Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim never exactly needed a sequel. It wrapped up all its loose ends, and a lacklustre US box office meant that GdT moved on to Crimson Peak and eventual Oscars glory with The Shape of Water. Yet, there was something enchanting in the scrappy giant robots vs monsters universe he created that made the idea of a return somewhat irresistible. Five years on, a largely new team has brought the follow-up and, sadly, it’s hard not to wish they hadn’t. Pacific Rim Uprising is a competently made film, but never attempts to capture the same soul that elevated the original above other genre fare.
Picking up 10 years after the Kaiju-spewing Breach was closed, Uprising does away with many of the original’s characters in favour of a team of new recruits. Leading the charge is Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of Idris Elba-played, apocalypse-cancelling hero Stacker. He’s introduced as a hard-partying thief, but it’s not long before he’s drafted back into the Jaeger program to train new cadets as a threat of rogue Jaegers and even bigger Kaijus emerges. It’s a very rote learning to be a hero arc, but Boyega brings some charisma and charm to it.
Most of his co-stars don’t get the same luxury though, paper-thin characterisation and profoundly mediocre writing meaning that other new franchise additions like the stern Ranger Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and street kid Amara (Cailee Spaeny) barely register. Charlie Day is the standout, adding both campiness and a disconcerting edge to returning mad scientist Newt. Most of the stylistic changes between Pacific Rim and Uprising are for the worse, but seeing Newt’s wardrobe start to reflect that of Ron Perlman from the first film as he grows in success and ego is a neat piece of visual storytelling.
Where del Toro used end-of-the-world desperation and grit to sell the world of Pacific Rim, Uprising is far more sleek and generically futuristic (though still hugely impressive from a purely technical standpoint). Gone are the weighty, majestic showdowns in churning seas and blinding blizzards, replaced by faster and goofier robot designs zipping about brightly lit daytime cityscapes. First time director Steven S. DeKnight (who also penned the script alongside three other writers) deserves praise for keeping all the fight scenes remarkably coherent, even as the monsters grow to mountainous proportions, but there’s never enough actual thrills. Only the least memorable characters ever feel under real threat, so you’re rarely given a reason to care.
Uprising’s sub-two hour runtime is admirable, but it could have shaved extra minutes off by cutting an appalling ‘romantic’ subplot out. It’s astoundingly superfluous, evidence of a script that hasn’t really been thought through. The ending suffers from a similar lack of care, arriving so suddenly and underwhelmingly that it feels as if the filmmakers forgot to shoot a final scene and hoped no one would notice. Uprising is never exactly boring, but very little of it is particularly engaging in the moment, and absolutely none of it stays with you after the credits roll.