Review: Pacific Rim Uprising
Guillermo del Toro’s ode to Kaijus and mechs returns for second round with a new director, Steven S. DeKnight, and new screenwriter, Emily Carmichael, at the helm. Now, if you hated the first Pacific Rim, there’s nothing here that will make you sing a different song and, more importantly, why are you even reading this? While Pacific Rim Uprising may never hit the highs of the first, it really does a damn fine job honoring the lore and universe created in del Toro’s film. The tech remains pretty much the same, just more streamlined, and the message of the world uniting to stop this alien Kaiju madness is still in full effect.
Getting Emily Carmichael on the script was a smart move for this franchise. It can still be ‘Boys and Their Toys’ and a very sarcastic piece to undercut the huge sequences. Emily approaches this with the wonderful attitude of, “Hey these Jaegers and monsters are cool but seriously, let’s have fun.” Her one-liners are strategically placed, emphasizing a light-hearted attitude amongst such spectacle. She also gives us a heroine in actress Cailee Spaeny, playing Amara Namani, who is capable of building her own Jaeger; a kid tough enough to hang with the adults in all ways but size. Amara will speak to the young ladies of the audience, the ones who were cheering with Mako Mori very loudly because they saw a woman save the world, not just a bunch of dudes. Amara is a great addition to the franchise for another reason as well, her age is the target audience for this film and a reminder to the adults that this is meant to be fun and childlike.
Now the rough stuff. The story works just fine as a sequel. The aliens have found a way to keep the attack coming and it is up to a new generation, who have gone 10 years without war, to save the world. All of the end of the world stuff is fine, in fact the story works perfectly within its universe, but the problem lies with paper-thin characters. John Boyega, who is given enough to play with here, makes good with his leading man performance. He is as charismatic as can be, chewing up the scenes without reaching too far for the joke or the gag, and he is not the issue here. The snag is every new character that has been added to the franchise, minus Amara, is forgettable. Which is sad because the returning characters to the franchise, especially Charlie Day and Burn Gorman’s cute buddy scientist routine, are fantastic. The new generation of kids meant to pilot the Jaegers simply have no character development, making them completely replaceable in every way. A shame considering the balls-to-the wall finale involving Japan, five Jaegers and three Kaiju, a fight that (thank Toho) takes place in broad daylight. Weak characters in a spectacular finale is a truly weird mix.
Good animation goes a long way in digital visual effects. Pacific Rim, with the help ILM, achieved a visual style for the film and the sequel honors the production value for sure. This is not a rushed sequel with subpar effects. It is, in fact, an amazing display of animation that one can focus on and is never unintelligible; Uprising connects to Pacific Rim wonderfully while still adding a few things to the stew without ruining the meal. With the Jaeger’s level of detail given the utmost attention, every action scene looks absolutely spectacular. The effects teams that worked on this have to be proud of their work because while each design in robot and monster is different, you always get a sense that it belongs in the Pac Rim Verse. Nothing is out of place and everything functions as it should, so you never question the technology.
Pacific Rim Uprising is nothing to scream about but it is definitely a worthy sequel to a film made by a guy who wore his kid heart on his sleeves. This is a film that is about multiple races and cultures saving the world and, better yet, the children of these cultures end up as the ones carrying the burden. Even with undercooked characters that message is thicker than Kaiju blood. Jaegers leap off of skyscrapers roundhouse kicking Kaijus in the face. Is this not what you signed on for? Let the kids save the world with coherent action scenes and I’ll get a ticket every damn time.