Pacific Rim Uprising might be the least serious movie in theaters right now. A deliriously fun movie held together by the barest threads of a plot. It understands perfectly what it wants to do. There are kaijus and giant robots, or Jagers, and they fight, fight, fight, before stopping to fight some more.
Unlike other movies with giant robots we are able to tell where things are in relation to each other while also being able to tell one giant robot/monster from another. Guillermo del Toro, directed the first Pacific Rim, and lent a sort of stark beauty and sublime melodrama to the whole affair. The action sequences were more elegant and ballet like and behaved with an odd, soaring, operatic sensibility.
Steven DeKnight is no del Toro and to his credit, never tries to emulate him. DeKnight opts instead for a wonderful alchemy of cliches, tropes, cheezy humor, and slick colorforful action. There is a distinct eighties vibe humming beneath the surface of everything. It’s never really overt; it’s more in how Pacific Rim Uprising flows than it’s visual style. This is not a nostalgic ridden movie so much as a movie deeply in love with the notion of kaijus fighting giant mecha robots.
It has been ten years since the battle in the first Pacific Rim, in which General Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) assured us that we were ‘cancelling the apocalypse.’ Since that time Stacker’s son, Jake (John Boyega), a tragically mundane name considering his father, lives on the fringes of society. He ekes out a living in the black market, selling, buying, and double crossing anyone and everyone to survive.
Everyone that is until he meets Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a young girl living on her own who’s managed to build her own mini Jager. A stubborn, resourceful, girl she and Jake instantly form a bond as frenemies as they try and outrun the authorities in her homemade Jager, Scrapper.
To be frank Pacific Rim Uprising doesn’t have plot so much as an excuse. But sometimes excuses work better than plots. Jake’s sister is Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), our heroine from the last movie. Mako is now a top official of the Pan- Pacific Defense Corps. Stacker adopted Mako, and Jake is properly awed by his sister. Mako offers Jake a get out of jail free card: join the Corps and she’ll get the police to drop the charges. Of course he’s informed that Amara will be joining him. After all anyone who can build a Jager from scrap parts clearly can be of use.
Of course Jake will have to reconcile with his ex-partner Nate (Scott Eastwood). Amara will struggle to fit in with the new recruits. Old favorites such as Dr. Gotten (Burn Gorman) and Newt (Charlie Day) show up and carry us through the laborious task of exposition. Day and Gorman don’t get to play off each other as much as they did in the first Pacific Rim but considering Newt’s showing signs of coming apart maybe it’s for the best.
Pacific Rim Uprising, though, seems to be restocking its cast of characters more than most sequels do. We have Liwen Shao (Tian Jing) the head if the Shao Corporation. She’s Newt’s boss and the inventor of the drones that will replace the Jagers. We haven’t even gotten to Amara’s fellow recruits. Viktoria (Ivanna Sakhno), Amara’s blunt and outspoken rival, and the charismatic Suresh (Karan Brar). Both of them steal little moments when they are on the screen. Sadly the rest of the children are given little to do and are there to help pad the body count.
Predictably, Shao’s failsafe drones will fail and the Jagers will be called into action once more. But not before the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps is decimated by a surprise haiku* attack. Jake, Nate, Amara, and a ragtag team of kids must once again “cancel the apocalypse.” Pacific Rim Uprising is a sequel so we will have obligatory deaths and betrayals. The death will come as no surprise. Any character who repeatedly states they have the deciding vote on the council is not long for this world, much less the second act.
The movie’s explanation for why the kaiju seem so obsessed with our world is laughable if not downright lazy. They desire “rare earth elements,” which as mcguffins go, is just a few steps up from “unobtanium.” Characters don’t have arcs as much as switches. They were one thing at the start of the movie and by the end they’ve switched to something slightly different.
It helps that John Boyega is charming as Jake. He has an easy swagger to him and is a wonderful scoundrel. Boyega seems to be channeling Steve Guttenberg with his sideways smile and his deadpan sarcasm. He carries much of the film just by the strength of his charisma alone.
All the actors show up to play, and I mean that literally. The performances have a sort of frothy joy to them as the actors seem eager to jump on screen. For all its shallowness, Pacific Rim Uprising seems to have been made by people who sincerely want to have a good time. The feeling is infectious. How can you not enjoy a movie whose climactic battle takes place atop Mt. Fuji and involves what is essentially a stratospheric body slam?
As the credits rolled I found myself grinning stupidly at what I had just seen. Pacific Rim Uprising is a howl of a movie. It’s a silly movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters and it never pretends otherwise.
Author’s Note: This is an unfortunate typo, the word is meant to be kaiju. But as someone pointed out it’s a beautiful typo and we’re inclined to agree.