Pacific Rim: Uprising (aka Pacific Rim 2) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The sequel to Pacific Rim challenges how much one loves the mecha genre if there was any to begin with. While the first movie was a giddy and thrilling spectacle of giant robots battling giant monsters, Uprising presents more of the same with more out-there story ideas that contort the saga further from a popular blockbuster to a genre pleaser for those who dig the camp appeal of Mazinger and Gundam. And as someone who loves the dorkiness of tales involving aliens and giant robots, convoluted as they may be, Uprising has enough pluck and power to narrowly win me over once more.
A few new cans of worms are opened on the Pacific Rim world. After having closed the portal that continued to send monster after monster two Earth, the planet has shifted from a fearful populace to a poor once, struggling to survive on the streets, living off the relics of monsters and robots. We follow two scrappers: Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) makes a living on selling robot parts and Amara (Cailee Spaeny) uses them to make smaller, more versatile robots than the heftier Jaeger bots. While Amara has some real skill with piloting mechs, it’s Jake who the Jaeger program is more interested in, as the son of the previous film’s commanding officer Stacker. He’s brought in to justify the use of Jaegers to combat rogue giant robots, while a competing company is promoting the use of artificial intelligence. And in comes a newer, younger batch of pilots to save humanity with all kid-friendly pluck for children destined to jump into robot cockpits. They need to be trained by Jake and are in desperate need of coaching. Especially when a new Kaiju threat it on the horizon if it isn't here already.
To justify more Jaeger on Kaiju action, the story contorts a weird plot of how the Kaijus make their grand return. Without giving too much away, it involves evil Jaegers, multiple portals, and mind-control of all things. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a sequel with few returning characters does perform a bit of the expected housecleaning to clear the ranks. That being said, the return of the bickering scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are still a hoot to follow and play a grander role in the sequel.
The biggest issue with such a script is that while it still echoes the moves of its predecessor, Uprising forces too much into the mix that it becomes downright exposition-straight at times with trying to help the audience keep up with the left-field twists. There are so many so story ideas flung at the screen that it runs the risk of becoming as overly busy and confusing as the Transformers saga. Perhaps, but there’s a key difference between director Steven S. DeKnight’s less inspired film and Michael Bay’s endless cavalcade of chaos.
While Transformers boasts lots of robot action, it’s all a mess of moving parts as blurring robots do battle in horribly staged fight scenes. Pacific Rim Uprising improves, if nothing else, in its special effects of the fighting robots. Thanks to some motion capture and real eyes for how to stage a scene, all of the battles occur during the day and with clearly visible actions that are fun to watch. Mecha junkies will get their thrills filled when a Jaeger uppercuts another Jaeger up the side of a building and later do battle with swords that pierce through their robotic hearts.
If you didn’t dig the first Pacific Rim, I can’t help you here. It doesn’t really improve on the characters, story, or even the mecha and monsters, merely doubling in theatrics to the point of increasing the numbers or adding Super to their titles. But if you just love some mech-on-monster action and don’t mind a second helping that’s a little soggy from being reheated, it’s a decently satisfying serving of mecha leftovers.