Back in 2013, Pacific Rim was able to appeal to ‘geek’ audiences thanks to the star power of its director, the Oscar-winning Guillermo del Toro and its basic premise of skyscraper-sized robots fighting monsters. Now a sequel has been made with John Boyega leading his first blockbuster outside the Star Wars saga.
10-years after the events of the first film, Stacker Pentecost’s son Jake (Boyega) has been working as a hustler and scavenger of scrap Jaegers. After being caught by the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps, Jake is given a choice: re-enlist or jail – he picks the former. Jake slowly accepts his role as a Jaeger pilot and teacher as the world faces a new threat in the form of a rogue Jaeger that attacks an international conference.
The original Pacific Rim was influenced by Kaiju films, anime and disaster films. The sequel can be best described as a Saturday Morning Cartoon come to life or simply as dumb fun. It delivered on what it promised – which was big CGI battles between giant robots and monsters – and I sat there with a big smile on my face. It’s a guilty pleasure, offering the catharsis of the Transformers films without the sexism and racism.
Considering how Pacific Rim ended a sequel seemed unlikely – humanity was able to defeat the Kaiju and their alien masterminds and close the portal under the Pacific Ocean. Pacific Rim: Uprising has a cartoon logic to it so it’s explanations works for anyone who has enjoyed cartoons from the ’80s and ’90s. It was easy to buy into these explanations and it was a better continuation to say Kingsman: The Golden Circle where a man was brought back from the dead in the most illogical way possible.
Pacific Rim Uprising was also a test of John Boyega’s star-power. It’s his first blockbuster outside the Star Wars Saga – and also provides his first producer’s credit. Pacific Rim: Uprising has more riding on Boyega because, well, Star Wars will be a success no matter who stars in it. Boyega has been a likeable presence in most of his roles and even as an underworld rogue he was able to have some charm. It was also great to hear him use his natural London accent in a film.
Boyega’s character arc is similar to Charlie Hunnam‘s in the first film – both are former Jaeger pilots who reluctantly rejoin the international defence operation and when push comes to shove accept their duty to protect the public and of course fight monsters.
Steven S. DeKnight took over the directing duties from del Toro, making his feature film debut. He has previously worked on TV shows like Starz’s Spartacus and Netflix’s Daredevil. He steps up well enough for the action sequences which are big, bright and colourful and offers millions of dollars worth of property damage.
Pacific Rim Uprising appear to be aimed more towards a younger audience. The film had a subplot involving Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) – a teenager who builds her own mini-Jaeger – and gets recruited to train as a pilot with other teenagers. The logic is people need to be trained up from a young age so they would be drift compatible to pilot a Jaeger. Her potion of the film gave Pacific Rim Uprising an Ender’s Game feel to it.
Commercially Pacific Rim was saved by the Chinese box-office and the sequel geared itself more towards this market. The sequel gave Chinese actors Jing Tian and Zhang Jin major supporting roles and more of the action is set in China and Japan (and that’s quite a feat considering the first film was mostly set in Hong Kong).
DeKnight and his writing team did attempt to expand on the world beyond the monster fighting – like del Toro did in the first. At the beginning of the film Jake states his generation was born in war, that some cities have an economic boom whilst others are in a state of disrepair and that some people worship the Kaiju as gods. But these moments were fleeing and would have been explained better in a cartoon or anime series.
Pacific Rim Uprising also had character subplots that go nowhere. The worst of which involved a love triangle between Jake, his co-pilot and frienemy Nate (Scott Eastwood) and Jules (Adria Arjona). Jules was such an underdeveloped character that she could have been written out of the film without making a difference to the story or character development. The storyline where Arama has a rivalry with a Russian cadet (Ivanna Sakhno) was a stock plot but it at least felt more complete.
Honest Trailers described Pacific Rim as a film your inner nine-year-old would love and that description also applies to the sequel. It was gleefully silly.