When the first Pacific Rim came out it got some pretty bad reviews. The sequel is no different but reading those reviews will reveal something about the people writing them. They are the wrong audience. When I reviewed the first Pacific Rim I said the same thing I am going to say now. If you are not a fan of anime, Kaiju movies or video games this is not your movie.
Having said that, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a far cry from the original. I am just going to say that right from the start. That is not to say, however, that it is bad. I rather enjoyed it in fact!
Some time has passed since the first movie and the world is getting back in shape but the threat of the Kaiju has not been forgotten. Some parts of the world, however, are recovering a little slower. In these areas people are scraping to get by on the aftermath of the past battles, scavenging for scraps. They are also creating their own Jaegers.
Our hero, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), is living in one of these areas, stealing parts from decommissioned Jaegers. In doing so he crosses paths with Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) and her home made Jaeger. The two of them get captured and wind up at the Pan Pacific Defense Force HQ.
From here the movie tries to juggle a few plot points. It mostly succeeds but in doing so fails to really explore any of the plot points very deeply. The training of new recruits and the development of of each individual character is clearly something we are supposed to care about, but we are not given enough time with them to develop a connection. This combined with some really weak character conflicts really makes it hard to care about any of the characters or their past much at all.
One good point of the story is a pretty solid plot twist. What this twist is I wont say here but I will say that not only was it well timed and interesting, it also served to really put things in motion. From this point on the film is all about the spectacle of giant robots fighting monsters. This twist was hinted at earlier but still managed to surprise me in a good way.
The cast is a bit hit or miss. John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Burn Gorman, Charlie Day, and Tian Jing all give great performances, with Charlie Day being a particularly fun stand out. The rest of the cast, however, is a little lacking with Scott Eastwood doing a serviceable job, but still coming in a little too stiff. The younger cast members really seemed to be just going through the paces but I can hardly blame them considering the lines they were given were really not that good anyway.
The action in Uprising is pretty much what you expect from a sequel. It is bigger, louder, and just generally more hectic. The visuals are strong, if maybe not as memorable as the original. There is a greater focus on teaming up here, with all of the Jaegers being new additions, and it leads to some really cool moments. Yet, even with more focus on the different Jaegers, the film seems to have left something out.
The first film had a lot in common with the classic Kaiju movies. There were a variety of different monsters and they each seemed unique in some way. Uprising misses the mark on this somewhat. There are story reasons for there being fewer Kaiju, but they really failed to make an impression with the few Kaiju they did have. While they had some unique aspects, they really seemed be wasted opportunities.
An opportunity that was not wasted, however, was the chance to have some Jaeger VS Jaeger action. This sequence is really quite spectacular and was almost worth the price of admission by itself. Watching two giant robots go at it was not only a change of pace that reminded me of the classic Kaiju facing each other, it also showcased what our lead mecha was capable of.
The final battle of the film is also a fantastic spectacle, despite the rather bland Kaiju. The destruction of the city combined with the slick moves of some of the Jaegers (Saber Athena is my new favorite) make for some fun action. Buildings, cars and just about everything else becomes a weapon and the fight really feels like it is a no holds barred last stand fight. The camera work is great too, never making the action seem clustered or confusing.
The Bottom Line:
Pacific Rim: Uprising is not for everyone. Those expecting deep story telling and character development will be left disappointed. Those seeking a fun time with explosive action and giant robots punching giant monsters (and each other) will have a great time.