It’s been 10 years since the humans won the battle to end all battles against the alien colonizers known as the Precursors. The rematch commences this weekend with the long-awaited sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising. The kaiju are bigger, the action more fierce and the weapons far deadlier. But does the larger scale devalue the intriguing story we discovered in the original?
In a word — maybe. The film begins with us focusing on Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of the legendary martyr of the resistance John Pentecost (Idris Elba). But Jake doesn’t start off with the heroic qualities of his father — he’s a shameless smuggler, con artist and womanizer. His shady dealings bring him into contact with a brilliant young loner in Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who has built on very own smaller Jaeger from scratch in anticipation of the kaiju’s return. The little sister-big brother chemistry is almost immediate and one of the film’s bright spots. They’re bouts of annoyance with each other over miscommunications (one of which lands them in jail) and affectionate teasing builds to a satisfying climax when the pair has to unexpectedly “drift” in the legendary “Gipsy Danger” Jaeger to stop a monstrous kaiju.
Unfortunately, the Jake and Amara’s relationship is one of the few fully developed characters arcs in the film. There’s a group of ambitious young cadets who don’t get enough time to showcase their backgrounds. Ivanna Sankho, who plays the elitist and ambitious Cadet Viktoria, and Karan Barar’s Cadet Suresh, a nerdy, good-hearted son of plastic surgeon constantly on the end of playful, are the only memorable ones.
However, the biggest disappointment is the handling of Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). The original film went to great lengths to develop her character by showing her overcoming the loss of her parents and the protective nature of her adoptive father (John Pentecost) to become one of the saviors of the resistance. Now a high-ranking general, there was a lot of potential in seeing how her leadership style contrasts with her father. Instead, her brief role serves as a catalyst for Jake to finally get his act together and lead the young cadets into battle. For such a beloved character with emotional depth and complexity, it felt cheap to see her screen time so diminished.
Where Uprising excels the most is with the action. The plodding hand to hand combat of the first film is gone. Instead of waiting until near death to bust out swords, the Jaegers start off their battles with weapons drawn, ranging from chain swords and plasma cannons to cluster missiles and whip blades. The Jaegar are more nimble and can roll with the kaiju’s punches to recover quicker. And this agility led to some thrilling sequences where the Jaegers hit their foes with tag team moves.
Despite the Jaegar-kaiju fights being the centerpiece, the best action comes when the Jaegers battle each other. Early on, the main foe is a mysterious”rogue Jaeger,” and we get some intense combat with the Gipsy Avenger and said antagonist exchanging sword parries and hand to hand combat.
Of the cast newcomers, the big standout for me as Tian Jing’s turn as the morose Liwen Shao. She’s the leader of the Shao Corporation, a company looking to end the use of human-driven Jaegars. Her ice-queen demeanor is a match for her capitalist ambition and you start to question her true motives as it becomes more and more clear that the recent unrest is due to a conspiracy. As the plot builds, Jing gets the opportunity to add some depth to her character’s motivations and transform a potential stock character to one that could play a pivotal role in the next film.
Yes, I said a third film. The producers have stated if this film does well, they’re hoping to create a full cinematic universe with potential spinoffs. And considering the final scene explicitly states this war will be taken to interdimensional levels, the possibilities are limitless.
Character development issues aside, Pacific Rim: Uprising does its job in moving the plot forward with subversive, counter-intelligence threats to go along with the monsters. Bigger might not be better, but it’s still lots of fun.