A film review by Craig J. Koban March 31, 2018


2018, PG-13, 111 mins.


John Boyega as Jake Pentecost  /  Scott Eastwood as Nate Lambert  /  Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori  /  Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler  /  Burn Gorman as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb  /  Max Martini as Herc Hansen  /  Karan Brar as Suresh  /  Jing Tian as Liwen Shao  /  Cailee Spaeny as Amara  /  Levi Meaden as Ilya

Directed by Steven S. DeKnight  /  Written by Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, and T.S. Nowlin






PACIFIC RIM UPRISING is a wholly unnecessary and carelessly unimaginative sequel to the Guillermo del Toro 2013 directed post apocalyptic sci-fi thriller involving giant man piloted robots that battle even larger monsters to ensure the protection and survival of the human race.  

I thought that the first film in this series embraced the lunacy of its wacky premise while regrettably taking it all a bit too seriously.  It certainly delivered on stupendously rendered visual effects and stunning action sequences, but rarely left any action/war film cliché stone unturned.  This sequel pathetically believes that upping the ante on relatively everything equates to more satisfying returns, but bigger rarely means better, because PACIFIC RIM UPRISING fails at being a thoroughly engaging sequel because there's a soul sucking dullness to the scripting and mayhem presented that feels more numbing than exhilarating this go around. 

Del Toro has wisely decided to sit this one out (he now serves as producer) and even though I certainly had problems with some of his creative choices in the first PACIFIC RIM,  I'll concede that he certainly knew how to create a consummately stunning film on a level of pure visual dynamism.  Replacing him now is Steven S. DeKnight, making his feature film debut (he previously worked on the small screen producing SPARTACUS for Starz), and he does a few intriguing things here and there to visually segregate his sequel apart from del Toro's film.  PACIFIC RIM UPRISING seems more enthusiastically brighter, substituting in daytime scenes for the frequent rainy night set moments of its predecessor, which is welcoming.  The bravura visual effects work here is also as polished as ever by somehow thanklessly making these monumentally large scale battles feel oddly credible.  Where this film really fails is in its narrative execution, which is replete with lazy and sloppy scripting that seems like a half-hearted attempt at expanding upon the del Toro's previously established mythology.  I rarely cared for the stakes in PACIFIC RIM UPRISING because its filled with cardboard cutout character types that rarely inspire our rooting interest.   



In case you forgot the premise to the original film, the PACIFIC RIM universe is set in the not so distant future when skyscraper sized monsters ("kaiju") have revealed themselves to the planet via an interdimensional hole at the bottom of the ocean floor.   In order to better protect the world from such city decimating creatures, countries have banded together to create the "Jaeger" program, which involved engineering and building massive robots to battle the kaiju; the robots are so big that two pilots - mentally linked - are required to adequately and smoothly drive the mechanical beasties.  When PACIFIC RIM 1 concluded the aforementioned breach between worlds was closed, seemingly ending humanity's war against the kaiju.  PACIFIC RIM UPRISING opens a decade later to show how civilization has moved on and tried to rebuild after the unfathomably large collateral damage the war brought, but the military forces are still on high alert and in the defensive position just in case a kaiju shows up again. 

Obviously, new recruits are always needed in war films such as these, and for sequels that couldn't bring back the original cast members, like Charlie Hunnam's Raleigh Beckett, who's oddly never referenced here despite surviving the last film's climatic showdown.  Another one of the characters that didn't make it here was Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost, who bravely gave his life to close and seal the breach.  His son, Jake (STAR WARS' charming and easily likeable John Boyega), makes an appearance here, who spends most of his days making a living as a thief and seller of abandoned Jaeger tech.  He's arrested early on in the film for stealing a disable Jaeger's power core alongside the young and spirited Amara (Cailee Spaeny), a spunky teen that's also rather conveniently a real grease monkey and is so technologically skilled that she's able to build her own small scale Jaeger. 

