By: Kevin Jordan
I’ve seen worse.
Coming out of Pacific Rim: Uprising, there were plenty of moviegoers that enjoyed the film and that is cool. There is plenty of room in our lives for big, loud, popcorn flicks like Pacific Rim: Uprising. I, myself, enjoyed the hell out of Pacific Rim and gave it a gigantic pass on many aspects of it that were really weak. But then those same moviegoers said Uprising was much better than the first film and much more fun. Wait – hold on a minute, I must have misunderstood. *Checks notes* – Yep. That is what they said. *Sighs* Uprising may be enjoyable, but it is not nearly as good or entertaining as its predecessor. T
his is why we can’t have nice things.
I am no fan of Guillermo del Toro, but I believe Pacific Rim is the best movie he has made. And, yes, that includes the hilariously overrated The Shape of Water. As I stated in my review of Pacific Rim, it hit all the marks that a summer blockbuster needed to hit. It delivered on its promise of lots of robot-on-monster fight scenes, it had a very simple plot dressed in fun nonsense, someone gives a big motivating speech when all seems lost, the comic relief was both funny and well-timed, the characters were all endearing or likeable, and it delivered on its promise of lots of robot-on-monster fight scenes. Yes, I had to say that twice; there was that much action. Uprising falls well short of Pacific Rim on almost every one of those components, though to be fair, somehow manages to not completely suck while doing it. Just mostly suck.
(Big Dumb SPOILER ALERT for a Big Dumb movie)
Uprising takes place ten years after the events of the first film, introducing us to our main character, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of one of war hero Stacker Pentecost. Jake is currently living as a thief who specializes in acquiring old jaeger technology. During a run into a decommissioned jaeger factory, he comes across a teenaged Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who beats him to a valuable jaeger part. He tracks her to her hideout where he discovers she has built her own (very small) jaeger. They are soon discovered by the cops and have a quick chase scene where they are eventually captured by a real jaeger. This entire sequence exists solely to establish and develop our two main characters and explain how they end up at jaeger pilot training school (not to mention hang a blazing neon sign on the small jaeger saying “THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR LATER”). It is very paint-by-numbers, which is fine for a popcorn flick, but then the movie decides to forget almost everything it established.
Jake is never asked to use any of his street skills, in fact, quite the opposite. He is forced to become an instructor to a bunch of adolescent jaeger pilot trainees and team up with square-jawed, by-the-books pilot, Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) as Nate’s co-pilot. In fact, by the end, Jake will even give the big motivation speech (which was anything but motivational) while wearing his uniform straight. Meanwhile, Amara tries to fit in with the others, but one trainee girl has it out for Amara because she doesn’t think Amara earned her spot there. At no point are her skills at building jaegers ever put to use on screen, but instead just mentioned again late in the film as a throwaway line to explain how they suddenly have four working jaegers one day after pretty much everything was destroyed by evil jaegers (we’ll get to them in a second). When I said paint-by-numbers, I meant one color and two numbers. Three, at most.
The reason I found this movie so lackluster is because it spends the vast majority of its running time telling us about stuff rather than showing it to us. Considering this movie’s entire purpose in life is visuals, it should have had maybe ten percent as much dialogue as it actually gave. For example, oodles of dialogue are spent telling us how Jake had some sort of falling out as a jaeger pilot prior to ending up on the streets. Rather than showing us the falling out at the beginning of the film, we get a quick exchange where he just spells out it to Amara. And another where he and Nate kind of talk about it. And another where – you get the point. For another example, the script instructs Amara to tick off the names of all of the jaegers as she sees them upon first arrival at the training base, rather than revealing them organically during missions or fight scenes. I realize that the world of Pacific Rim is fantastical enough to require an extra spoonful of exposition, but Uprising piles it on by the quart.
The rest of the movie is a convoluted mess of corporate greed, rogue jaegers, and red herrings trying desperately to tie itself together into a coherent plot by the Precursors (the trans-dimensional beings who sent the kaijus – giant monsters – to Earth in the first film) to terraform Earth (their goal from the first film as well). The primary success of the first film was showing us giant robots fighting us giant monsters, so the four (FOUR!!) writers of this film decided to replace the monsters with other robots because five (FIVE!!) Transformers movies wasn’t enough. I am not exaggerating; there is just one scene featuring a giant robot vs a giant fleshy monster and, by then, I forgot we were watching a Pacific Rim sequel.
(Side note: some people will argue the semantics of the rogue robots being more than just robots, but the fight scenes are still just robots fighting other robots.)
On the character side, you would be forgiven if you couldn’t remember the name of any character beyond Jake and Amara, and I’d forgive you if you forgot Jake and Amara’s names as well. With the exception of those two and Nate, none of the other pilots are memorable. For that matter, you should be asking where the hell were all the grown-up pilots in this film. Then, there is the corporate executive (Jing Tian) who is cold, calculated, and power hungry when her hair is tied up, but comes to the rescue after letting her hair down (seriously, her hair does this). Finally, there is Dr. Geiszler (Charlie Day), the comic relief of movie one (along with Burn Gorman as his buddy), but who is chewed up and spit out as a really bad version of an Austin Powers villain this time around. And, he doesn’t even get to do comedy, which might have saved the character as a villain. Come to think of it, nobody got to do comedy, though you would have thought this movie was funny by the way the person behind me in the theater was cackling at anything and everything even resembling a joke, including a robot flipping the bird to a vanquished opponent (never funny).
The strangest thing about watching this film is that I didn’t hate it. I just didn’t care about anything happening in the film. The screenplay made no attempt to develop any characters beyond cliches and most of them didn’t even get that much. The jaegers were okay, I guess, but the bright color palate of this film took away all of the ominous and dark feel from the first film (a consequence of newbie Steven DeKnight directing this film rather than del Toro), giving it a Care Bears kind of feeling. Plus, only the main jaeger (Gipsy Danger – the one with the glowy orange chest) is in the vast majority of the film, the climax being the only scene where all four jaegers from the movie poster are seen fighting. Come on – which writer(s) sharted out that miss? I wasn’t even all that bothered by Eastwood’s performance coming out as stiff as his jaw. On the bright side, none of the robots were racist, had genitalia, or tried to hump Megan Fox and for that, we can be thankful.
Rating: Ask for all but a dollar back, but consider that dollar thoughtfully.