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‘Pacific Rim Uprising’ Review: Bigger and Funnier, But Lacking in Smarts

What is Pacific Rim Uprising?

Pacific Rim Uprising is the sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 creature feature Pacific Rim. That film documented the war between mankind and monstrous aliens, with the humans pairing up and piloting giant ‘Jaeger‘ robots to take down the ‘Kaiju.’ They succeeded, but huge numbers died in battle. 10 years on, it seems like the Kaiju might be back…

Introducing Jake Pentecost

Pacific Rim Uprising kicks off via voiceover from the franchise’s new lead John Boyega. The Star Wars star plays Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost from the first movie. Meaning his name is only slightly less ridiculous than Dad’s.

Where Stacker was serious about the conflict, and gave his life to save the planet, a decade on Jake is a bit more relaxed. Living in his father’s shadow, he’s given up trying to prove himself, with Jake instead partying hard, and living life as a rebel and hustler, selling decommissioned Jaeger tech on the black market.

Such criminal activity leads to trouble with the law via a kinetic opening sequence. Which in turn results in Jake heading to pilot academy to train cadets at the Pan Pacific Defense Corps for a war that he believes is over. But with a name like Pacific Rim Uprising, that seems pretty unlikely, meaning Jake is in the right place at the right time when the Kaiju inevitably return.

Pacific Rim Juniors

Cailee Spaeny as Amara, with John Boyega as Jake.

The first film was pretty po-faced, featuring stacked studs like Charlie Hunnam and Robert Kazinsky glaring and squaring up to each other quite a lot. Sometimes shirtless. Uprising takes a more light-hearted approach, and nowhere is this more clear than in the army deployed to do battle with the returning Kaiju. As they are kids. Cadets being trained by Jake and his fellow rangers; a generation born into war.

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In the first film, twin pilots were connected via DNA or family ties, but since then the Jaegers have changed. And can now be piloted by youngsters who have formed bonds through years of training side-by-side.

Amara (Cailee Spaeny) is our route into this next generation of pilots, a spirited teen from the streets who has built her own mini-machine, which can be controlled using a single neural lobe. Called Scrapper, this new Jaeger — which will doubtless become a fan-favourite — frequently curls up into a ball and rolls around town in entertaining and surprisingly effective fashion.

The focus on these junior soldiers — all from different backgrounds and cultures — is one of the many ways in which Uprising seems to be aiming for a more youthful audience. The tone is lighter, with Boyega cracking jokes at every available opportunity, some of which work. Some of which fail miserably.

The colour scheme is also brighter. Where the first film seemed to take place entirely at night, Uprising unfolds in daylight, meaning the battles between Jaeger and Kaiju are out in the unforgiving open. But the effects team do a great job, bringing their brawls to life in spectacular fashion, on sand and on snow, first in the States, then Australia, China and Japan. The locations doubtless chosen because the first film was a huge hit all over Asia.

New Characters, New Jaegers, New Kaiju

Those brawls feature bigger and better Jaegers, with weapons like whips and cannons spicing up their armoury. And bigger and badder Kaiju, who look even uglier in the cold light of day. Though there’s still some mystery concerning the enemy’s ultimate objective, which Uprising endeavours to solve.

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Kong: Skull Island star Tian Jing joins proceedings as Liwen Shao, CEO of Shao Industries, who has overseen the creation of Jaeger drones that can be operated remotely by a single pilot. This does away with the need for the “neural handshake” and pretty much makes both cadets and rangers obsolete.

Scott Eastwood has been added to the mix as Nate Lambert, who is deeply suspicious of said drones, and with whom Jake has a love-hate relationship. Though as with most of Scott Eastwood’s characters, he’s pretty forgettable.

And while Charlie Day is back as Dr. Newton Geiszler — once again bringing the laughs in that unique Charlie Day way — there’s something weird going on with his character. Newt is somehow different this time around, more cocky and confident having moved into the private sector, while at the same time more confused. We won’t spoil what’s happening, but he’s definitely one to watch, with the character providing some of Pacific Rim Uprising‘s best moments.

Is Pacific Rim Uprising Good?

The new Jaegers most certainly deliver.

Taking the Pacific Rim reigns from Guillermo Del Toro, director and co-writer Steven DeKnight has injected fun into the franchise. He’s turned night into day, lightened the tone, and lowered the age of the protagonists.

So rather than go down the Empire Strikes Back route of making a darker sequel that deals with more serious themes, DeKnight has done the opposite. Crafting a film about kids, for kids. Which doesn’t have anything particularly new or smart to say, and may offend fans of the original who were hoping for more substance.

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But this approach is a much better fit for the material. The result being a film that promises dumb fun, and delivers on that promise, frequently in spectacular fashion.

Chris Tilly

FANDOM Managing Editor in the UK. At this point my life is a combination of 1980s horror movies, Crystal Palace football matches, and episodes of I’m Alan Partridge. The first series. When he was in the travel tavern. Not the one after.

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