- Movie Rating -

Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)

| March 23, 2018

As I enter into my positive comments on Pacific Rim Uprising, I do so with the realization that I’m kind of a lone wolf here.  Nearly all of my fellow critics seem to deride this sequel with a hate and vitriol that, given the fact that Guillermo del Toro isn’t at the helm, might have seemed inevitable.  The director made the smarter move and decided instead to direct The Shape of Water (currently referred to by social media as: Grinding Nemo) and is now the proud owner of two Academy Awards.  Does that damage the sequel to his 2013 cult favorite in any way?  For me, no.  While it is a creative step down from the earlier film, it does build on the ideas from the earlier film and offer some new ones.  The best news about Pacific Rim Uprising is that it is a true sequel, not just a retread offering the same beats.

The key to both Pacific Rim films is that they are inventive, building a story rather than steamrolling through an inevitable outcome.  The characters discover things along the way, the story opens up new ideas, new threats and you follow along rather than just passively observing.  I say that, with the full understanding that these films are, at heart, just Robots vs. Monsters, but they are original and entertaining in a way that neither the Godzilla nor any of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies ever were.

Pacific Rim Uprising benefits from building on the ideas from the previous film; world has been devastated by monsters 2000 feet tall called Kaiju who apparently come from another dimension to romp and stomp across our cities.  Our response has been to create Jaeger, giant robots piloted by two drivers who are psychically linked.  That hasn’t changed, but in the wake of the events of the earlier film the world is still reeling from the effects.  The war ended years ago, and we see the bones of dead Kaiju lying around like ancient architecture (the smell must have been dee-lightful!).

The economy has become a joke and, in its wake, a small and dirty underground has sprung up in which wayward citizens like Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) make deals for sparse commodities like Oreos (there’s a brief shot where he sniffs the bag with orgasmic joy – I get it, I really do).  Jake is the son of celebrated military general Spencer Pentecost (played in the earlier film by Idris Elba) and was once a gifted pilot but he opted out of the service and is now just hanging around.  Therefore, it may not surprise you to learn that he is eventually goaded to return to the pilot seat when the world is once again threatened by crustaceans the size of skyscrapers.

I’m sort of delighted to report that there is a lot of the plot that I cannot reveal without spoilers.  This is not a one-note remake but movie that tries to expand on what has come before.  Yes, the robots have to fight the monsters but there are twists and turns and surprises in this story and I was sort of proud to whisper to my wife several times, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.”  I’m straining not to give anything specific away because the fun of this sequel (yes, fellow critics, I’m calling Pacific Rim Uprising fun).

I’m also sort of delighted that the movie is willing to go one step up from its sequel requirements.  The characters here aren’t full-blooded but you feel that they are a bit more than just pawns to move around the board.  Early on Jake meets a wayward mechanic named Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a teenager who isn’t just catch-phrases and precociousness.  She’s smart and a bit more thoughtful than a movie like this might require.  I also liked Scott Eastwood (son of Clint) as the hunking vet whose been through this before.  Plus, I genuinely lik the duo of Herman and Newton (Burn Gorman and Charlie Day), hold-overs from the first film who bond into the kind of discord and connectivity of an old married couple – they’re nice together.  I’d love to see a short film about those two by themselves.

Yet, I think the casting benefit here is John Boyega because I think he’s a much better actor than he is given credit for.  He’s not the hulking hero with a heart full of caution and bravado (that role is occupied here by Scott Eastwood).  Rather, Boyega has a sense of normalizing his characters – he’s the guy who may be at the center of the crisis but his eyes are always looking around for the exits.  He just wants to settle in with a bag of Oreos – again, I get it.

I’ll admit again, I’m impressed by this.  It’s not perfect but I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the city-crunching battles because, unlike the Tranformers movies, there is a bit of organization and orientation.  We know where we are and the placement of the combatants make sense.  Of course, it is still just a silly Monsters vs. Robots battle, but it’s a good one and I enjoyed it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2018) View IMDB Filed in: Sci-Fi/Fantasty