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Film Review

‘Pacific Rim Uprising’

4/4/2018

Big robots fighting even bigger monsters — what’s not to like?

“Pacific Rim Uprising”
Director: Steven S. DeKnight
Stars: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny

If you thought the globe-spanning conflict between otherworldly monsters of mass destruction and the human-piloted super-machines built to vanquish them was the last of it, get ready for the all-out assault on humanity in “Pacific Rim Uprising.”

It’s been 10 years since Slacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) sacrificed himself to close the breach in the Pacific Ocean to secure humanity’s victory against the monstrous Kaiju. His son, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), was a once-promising Jaeger pilot who has since abandoned his training only to become caught up in the criminal underworld of selling scrapped Jaeger parts.

During this time, we are also introduced to 15-year-old Jaeger hacker Amara (Cailee Spaeny), who has built her own Jaeger — albeit a fraction of the size with zero weapons (smoke bombs don’t count). In some ways, her machine is an apt representation of the film as a whole — inferior, unimpressive and hardly worth complimenting. On the other hand, a child put together her own (working) fighting robot, and the opinion of those around her isn’t the point — it’s about the robots.

While her backstory is littered with cliché, Amara’s charisma and confident demeanor is infectious—she’s a fangirl who blurts out the names and stats of every Jaeger she sees, like a sports nut identifying her favorite players at an all-star game.

Pride

This film doesn’t waste time on plot details, and — to its benefit — jumps into action pretty much right away. Unfortunately, the story frequently loses track of Amara and focuses on Jake, but only barely. We know Jake left the military under a cloud, and there’s bad blood with his old piloting partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood). In nearly the same frame, a lust triangle with Jaeger mechanic Jules (Adria Arjona) is introduced, hinted at a couple random times and completely ignored altogether. The first conflict between the two pilots is resolved with an offhand shrug, and the lust story gets about as hot and heavy as premature ejaculation — maybe two minutes of screen time and no resolution.

When an even more unstoppable threat is unleashed, Jake is given one last chance to live up to his father’s legacy by his estranged sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) — who is leading a brave new generation of pilots that have grown up in the shadow of war. This new generation of pilots involves a combination of drones and a new class of underdeveloped (entirely forgettable) traditional pilots — there’s seven of them but you’ll only get a taste of personality from about three or four.

Briefly sketched characters and a minimalist plot can be a sign of a film’s low ambitions — watch how hilariously casual the combatants are about turning entire cities to rubble, and the film is equally casual about declaring that it’s OK, because those cities have been evacuated. (Never mind that at one point, we watch as a mob of terrified Tokyo civilians gets shut out of an underground shelter and stranded on the street.) But in this case, it’s more a mark of very specific ambitions: the filmmakers want to see giant robots fighting and don’t want to spend too much time on boring human emotions that might get in the way.

“Pacific Rim Uprising” takes the best parts of “Power Rangers,” “Voltron,” and “Transformers,” adds in a little bit of the character development tropes from the new “Star Wars” films (seriously, the similarities between Jake/Amara and Finn/Rae relationship are ridiculously on the nose), and a sprinkle of villain misdirection to deliver a robot vs. monster movie all ages can enjoy. “Pacific Rim Uprising” isn’t going to dive more into the science of this universe or unique characters Guillermo del Toro is known for. What it does offer is a chance to see robots punching monsters — and it has plenty of that. ♦

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