Film Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

The unlimited star power of John Boyega can’t save 'Pacific Rim: Uprising' from itself.
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Pacific Rimwas never a likely candidate for a sequel. A flop in the U.S.—earning back $101 million of its $190 million budget—it was sufficiently successful in China to warrant a five-years-delayed follow-up. Some of the original characters are back—the goofball science sidekicks played by Burn Gorman and Charlie Day, plus a limited appearance from Rinko Kikuchi—but for the most part we’re looking at a brand new crop of eager youths looking to save humanity. Surprise: Giant monsters, known as Kaiju, are back. Humans piloting giant robots, AKA Jaegers, need to defeat them. That’s just about all you need to know about the setup.

The results are hit and miss. Or, more accurately, hit and miss and miss and miss. That’s because a good 75% of Pacific Rim: Uprising is regrettably quite dull.

The writers of Pacific Rim: Uprising—there are four of them, including Steven S. DeKnight, who directed—packed their screenplay with over a dozen new characters, a scant few of whom register as memorable in any way. The Big Man on Campus is Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), who since the death of his war-hero father (Idris Elba) in the first film has been living a life of devil-may-care debauchery. A spat with plucky wannabe Jaeger pilot Amara (Cailee Spaeny) lands him back in the service. There, he reunites with his stick-in-the-mud old friend Nate (Scott Eastwood) and is tasked with training the next generation of Jaeger pilots, Amara among them.

Boyega does most of the heavy lifting in Uprising. He’s charismatic enough to convincingly pull off an underdeveloped character and an unearned character arc. Similarly eye-catching is Tian Jing as Liwen Shao, a tech magnate of dubious intentions who’s convinced that Jaegers can be replaced by unmanned drones. Gorman and Day deliver professional turns as their previously established characters.

Virtually every other character, however, blends together into a mish-mash of blah. It’s impossible to keep up with people’s names, never mind why we should care about them. Personalities that rise above the level of cliché are thin on the ground. The worst offender is Eastwood, a black hole from which no charisma may escape. A soggy cardboard box could have performed his role better. Not helping matters are cheesy special effects; dialogue right out of the Generic Action Movie playbook (“We only got one shot at this!” “Yeah? Then let’s make it count!”); hamfisted, wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to the first Pacific Rim (of Jake’s father: “Amazing speechwriter, by the way. You ever hear his one where he cancelled the apocalypse?”); and action choreography that often makes it impossible to tell what’s going on.

That said, at times Pacific Rim: Uprising does rise above its general miasma of dullness to provide some entertaining moments. Boyega and Tian Jing are fun to watch, and Charlie Day’s plotline brings some genuine surprises—rare indeed in an era of cookie-cutter action blockbusters. And, after 45 minutes or so of uncompelling setup, Uprising does manage to settle into place as a minor example of gleeful action weirdness. Just be prepared to fall asleep whenever Eastwood is onscreen.

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