Jake is reunited with his own partner in Nate (Scott Eastwood, looking alarmingly like his father Clint, but lacking his screen charisma) and sister, Mako (Rinko Kinkuchi, one of the few returning characters here).  Of course, as the Jaeger program is busy training a squad of new cadets during peace time a rogue Jaeger that appears possessed launches a devastating attack, which is linked to the re-appearance of the kaiju on Earth.  As the ragtag group of heroes begin to realize the scale and scope of the new kaiju menace, they realize that their only last ditch option to secure the world's future is to suit up and take the fight to the kaiju, which culminates in Tokyo and Mount Fuji for reasons that aren't really cogently explained, other then to shamelessly allow PACIFIC RIM UPRISING to pander to the types of international movie markets that typically eat these films up when North American viewers won't. 

Let's talk about the action in this film, especially the climax just referenced, which seems to go on for literally ever without an end in sight.  Now, initially it's an unmitigated hoot seeing an army of Jaegers launch an attack on multiple kaiju with the screaming citizens of Tokyo fleeing for their lives.  There are some pleasures to be had in the glorified B-movie grade thrills that sequences like this have to offer, but when one modestly scrutinizes them they begin to take on the same levels of mindlessness of a Michael Bay helmed TRANSFORMERS movie.  There's a moment, for example, when one of the Jaegers lassos multiple high rise buildings (don't ask how), detaches them from their foundations, and then hurls them at the monsters.  Now, it's never once established that the heroes piloting the Jaegers know whether or not these buildings are empty, which means that they have thoughtlessly and essentially murdered thousands of civilians in seconds while trying to defend them and their city.  There's an absolutely soulless quality to PACIFIC RIM UPRISING that's off-putting: Cities like Sydney and Tokyo are reduced to rubble in scenes that eerily mirror 9/11 amped up to level 11...and there's virtually next to no shock or awe or frightened wonder to be had in experiencing them.  I'm getting really, really tired of monotonous city destruction porn in modern blockbusters with zero tangible consequences. 

Am I guilty of over-thinking a film series about robots and monsters duking it out?  Maybe.  But there's no denying that the PACIFIC RIM series as a collective whole grows more tedious with each new action set piece; there's only so much you can visually do with this core concept.  That leaves storytelling and character dynamics to do the rest of the heavy lifting, but PACIFIC RIM UPRISING struggles - as all bad sequels do - at finding novel and inventive ways to expand upon the ideas and story arcs contained in del Toro's film.  This follow-up comes off like being made of the regurgitated elements of other better sci-fi/war films and contains a laundry list of genre troupes to the point of making audience members dizzy just thinking about them.  Boyega is an awfully fine and appealing actor, but his hero's journey and arc - being a reluctant fighter that's haunted by the larger than life shadow of his dead father - hits every predictable plot beat imaginable.  The relationship he has with the much younger Amara seems born out of the screenwriter's reluctant insistence that Jake needs another character to care about because they deem it as important.  And because she's a gearhead you just know that her mini-Jaeger that she constructed will favor heavily in the film's third act. 

It also becomes abundantly apparent that other side characters were feebly inserted into the mix here after actors from the first entry became a no-show.  Because Hunnam is AWOL in this sequel, he's been replaced by another alarmingly similar character in Eastwood's Nate, but he is so vanilla bland and wooden in the role that you have to pinch and remind yourself that he's supposed to be a dashing rogue.  Eastwood's lack of personality in the role aside, he's not assisted by the screenplay's aggressive manner of given him cookie cutter dialogue that wouldn't have been acceptable in a first draft, let alone a final product.   And don't even get me started on what the makers here did with Charlie Day's returning fast talking and neurotic scientist that will leave many of the first film's primary fanbase crying a resounding foul.  The transition he makes here is so flimsily and ineptly handled that it's enough to make you want to throw popcorn at the screen.   

You know, I had my problems with del Toro's initial installment in this series, but I nevertheless appreciated it as an absolute technological wonder.  I went into PACIFIC RIM UPRISING with the very tempered expectations, but I found myself so less willing to forgive any creative indiscretions this go around.  If anything, this sequel - which tries exceptionally hard to be a kicking off point for more sequels, especially with an egregiously tacked on final scene - is depressingly bland and uninspired and rarely makes a strong case for its own existence.  PACIFIC RIM most definitely looks spiffy and new and shows its gargantuan budget on screen, but its mediocre and oftentimes cringe worthy plotting is of the strictly spare parts variety.  

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