Who doesn’t love giant robots fighting giant monsters? In 2013 director Guillermo del Toro took that love and made a decent Kaiju movie out of it called Pacific Rim, but instead of your basic Saturday afternoon matinee fight fest the genre was mostly known he gave us a film with a unique aesthetic and the visual flair, now with Pacific Rim: Uprising we have a sequel that pretty much abandons what made the first one stand out and brings it back to its matinee roots.
Taking place ten years after the cataclysmic events of the first film we are introduced to Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), once a cadet in the Jaeger Corp who has since been kicked out for basically being an egotistical idiot. He is also the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), hero of the Battle of the Breach, and if you don’t recall Stacker having a son don’t feel bad as he wasn’t in the original film and is another one of those “Sons who have to impress their dead fathers” characters that we already had in that horrible sequel Independence Day: Resurgence. Jake has been spending his time pillaging and looting parts from fallen Jaegers but soon he is forced to once again take up the mantle of reluctant hero.
Joining him on this adventure to once again save the world are a ragtag bunch of misfits who if they put their differences aside they just may be able to work together to get the job done, and if your Cliché Meter is starting to beep loudly I advise you to turn it off so as to save on batteries. In this ensemble we have Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) a spunky kid who somehow managed to build her own smaller version of a Jaeger, before getting arrested with Jake for illegal possession of an unlicensed Jaeger, and when the two arrive at the Shatterdome they meet Jake’s estranged former co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and Jules Reyes (Adria Arjona), who may have some romantic history with Jake and is possibly an attempt of this movie to throw in a love triangle, but she is mostly forgotten for the bulk of the film so don’t worry about this subplot as the writers didn’t feel the need to care about it either. Next we meet a group of green cadets who barely have any personality amongst them, and could have easily been escapes from the movie SpaceCamp, and the only stand-out cadet is a Russian chick who irrationally hates Amara only so at the end she can irrationally all of a sudden like her.
This leads to the film’s biggest flaw, it’s just too damn packed with characters and plot for what is basically a monster mash-up movie. Aside from being chock full of all the military cliché characters, ones we’ve already seen beautifully parodies in such films as Starship Troopers, we also have a plot that somehow revolves around a powerful Chinese corporation, led by cold calculating CEO Liwen Shao (Tian Jing), who wants to replace the manned Jaegers with giant robot drones. If you guess that the drone idea is going to turn out bad that’s because you’ve probably been to the movies before, in films unmanned drones almost always equal wrong. The film does try and throw a twist or two to kind of make things interesting but the screenwriters tip their hands too soon and any kind of surprise is spoiled early on.
We do get a few returning cast members, though strangely enough Charlie Hunnam’s character isn’t even mentioned, and they all kind of vary between being a waste of screen time or being incredibly annoying. Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who was Stacker Pentecost’s adoptive daughter, is back simply to be the disapproving sister to Jake and also to provide some rather transparent motivations and plot contrivance. Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day), who once mind-melded with a kaiju, is now working Liwen Shao while is old partner Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) is hobbling around his old lab in attempt to create booster rockets for the Jaeger program. These two scientist pop in and out of scenes with seemingly the sole purpose of vying for me to hate one of them more than the other. In the first film they were charmingly eccentric but here they are just irritating, that is when they are not being inexplicably stupid.
Now this is a movie about monsters robots so having well defined characters and an original plot was probably never in the cards, we all came to see big city destroying fights not relationship drama, and we do gets some nice knock down drag out fights that the effects team did a bang up job on, but the fights tend to go on way too long and when the film finally reached the last act I was pretty much worn out.
Will Jake sack up and redeem himself? Can Nate put aside his animosity towards his old partner when push comes to shove? Will Amara end up piloting a Jaeger with Jake to possible save the day? If you have any doubt that the answer is yes to all those questions you haven’t been paying attention to this review. Pacific Rim: Uprising isn’t a bad movie it’s just an okay Saturday morning action show that mostly exists today because the Chinese market is huge and Hollywood is all about pandering to that huge audience. This is a move I can easily recommend you wait to catch it on Netflix and save your money for the next Godzilla movie.