Pacific Rim Uprising (Universal Pictures, PG-13)

In Pacific Rim Uprising, the monstrous Kaiju have all but disappeared since the sacrificial actions of General Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba in Pacific Rim) and others piloting mechanical Jaegers ten years ago sealed the breach in the Pacific Ocean. While Stacker is hailed as a hero, his son Jake (John Boyega) is anything but. While he has the charm, he lacks the initiative to do what’s right. He parties and uses shady tactics to make a quick buck. One of these tactics has him running from hustlers and into the young and scrappy Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who has created a Jaeger herself. They are eventually captured by the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, where they are both recruited into helping fight any oncoming threats. This is to the chagrin of Jaeger pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), whose friendship with Jake is strained. A new technology corporation is working on the next breed of Jaeger, one that does not involve two people physically piloting them. This proves controversial amongst all of the pilots. But, all comes crashing down when a rogue Jaeger attacks, and it is soon discovered that the actions of this organization can reopen the breach to the Kaiju. Now, it is up to Jake and his underdog team to pilot the ginormous Jaegers and prevent humanity’s end.

Pacific Rim Uprising plays a lot like its predecessor, in that it feels like a Saturday morning cartoon on the big screen. This comparison is for better and worse. On a superficial level, the thrill can’t be beat. But look beneath the surface and there are some rusted parts.

What most people will come to see the film for are the larger-than-life battles between monster and machine. Those people will not be disappointed. Steven S. DeKnight takes over directorial duties from Guillermo Del Toro, and proves to be just as inventive as Del Toro in the choreography and spectacle. Punches hit with a resounding thud. Buildings come crashing down. The camera follows the action clearly. The designs of both the Jaegers and the Kaiju are unique without getting lost in unnecessary complexities. The action is as flashy and exciting as ever with added help from the propulsive score from Lorne Balfe. When there are two monstrosities duking it out on screen, the film finds its stride.

But, just like with the first film, the thrills come at a cost. As uniquely designed as the Jaegars are, the humans are not as well thought out. Our main character is, once again, another character who can’t live up to their heroic parent. The only thing that pushes the character of Jake Pentecost a little beyond his clichéd upbringing is the buoyant charm of John Boyega. He finds a little bit of energy with every line he says that makes the humor and exposition go down a bit easier. The other standout is Spaeney. Her character is the typical scrapper with the tragic backstory, but she is able to hit her emotional beats really well.

However, everyone can only do so much with what little they are given. Eastwood is bland as the stern and experienced pilot, who speaks only in big speeches and militaristic movie lingo. Eastwood is talented, but can’t rise above this seen-it-done-that material. The ragtag underdogs taking his commands are even more forgettable. Charlie Day returns from the first film, but does not go beyond what is typically asked of him in every project.

Pacific Rim Uprising’s spectacle is made for theaters. If you are looking for a heck of a time watching goliaths try to take each other down, then there is no doubt you should see this. There is just a nagging feeling that it could have gone beyond its well-polished sheen. | Bill Loellke

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