Back in 2013 Guillermo del Toro gave us the live action anime-esk Pacific Rim, where an army of giant piloted robots called Jaegers waged war against a hoard of Kaiju, or huge monstrous aliens, invading earth by way of an inter-dimensional passage at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Being penned and shot by one of today’s most celebrated ‘monster film makers’, the del Toro project was as wild a ride as could be expected. In the five years following, while del Toro went on to other projects including the monster movie The Shape of Water, this year’s Oscar winner for best picture, a sequel to the monster vs. robot flick has been slowly coming together, with a new team of writers and director, and has culminated with the release of Pacific Rim Uprising, coming five years after the original. Despite what you may think, that material like this is ripe for the tried and true sequel recipe of go bigger in every aspect, Uprising doesn’t really up the ante from an already ridiculous original. And that’s a fine strategy if the content you’re bringing to the screen the second go round is well crafted and engaging, the problem here, it isn’t. With the absence of del Toro, Pacific Rim Uprising is the movie you’d expect it to be, not the one you’d hope for.
The film begins with Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), our principle character, explaining what life is like in the dystopian cities left in ruin from Kaiju attacks in the first film. There’s a moment in this montage where Jake trades an academy award to some hoods for food in a back ally, a clear tongue in check statement that what is about to follow for the next hour and a half or so is not of Oscar quality. Unfortunately, Uprising took itself a little too seriously in this respect. To call a film like this formulaic would be feigning critique as nobody would expect a masterpiece of story telling. But despite even that, the patchwork of tired clichés woven together into a plot will have even the most forgiving audience members groaning. At times it seems like the filmmakers had a checklist of everything you’ve ever seen before and refused to call it a wrap until every box had been ticked.
Again, these observations probably won’t come as a shock to anyone who has ever seen a movie before and whose counter would be ‘but you don’t see a film like Pacific Rim Uprising for the plot.’ And rightly so. Nobody’s going in expecting The Sixth Sense, they’re paying admission for a good old fashioned mano-a-mano between giant robots and giant aliens. While these action set pieces do, obviously, occur, similarly to everything else, they come across as rather uninspired. With the exception of a couple Jaeger vs. Jaeger scenes, which do offer a fresh take on the giant combat from the first film, on the whole the fights seem like missed opportunities to really ramp things up for the price of admission. (Warning, spoilers ahead in the remainder of this paragraph). During the climactic clash where three jaegers do battle against three kaiju atop the battlefield of a crumbling city, the kaiju, sensing their demise, are literally stitched together by a swarm of small robots, to form one super kaiju. In response to this new foe, Jake, leading the team of robots, looks to the other jaegers and issues a tactical command on how to advance against the now single enemy. However, in the moment before uttering his orders you can almost sense that the remaining jaegers’ last move is to all form together making their own super robot to take on the super kaiju. Would this outcome have been absolutely absurd to the point of bordering on comical? Most definitely. But would it, at the same time, have been a welcome and exciting progression to the numerous jager/kaiju battles that came before? Again, most definitely.
Unfortunately, Uprising isn’t the kind of film that is overly self aware of how clichéd it is but, on the contrary, suffers from perhaps a lack of self-awareness. As a result, rather than being so-bad-it’s-good it’s just bad.
Universal Pictures releases Pacific Rim Uprising on Friday, March 23, 2018