When Pacific Rim was released in 2013, it was the latest film from Guillermo del Toro honoring the classic monsters of his childhood. Whereas the Hellboy franchise and Pan’s Labyrinth played to his world building and creature creation, Pacific Rim was del Toro’s vision on a much larger scale, and what seemed like on paper to be the thinking man’s mechs versus monsters film. But maybe most importantly, it was a big, loud film about giant beasts fighting each other that wasn’t Transformers. There would still be giant robots battling equally huge monstrosities in highly populated areas, but del Toro knew how to craft an action film, and not make it as mind-numbingly stupid as Michael Bay’s incessantly present series.
Five years later with the sequel Pacific Rim Uprising, del Toro is out – however still acting as producer – as is most of the cast. Taking del Toro’s place is director Steven S. DeKnight, who worked on such shows as Spartacus: War of the Damned, Smallville and was a creative consultant on a show called Travel Boobs. Whereas del Toro’s original was relatively dumb, it had fun with its silliness. Despite how idiotic the story and world could be, Pacific Rim still had the enjoyable fights to save the audience from Charlie Hunnam’s awful mugging. With DeKnight at the helm, Pacific Rim becomes what it mostly avoided in the first film: a brainless, tedious and fatiguing exercise that comes off more like a Transformers film than an auteur’s homage to his favorite creatures.
It has been a decade since the first Pacific Rim, with the world blissfully free of the kaiju monsters. Earth is still scattered with the remnants of dead monsters and the destroyed robots used to fight them, known as Jaegers. With Idris Elba having died in the first film, John Boyega plays his son Jake Pentecost – a character never even mentioned in the original. Jake was once part of the Jaeger militia, but dropped out to illegally sell Jaeger scrap metal. On one such theft, he runs into Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who has built her own tiny Jaeger of her own. The two are arrested and forced back into the Jaeger army, where Amara will become one of many teenage Jaeger fighters, while Jake will help in their training.
Not soon after arriving back at Jaeger training, a drone Jaeger starts attacking Sydney, and robots start fighting other robots, before robots start fighting monsters. Pacific Rim was mostly streamlined simplicity, not adding too much to the Jaeger vs. kaiju story. But Uprising and its four screenwriters pack this sequel with digressions and too many storylines. Scott Eastwood takes Hunnam’s place as “bland white dude who helps pilot the Jaeger,” and Tian Jing is introduced as Liwen Shao, a businesswoman who plans on making drone Jaegers the standard for kaiju-fighting.
The star of Uprising is clearly Boyega, who gets to use his real accent and utilize his playful comedic side for the first time since his debut, Attack the Block. But whoever Boyega is put beside just can’t match his energy. Eastwood is just a blank slate, and the mentor-student relationship between Boyega and Spaeny is forced and awkward. Their relationship is intended to be the core emotional tie of Uprising, but every interaction between them is full of cliches and cringes.
Two of the only recurring cast members are Burn Gorman and Charlie Day as kaiju experts Dr. Hermann Gottlieb and Dr. Newton Geiszler, respectively. While their dynamic was one of the peaks before, their separation for most of Uprising is frustrating and makes both characters a weakness. Gottlieb is mostly obnoxious without his foil to take him down a peg, but one of Uprising’s most insane choices is its treatment of Day. Uprising’s biggest (and most insane) twist relies on Day, yet this also makes Day a humorless, completely bland character that could’ve been played by anyone. Instead of playing to Day’s strengths as the first film did, Uprising turns him into little more than a shell of his former character.
This is consistent with most of Uprising’s choices, taking what worked and skewing it in a way that destroys its former joy. Even watching the kaiju fight the Jaegers is a chore, just showing how many ways a robot can destroy a massive city. The fights are generic to the point of disinterest, just metal against monster over and over until it loses any purpose. With so many stories interspersed and new characters introduced, the lack of any human characters to care about makes the gargantuan fighting sterile and careless in its execution.
As a series, Pacific Rim was once the better alternative to the mindlessness of the Transformers films. With Uprising, Pacific Rim became what it tried so hard not to be, stupid and lacking the care del Toro brought to the original’s joyous efficiency.