Pacific Rim Uprising is an excited adolescent of a movie that breathlessly dashes about the place with sugary notions of family and identity in the manner of the most well-intentioned Power Rangers episode. The sequel takes place ten years after the events of the first picture and depicts a new generation of Jaeger pilots taking on mysterious threats from the Kaiju monsters.
Some of the fresh candidates include Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a street-smart teenager who builds and handles her own Jaeger as a response to a traumatic childhood encounter with a Kaiju. And Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of the legendary war commander and hero of the last film Stacker Pentecost.
Uprising is a weird concoction insofar as it manages to retain a tiny shred of the original movie’s charm while primarily jettisoning most of its character and spirit. Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 film had the heart of an American sports film. Its characters had to overcome their personal and adversarial angst to harmonise and ultimately pilot giant robots (via a process of mind melding). Even del Toro’s extensive use of close-ups and long shots injected the mechanised fight sequences with the dazzling import of an exhibition boxing match.
At the same time, the film had world building that hinted at the rough, hard-worn edges of a post-apocalyptic universe in which the chances of our survival was minuscule. More importantly, the Oscar-winning director filtered these aspects through a bleak and horrific lens with frightening sequences that evoked the potent power of Ishirō Honda’s Godzilla.
By comparison, Uprising feels like a rushed and inconsequential television pilot that frustrates in the lack of interest it has in its ideas. The movie sets up a tantalising debate about the utility of burgeoning drone Jaegers versus the standard two pilot models. However, this is never really addressed, and its consequences are handled off-screen.
Worse yet is a plot point involving a character from the previous film, which has Lovecraftian implications of feverish madness, caused by the influence of the Kaiju creatures on a curious scientist. Rather than explore the blurred line between the genuine human will and the malformed intentions of possession: The character is employed in the same manner as a Saturday morning cartoon villain, who sits on the sidelines and brashly bellows commands with impotent rage.
Aesthetically the film is somewhat serviceable with the overcast nighttime sequences of the original becoming bright and scorchingly colourful scenes that take advantage of the daylight hours. Moreover, Steven S. DeKnight’s first foray into tent pole filmmaking is not entirely without merit. A 360-degree shot captures the sheer overwhelming nature of an invasion, and one sequence gracefully plays with scale as a character grows smaller in size as the camera pans out to reveal an assembly line of Jaegers. But these aspects are all for nought. Knight lacks del Toro’s inherent worldly curiosity that manifested itself in protracted and lingering shots that revealed quaint and vivid detail.
The film honestly comes alive with John Boyega’s boisterous and seemingly improvised performance. It injects the proceedings with a frolicking and at times earnest demeanour. Lorne Balfe commendably follows up Ramin Djawadi’s energising electrical score with an engrossing cross-genre mixture of tragic and bombastic music, courtesy of an eclectic array of mournful Celtic and techno tracks. This is one of the few times in which I wished a movie truly lived up to the emotion apparent in its musical score.