression of a world of people flung together. It’s notable that a Hollywood film of this scale features so many people from so many different ethnicities and nationalities but doesn’t get self-congratulatory about it. The film also addresses the technological changes in the aftermath of that war. The world has a surplus of giant fighting robots and the corporations that build these machines now dominate world culture. Halfway through Uprising there is a twist that is genuinely surprising and distinguishes this sequel from the original.

What Doesn’t: A lot of the world building of Pacific Rim: Uprising fails to pay off. The sequel is frequently a generic monster movie without the polish or style of the original film. The characters are poorly defined. We know that the lead protagonist, played by John Boyega, is the son of a deceased hero from the first film. He has rejected his father’s legacy but eventually comes to terms with it. There’s little sense of who he is or what motivates him and the character’s decision to return to the military does not have any dramatic payoff. For that matter, the military’s decision to take in this convicted criminal who previously scrubbed out of the service and instate him in a leadership position makes no sense. As the son of a war hero, his name carries some weight with the cadets but there’s virtually no struggle between the character and his identity. Other relationships are set up but not followed through, namely a sort-of love triangle between Boyega’s character and officers played by Scott Eastwood and Adria Arjona. There are attempts at humor in Pacific Rim: Uprising but a lot of them are cliché or lame. The plotting of the movie is clumsy. The pacing is off and one sequence does not lead logically or organically into the next.  At one point a giant robot shows up out of nowhere and starts attacking people but in the aftermath no one seems all that concerned or even surprised by it. The first half of the Pacific Rim sequel is very talky and the movie drags as it plods through expository information. The second half of Uprising is all action but the set pieces feel like video game footage. There is little grit or mass to the robots and monsters and the cities they destroy. The battles are reminiscent of Michael Bay’s Transformers series; it’s a lot of sound and fury but it means nothing.

Bottom Line: Pacific Rim: Uprising has some promising ideas but it fumbles the storytelling and the characters are not interesting. It doesn’t have the balance of drama and monster action that made the first one so much fun. 

Episode: #692 (April 1, 2018)