“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is not a good movie, but I say that lovingly. It’s trash in the enjoyable matinee-movie sense, the type of movie that will run endlessly on TNT and that you won’t ever feel terribly inclined to switch off.
2013’s “Pacific Rim,” helmed by Guillermo del Toro, pitted waves of giant extradimensional monsters (“Kaiju”) against skyscraper-sized battle robots (“Jaegers”). “Uprising” picks up ten years after the first film’s “closing of the Breach,” which stopped the Kaiju influx at the cost of multiple Jaegers and their pilots. Enter Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Idris Elba’s character from the original film. Jake hasn’t exactly lived up to his father’s reputation: a washed-up Jaeger pilot candidate who now makes a living scavenging robot parts, he’s forced back into the ranks after an expedition with precocious youngster Amara (Cailee Spaeney) goes awry.
Lots of questions immediately emerge. Will a campaign to replace human-piloted Jaegers with automated drones (essentially a mashup of “Iron Man 2” and the fourth “Transformers” film) succeed? Will Jake ever learn to get along with fellow soldier Nate (Scott Eastwood)? Will Amara ever fit in with her fellow recruits (think “Ender’s Game”)? And if that weren’t enough, we also get appearances from original cast members Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who’s now the UN Secretary-General, and eccentric scientist Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day).
In short, “Uprising” is a storytelling mess (and it doesn’t really know who its main characters are). But c’mon. You came here for robots beating up on things, and “Uprising” certainly has that in spades.
Within the film’s two-hour runtime, we get Jaegers battling rogue Jaegers, Jaegers battling hybrid Jaeger/Kaiju biomechanical monstrosities, and Jaegers battling Kaiju. Buildings topple, blue Kaiju blood sprays in all directions, and many, many things explode. If the idea of a 300-foot robot dismantling another 300-foot robot with flaming chainsaw swords floats your boat, you’re gonna have a good time. (I’m also perhaps inordinately partial to the film’s biomechanical robot battles: when you strip this particular film down to its bare constituents, it’s pretty much a glossy, extremely expensive Bionicle movie.)
But I will admit, this one really tested my willing suspension of disbelief.
Additionally, one great strength of the original film was that the stakes felt real; the entire movie was suffused with a sense of hopeless desperation. There was an undercurrent of panic underlying every battle as, one by one, Jaegers fell to Kaiju claws—with replacements in short supply. That’s just not the case in “Uprising,” which largely abandons its predecessor’s dark, rain-drenched palette for flamboyant neon colors. “Uprising” feels bigger, but at the same time less epic.
(Minor spoiler alert) There’s a particularly great moment at the end of the second act that involves multiple Breaches opening, multiple Kaiju invading, and multiple Jaegers running amok. And for the first and only time, I found myself genuinely wondering how our heroes would deal with this. Sure, the scenario reflects blatant sequelitis—“more is better!”—but the solution isn’t at all obvious. But alas, “Uprising” doesn’t have the courage to double down and raise its stakes that high. Instead, we get a fairly humdrum climax where the outcome is never really in doubt. More’s the pity.
Despite my full awareness that this is not a good film, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. You very well might not. There’s nothing remotely thought-provoking or intellectually challenging about “Uprising” (unless you’re trying to figure out how a petite 15-year-old could construct a thirty-foot, battle-ready exoskeleton singlehandedly) and in many ways it reflects the lowest common denominator of Hollywood culture. Giant robots demolishing things are the lingua franca of a globalized film industry.
Maybe another time I’d feel more chastened by this realization. But today is not that day.
No one will ever mistake “Uprising” for highbrow cinema, but hey, plasma cannons are cool.