Pacific Rim: Uprising – A Huge Step Down?

Pacific Rim was released in 2013 and received mixed reviews, but can the sequel maintain the franchise?

Guillermo del Toro’s big-time monsters and machines epic was a smash hit with those who were massive fans of such things, while other reviewers felt it wasn’t much more than a different version of Transformers. Only $100 million came in from the box office in the US, on the back of a $190 million budget. However, the film met with a certain degree of success in other countries and wrapped up with a total of $411 million. It was obvious that this film could end up being the first of many, and it was no surprise to hear that a sequel was in the works. However, a number of cast and crew were dropped, most notably Del Toro himself, a filmmaker already responsible for Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Blade 2 (2002) and Hellboy (2004). As a result, Steven S. DeKnight took over directing.

Casting Ticks the Right Boxes

Charlie Hunnam, who played the lead in the first film, was unavailable for the follow-up and so a replacement was needed. Uprising takes place a decade after the first film, which wrapped up with Idris Elba’s character sacrificing his life in order to prevent any more of the Kaiju from entering our world. His son Jake, played by The Force Awaken’s (2015) John Boyega, is a small-time thief who makes a living selling off parts stolen from Jaegers. However, a run in with Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) sees them both captured by the Pan Pacific Defense Corps and enlisted in the cause.

Jake finds himself working with co-pilot Nate (Scott Eastwood), training the new cadets. He soon discovers a major corporation is setting up its own drones to provide protection for the human race. As a result, his PPDC faces the possibility of obsolescence. However, as a new assault on humanity gets underway, it becomes clear that Jake and the rest of his team will have to step in to prevent incalculable losses.

The Transfer to Silver Screen Has Mixed Success

DeKnight has a background in the small screen, and more specifically in the world of superhero shows. This is the first time that he has had an entire film to himself to direct, and it shows. His approach isn’t too bad when it comes to character building scenes, something that he is clearly pretty familiar with. However, when it comes to action and fights, his style does not transfer well to the world of cinema. The action can seem choppy and not always easy to keep track of. This is not a small issue in a film such as Uprising, which is for the most part centred on fights. There’s a limited sense of peril on offer, and much of the action almost harks back to the early days of Power Rangers. Settings are designed simply to be levelled by lizards and robots, something which does no favours to the necessary sense of dread that the film is lacking. The occasional moments of massive spectacle are done pretty well, but they’re few and far between.

The Film Benefits from a Lighter Tone

The tone is generally less heavy than the previous film, which is no massive surprise. The writers were clearly briefed to fill the script with a large amount of jokes, which are generally okay. The presence of Boyega, who made his Star Wars film so much more worthwhile, is a much-needed addition here. He works well with the other characters, and the dynamics are far more enjoyable than expected. The casting is generally spot on, and while not entirely successful, the film goes much further than anyone could have hoped.

All in all, Uprising is certainly nothing to write home about, but it did surpass our expectations. The first film was a nice bit of hot hokum that, to be honest, was not really what we had expected from Del Toro. His normal stock in trade is accessible surreal/fantasy, rather than blockbusting monster/robot films. His loss here is a shame, but those responsible for putting together this sequel did a decent job of making a mediocre but enjoyable romp. Boyega goes a long way towards making this worth a watch. With an okay script and adequate action, this is one that’s worth your time and no doubt will continue into a third film. Whether Del Toro will return to the director’s chair is anyone’s guess.

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