It’s been ten years after the events of 2013’s Pacific Rim (see our review), and the sequel opens with a snappy introduction to Jake (John Boyega), son of Idris Elba’s Marshal Pentecost from the first movie. Having dropped out from the Jaeger Academy, he now spends his days hustling and dodging the authorities.
Then one day he meets the orphaned whiz-kid Amara (Cailee Spaeny), who has somehow managed to build her own Jaeger. After getting into a scrap with the authorities and some nudging from Security General Mako Mori (Rinko Kinkuchi), Amara enrolls in the Jaeger Academy as a cadet, while Jake rejoins to take his place as a ranger.
And not a moment too soon, as trouble rolls into town in the form of Shao Industries, a Chinese company headed by Shao Liwen (Jing Tian) that plans on replacing Jaeger pilots with remotely-piloted drone Jaegers instead. Before you know it, it’s up to Jake and his partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) to lead their team of cadets into a battle to save the world. Again.
Guillermo del Toro, who directed the first movie, only has a producer role in the sequel, while Steven S DeKnight takes up the reins as director. I’m mentioning this first because it’s apparent even a few minutes into the movie that it’s missing something, and it’s down to GDT’s absence. There was a raw quality to the joy and tragedy of the original that is way more toned down here. It lacks del Toro’s deft hand and quirkiness and is bland to the point that much of the movie feels like a paint-by-numbers Transformers wannabe.
The movie picks up on some of the dangling plot threads from the original, but there are many questions it leaves unanswered, and it’s best if you leave your brain at the door for the duration of this movie, because the plotholes are huge. The third act of the plot really, really lets the whole movie down when it devolves into a fight in daylight between four Jaegers and a beast of a Kaiju.
That said, it’s still an extremely entertaining movie. The CGI is still jaw-droppingly great and I found myself going “woaaah” under my breath during multiple action sequences.The Jaegers are still pretty damn cool, and the technical mumbo-jumbo just as bewildering as ever, but it’s good to see Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman reprise their roles as Mako, Newt and Herman respectively. Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Beckett on the other hand, is MIA, perhaps still trying to find his way out of the pile of hot garbage that was King Arthur (see our review).
While Boyega played the role of the spunky young upstart in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (see our review), here he is the jaded older mentor to a whole new crew of spunky young Jaeger cadets. I suspect this is a calculated move, and a pretty smart one for Boyega as it would’ve been seriously boring if he had played another wide-eyed noob. But this isn’t exactly challenging material for him to work with, and it’s a little disappointing to see him punching far below his weight.
The big winner here is diversity, thanks to the fact that a big part of the movie takes place in a Shatterdome in China. And unlike some other blockbuster movies (*cough Age of Ultron cough*), this attempt at appealing to the Asian market didn’t feel shoehorned in. More surprisingly, it’s the female characters who do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the techy and mechanical montage bits, which is a very nice change. Jing Tian’s Shao may be your stereotypical dragon lady character, but she doesn’t hesitate to get her hands dirty when her expertise is needed.
So yes, Pacific Rim Uprising might be a little predictable, but there’s more than enough here to entertain and bring people to the cinema. Just like the first one, I suspect it’ll split opinion and will be the subject of many geeky debates for years to come.
Pacific Rim Uprising is out in theatres now.