Creating a loving homage to Japanese kaiju movies and mecha anime, Guillermo Del Toro’s distinct auteur vision separated Pacific Rim from being a Transformers clone. Replacing him in the sequel – Pacific Rim Uprising – is Steven S. DeKnight, who makes his directorial debut following stints as a television producer most notably on Netflix’s Daredevil and Spartacus. These television sensibilities are brought to the film that fails to build on the foundation established by Del Toro in what can only be described as a disappointing downgrade from the original.
Pacific Rim: Uprising takes place ten years after the events of the first film, where Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Jaeger pilot veteran, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), is recruited to train a new generation of Jaeger pilots to combat another kaiju invasion. Even among some of the most adamant defenders of the first film, the one unanimous complaint was the bland, wooden lead performance of Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, and the decision to replace him as the protagonist with John Boyega is quite possibly the only area in which the sequel improves upon the original. Despite the character himself being thoroughly unengaging on his own, Boyega’s charismatic performance is enough to barely carry the film during any scenes without mecha/monster action. The other new characters don’t really do much to pick up the slack either. Scott Eastwood is essentially this film’s equivalent to Raleigh and is probably about as interesting. Similarly, Amara Namani seems to be Uprising’s answer to Mako Mori as the “strong female character”, right down to reusing Mako’s tragic backstory, but without any of the personal connection or narrative significance. Between the team of the new generation Jaeger recruits, there are way too many of them and an insufficient amount of screen time for them to stand out or leave much of an impression.
Despite the characters of the first film not being entirely complex, they were still rich with personality and their presence still left substantial impressions in their own way, whether they be Idris Elba’s commanding, authoritative Stacker Pentecost, the gleeful comedic performances of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman as the enigmatic Hannibal Chau, or most significantly, Rinko Kikuchi as the aforementioned strong-willed and capable Mako Mori. Mako’s presence in the first film as a Japanese women in a lead role of a big-budget summer blockbuster, whose narrative arc and contributions to the overall story being treated just as, if not more, substantial to those of her white male counterpart was a rarity and breath of fresh air, especially in films of this magnitude. Uprising dismantles much of this goodwill in an utter disservice to the character. Offering her very little to do, the conclusion to her arc is handled in a manner undeserving of someone who made such an impact in Pacific Rim.
The biggest crime of Uprising is that it strips away all of the visual flair, personality, and creativity of del Toro’s original, and dilutes it to emulate any standard modern blockbuster, which is not at all what the first film was. Uprising feels like the type of soft reboot/sequel that would normally come out 10 or 20 years after the original, not five; resulting in a movie that feels like it has more in common with a standard Marvel or Transformers movie than it does with the first Pacific Rim. The attempts at humor are forced at best, falling very much in line with the broad style of humor seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, complete with outdated meme references (There’s a Salt Bae joke).
The sleek new Jaeger designs only serve to diminish the effect that the Jaegers’ presence had in the first. The slow, heavy, industrial design of the first film’s Jaegers conveyed a true physical weight and grandiosity in how they moved and how they fought, which made them feel all the more tangible to a believable reality. The slim, sleek robots in this film, however, move and behave like CGI characters, and since most of the action is during the daytime in desolate grey cityscapes as opposed to the rainy, neon-lit aesthetic of the first film’s action scenes, the visuals feel so muted and drab for what is supposed to be a flashy blockbuster spectacle.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is to the original Pacific Rim what Jurassic World is to the original Jurassic Park: a bland, studio-driven, watered down attempt at recreating the original, of which the new film has no understanding of. Not without its moments of dumb fun, but Pacific Rim was able to achieve more than just a dumb fighting robot movie, whereas that is all that Pacific Rim: Uprising aspires to be.