“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is the proverbial studio system sequel to the surprisingly successful and memorable, “Pacific Rim.” The film is that of everything of a blockbuster sequel is, in the worst of ways. From over budgeted investments to a lackadaisical screenplay that does nothing but belittles its characters and the world built by the filmmakers before them, "Pacific Rim: Uprising" is everything that makes blockbusters so cheap.
“Pacific Rim: Uprising” attempts to build upon the genius of the first film by making everything bigger and badder in that of continuing the story around that of Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) as he has become a thief of sorts since the downfall of the Kaiju. As the son of the world-renowned hero, Marshall Pentecost (Idris Elba), Jake (John Boyega) attempts to stay under the radar and merely make some money by selling scrap yard parts of Jägers. Ten years since the events of the film’s predecessor, the battles of Jägers and Kaijus has become a figment of the past until the proverbial prodigy in that of Jake (John Boyega) is forced to embrace his potential after an encounter with a fellow scoundrel of the streets, Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), places him in the center of training the future of the ranger initiative. A future that becomes in jeopardy when a renowned inventor works with the infamous Dr. Newton (Charlie Day) to craft a drone-centric fighting force, but these drones seem to have more problems than just their lack of pilots.
Everything about this film is superficially satisfactory and placed together faster than Forrest Gump’s reconstruction of an AR-15. With four writers behind the screenplay of this sequel of mech vs. monsters, “Pacific Rim: Uprising” never has any focused point of storytelling, but instead feels like fragments of a story thrown together in a blender in hopes of something sticking with the audience. There are moments where the story stops to deliver moments of emotional context that merely feel staged or studioized as this franchise has now become a focal point for profit. This is the studioized sequel as I said, which means a higher investment in hopes for higher profit, a wish that will most likely not be met as the opening weekend looks to bring in a mere $21 million domestic gross on a $150 million budget.
This writing continues to struggle in conveying a sensical story. Taking risks with that of the characters and inherently skipping over gaping plot holes to deliver the goods of robots vs. monsters. When those moments finally arrive though, the writers still seem to be unable to replicate that sense of escapism that is so prevalently found in Del Toro's unexpected hit. This team of four is throwing everything they can at the audience and never attempting to craft anything remotely original. Instead, it's merely a bunch of fragments of a story being thrown together in hopes that someone will enjoy it.
John Boyega is one of the diamonds to be found in the ruffle of this mess. With a boyish charm and plenty of charisma to boot, FN-2187 provides more evidence as to why he belongs in the franchise of lightsabers and star destroyers. I will admit that some of his humor is awkwardly placed though, as he brags about his “sexiness” at times to a fifteen-year-old girl in that of Amara, played by Cailee Spaeny. Her performance is quite surprising as well, as her charm never feels overshadowed by the “Star Wars” character. She holds her own in more than one way, and is actually given a decent role in this mess of a blockbuster. Scott Eastwood is also worth mentioning. Despite his performance feeling more cliche than others, Eastwood can still duplicate the charm that made his father famous. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman find themselves being the only returning cast members in who are both given far too significant of roles, which seems more like a point of emphasis to remember the memories you had from the first film instead of creating new moments of enthrallment from its sequel.
Steven S. DeKnight finds himself in the director’s chair this time around, and the infamous TV showrunner behind successes like “Spartacus” and “Daredevil” provides an unimpactful role. The film has moments of grandeur like the first, but these moments are rushed by at a blistering pace as most of the story is. Its as if DeKnight was merely trying to get through this film as quickly as possible so that he could go back to creating great television. He feels out of his element in more ways than one, and it shows in his direction as the film feels over-paced and lacking that of focus. The story is never told to us but rather explained to us. He helms the film like a music video in which the story is merely a montage of moments with fragments of emotion to be found so that we can just get to those giant battles of robots and monsters and call it a day at the office. The battles themselves are unjustifiably short as even the one aspect of the film most that we patrons came to see is lacking, when it seems to be the easiest part of the film to deliver upon.
The story put together by this group of writers is the biggest downfall behind “Pacific Rim: Uprising.” The film itself is technically fine in that of visuality and the performances from its cast which are given little to no support from this cluttered screenplay or that of the director himself. Everyone feels as if they’ve taken on a project they weren’t prepared for except for the big name, or soon to be a big name, actors who find themselves as the only saving grace of this over-budgeted mess. The moments of mech vs. monster have the same outline of enjoyment that the first film had, but the first film at least had a story worth some of my investment.
"Pacific Rim: Uprising" feels buried. Buried by too much garbage, too much to sort through to arrive at those moments of childhood escapism that is so thinly threaded throughout the film that it's almost entirely absent. I can give it props for trying and to the cast that is working their asses off to make this film likable, but the filmmakers themselves have screwed the pooch on this one. They, like the character of Amara (Cailee Spaeny), put together a lesser version of Jägers and Kaijus and as one character inevitably suggests to Amara (Cailee Spaeny), “next time build a bigger one.”