23rd Mar2018

‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Max Zhang, Charlie Day | Written by Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, T.S. Nowlin | Directed by Steven S. DeKnight

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Rumours of the apocalypse’s cancellation were apparently premature as the robots vs monsters franchise is back for a second instalment, this time directed by Daredevil showrunner Steven S. DeKnight, with Guillermo del Toro serving as producer. The sequel is significantly less serious than its somewhat gloomy predecessor and it’s a lot more fun as a result.

Picking up ten years after the events of Pacific Rim, the film stars John Boyega as Jake “Son of Stacker” Pentecost, who’s turned his back on the Jaeger (i.e. giant robot) pilot program and now makes a living selling illicitly acquired robo-bits on the black market. When he meets scrappy scavenger Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), he’s amazed to discover that she’s built her own mini-Jaeger from spare parts. Unfortunately, the possession of said robot quickly lands them in jail, whereupon they’re both bailed out by Jake’s adopted sister Mako Mori (a returning Rinko Kikuchi) and forcibly co-opted into the Jaeger training program.

While Jake spars with former best friend Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), the pilots find their future threatened by a newly designed series of Jaeger drones, developed by corporate tech genius Shao Liwen (Jing Tian). However, there are soon far more pressing matters at hand, as the drone launch is attacked by a mysterious rogue Jaeger, while scientist Hermann Gottlieb (a returning Burn Gorman) suspects that another giant alien monster attack may be imminent.

A notable criticism of the original 2013 film was that it wasn’t nearly enough fun, particularly when it came to the robots vs monster battles themselves, which often took place in murky conditions. That’s a criticism taken to heart by the sequel, which doubles down on the robots vs monsters (and other robots) action and decides to have as much dumb fun as possible, adding gloriously implausible extra elements like an array of robo-weapons that includes plasma swords, electro-whips and gravity-slings.

As a result, the brightly lit mayhem puts the Transformers franchise to shame, though it does fall into a couple of the same traps, such as the difficulty of telling the various robots apart and the wanton destruction of property, even by the good guys (though they at least include a line confirming that the area has been evacuated beforehand). Most importantly, the film just surrenders itself to the absolute nonsense of it all and the results are ludicrously enjoyable – there’s a moment involving a rocket booster that’s just flat-out brilliant in its ridiculousness.

Outside of the robots and monsters, the film’s biggest asset is John Boyega, delivering an effortlessly charismatic performance that confirms him as a bona fide movie star. As such, he’s a joy to watch, not least because the film allows him to keep his London accent. The supporting cast are equally good, particularly promising newcomer Cailee Spaeny, who brings a sparky energy to her performance and generates entertaining chemistry with Boyega. The film also reprises the amusing double-act between the nerdy scientists played by Gorman and squeaky-voiced Charlie Day, adding a clever twist to the relationship that works well.

To be fair, the film isn’t entirely without problems. For one thing, the clichéd character development moments are so lazily handled that they’re almost laughable – both Jake and Amara have supposed conflicts with other people that are forgotten within the space of a single scene, while Adria Arjona’s role as the supposed love interest for either Jake or Nate (a poorly conceived running joke) is so under-written that it’s actually insulting.

In addition, the film acknowledges the importance of a key plot point from the first film (the fact that each robot needs two pilots, requiring them to forge a neural bond whereby they share feelings and memories) but completely fails to pay that off dramatically, other than by giving Amara a tragic backstory.

Ultimately, Pacific Rim: Uprising is something of a guilty pleasure. It’s ludicrously dumb, but you can’t help enjoying it, thanks to Boyega’s movie star performance, some spectacular action sequences and just the right amount of self-awareness in the script.

***½  3.5/5

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