Pacific Rim Sequel Doesn’t Rise Up
I didn’t particularly like Pacific Rim -Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 homage to kaiju movies. It had a few likeable elements: some creative world-building, nice production design. and decent effects, but felt, overall, like a hollow rehash of other mecha-fiction, particularly anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, loses del Toro as director (he’s busy making Oscar winners) for Steven S. DeKnight, who lacks the vision del Toro had, but manages to make this film no worse ….or better.
Ten years after the war ended, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker from the first film, is a former Jaeger pilot now scavenging parts from defunct mechas to sell on the black market. After an incident with a teenage girl called Amara (Cailee Spaeny), he gets recruited back into the Jaeger Corps as a trainer, reuniting with war hero Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and his former co-pilot Nate (Scott Eastwood). But an attack from a rogue Jaeger forces Jake back into action as he and his friends defend themselves and try to figure out where it came from and what it’s hiding.
One thing I’ll say for this movie is it has a surprisingly good cast. John Boyega, who’s also a credited producer interestingly enough, has to work through some poor dialogue, but still manages to be charismatic and engaging. His character is certainly a little flat, but he elevates the role through his performance, the sign of a good Hollywood leading star. Kikuchi does alright as a familial figure to Jake, however she’s clearly only in the movie as a supplement to his character arc, rather than her own. After how important a part she played in the first movie, it can’t help but feel wasteful. This is the third time in a little over a year I’ve seen Jing Tian be one of the best parts of an otherwise bad movie, and like in The Great Wall she’s very good at being a commanding presence in spite of her age. She plays the head of a drone corporation, with her business partner being one of the few returning characters: Charlie Day’s Dr. Newt Geiszler. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman’s comic relief scientists were my favourite part of the first film, and there are scenes they work off each other great in this movie too; but the direction they take Day’s character isn’t one he’s particularly well suited to play. He’s already barely believable as a scientist, this new layer they give him especially doesn’t work. It’s nice to see Gorman get a larger role though and more opportunity to play an over-the-top fussbudget. Even Eastwood is pretty good as a very stereotypical orthodox prefect character, who you know is going to reconcile with Jake over the course of the movie. Acting-wise, the only shortcomings are the teenage cadets, who aren’t able to overcome their poorly written stereotypes. The result is some fairly annoying characters, and whenever the plot focussed on them I was reminded how much better the young cast of the comparable Power Rangers movie was.
The plot is a really convoluted means of getting to the big Jaeger fights, and when they do come they quickly become numbing to watch. Giant titans destroying cities as they try to kill each other isn’t the novelty it once was, and because the action scenes of this movie have few creative ways of relating these sequences, they’re very tiring a lot of the time. And the stories between them don’t work either. The mystery of the rogue Jaeger doesn’t unfold compellingly, and the plot device that brings the Kaiju back into the fold is messy sci-fi at its worst. There’s meant to be a connection between Jake and Amara too, but they don’t have much chemistry, largely due to the script not allowing them more than a few scenes of bonding. It’s worth noting too that much like Charlie Hunnam’s character in the first movie, Jake is talked back into the Jaeger Corps with astonishing ease. The pacing isn’t very good as well, with the climax for instance (which offers an especially dumb threat of apocalypse) transitioning into a rushed ending and sequel bait. And the opening was weirdly edited like a Guy Ritchie movie.
If you liked the first Pacific Rim, you’ll probably like this sequel fine, and if you didn’t you won’t. It’s got more or less the same amount of problems. While it may not have del Toro’s finesse, it has more good performances. There’s no Ron Perlman, but it stars John Boyega. It’s not as cut and dry but it is overly complex. It’s a dull and onerous mecha flick and if there is a third one, my expectations won’t be high.