More than just a movie about robots battling monsters, Pacific Rim is one of the past decade's big-budget gems. It's a creature feature that isn't afraid to feel, or to match its big action scenes with big ideas and a big heart. Considering that the film was directed by Guillermo del Toro, that's hardly a surprise. As The Shape of Water demonstrated, the Oscar-winning filmmaker excels at telling rich, intricate tales that contemplate fantastic beasts and the relatable reactions they inspire. Viewers were treated to the same thing in Cronos, Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth as well.
With del Toro opting to produce rather than direct Pacific Rim Uprising, however, it's hardly surprising that the sequel doesn't reach the same winning heights. Where the first film turned its Transformers-meets-Godzilla concept into a blend of earnest emotion and smart spectacle, the follow-up is content to adhere to mindless blockbuster formula. If the initial flick built a textured and thoughtful world, this one just rampages through it. Sadly, it does so with the same force as its jaegers, the human-powered giant robots at the movie's centre — and the same bluster as its kaiju, the alien creatures that emerge from the earth's core.
Set ten yearsafter the events of its predecessor, Pacific Rim Uprising shifts its focus to Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of Idris Elba's "cancelling the apocalypse" hero from the last movie.Jake is happy partying in the ruins of Los Angeles and scavenging old jaeger parts to sell on the black market, but when one scrounging mission attracts the attention of the authorities, he's forced to re-enlist as a jaeger pilot. He has company thanks to orphaned teenager Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), whose pint-sized homemade machine got them into trouble in the first place. With no kaiju to fight, their service under the stern Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) should be routine. Then, just as corporate head Liwen Shao (Jing Tian) is pushing for jaeger drones,a rogue robot pops up in Sydney and starts wreaking havoc.
Don't worry, kaiju play their part — but people-piloted jaegers pummelling remote-controlled jaegers comprise a large portion of Pacific Rim Uprising. First-time feature director Steven S. DeKnight ramps up the action scenes, sticking with what he does best given his background on TV's Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Daredevil. And, to his credit,he does it well. Unlike Michael Bay's aforementioned fighting-robot franchise, the film's set pieces impress. They're smoothly choreographedrather than distracting and chaotic, even if Brisbane (where the movie was largely shot)can't convincingly sub in for Tokyo. Still, what Pacific Rim Uprising lacks is anything more than a boilerplate story or run-of-the-mill characters.
Just a couple of decades ago, flicks like this were commonplace — sequels that jettisoned most of their main cast and creatives, trotted out a flimsy approximation of their predecessors, and didn't take things too seriously. Pacific Rim Uprising might have a US$150 million budget, but it still feels like an '80s and '90s-era, direct-to-video sequel in the vein of Tremors 2 or From Dusk Till Dawn 2 — right down to the cartoonish performances from its handful of returning players (Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman and Charlie Day). And like those films, it's not without its very modest pleasures. Boyega oozes the same charm that served him so well in Attack the Block, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, while one character's arc is so ridiculous that it can only be entertaining. If only we could say the same thing about the movie.