Steven S. DeKnight’s sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 love letter to anime and kaiju movies is more coherent than a Transformers movie but not much smarter, Pacific Rim Uprising is at its best when it drops all pretenses and focuses on giant CGI robots fighting giant CGI monsters. The actual flesh-and-blood characters are paper thin, and the story’s plot holes are big enough cartwheel a Jaeger through.
Uprising begins ten years after the events of its predecessor and focuses on Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), wayward son of the late world-saving Field Marshall Stacker Pentescost (Idris Elba), a hustler and scavenger who is a far cry from his old man. A chance encounter with another orphan of the kaiju war, genius robot pilot-wannabe Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) results in both being arrested and inducted into the Pan Pacific Defense Corps just in time to battle another monster incursion as well as mysterious rogue robots in a subplot that’s more predictable than it seems to realize.
There’s not much else to it. Most of the characters, with the exceptions of returning actors Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Minko Kikuchi, are half-baked caricatures at best. Granted, the secondary players in the original were primarily identifiable by their accents, but they stand head and shoulders above the bland and forgettable recruits thrown into action this time around. Also, someone should have told Scott Eastwood that he was playing the pilot of a robot, and not the actual robot itself.
A lot of thought went into the nuts-and-bolts details of the movie’s world and the rules of its universe, and that’s the fatal flaw of Uprising: It half-bakes its characters, and overcooks everything else.
That said, it still has a certain loopy charm. It’s a visually impressive movie, and some scenes are downright beautiful — at least until the futuristic glass and neon cityscapes start getting leveled. As hokey as the plotting is, the action scenes deliver; and let’s face it, that’s what we’re really looking for. There are times when it may be too cartoony for some tastes, and one has to wonder if and/or when filmmakers will stop feeling obligated to stomp the living hell out of Tokyo. The place gets leveled here, with king-sized combatants plowing through and careening off of skyscrapers, sometimes even using them as weapons. At this point, it feels like satire. It’s either brilliantly stupid or stupidly brilliant.