John Boyega Suits up for a del Toro-less Robots and Monsters Mash Sequel
DIRECTED BY STEVEN S. DEKNIGHT/2018
The keys to Guillermo Del Toro’s former Kaiju/Jaeger playground has been handed to first time film director Steven S. DeKnight who, until recently, had only directed episodes of Daredevil, Dollhouse, Smallville, and Angel on each of these respective television series. He also has worked as a writer and producer, but taking on a giant CGI-laden sequel is a huge leap, and for the most part, he provides enough spectacle to justify the studio’s decision in hiring him.
Pacific Rim Uprising follows the 2013 Pacific Rim story-line, just set 10 years later. The alien Kaijus that came up out of the sea to attack earth’s cities Godzilla-style are still blocked off from entering our world after Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) sacrificed himself, helping close the breach that allowed the Kaiju into our world. The world has continued to manufacture Jaegers, giant robots driven by two drivers who “drift” or connect their minds together through a headset. This way, both pilots have to work as one mind to control the giant robot, as they can see into each other’s minds, including all memories, etc. The best Jaeger pilots are the ones that are the most vulnerable to each other allowing them to develop a stronger bond of trust.
Fast forward 10 years where Uprising follows Pentecost’s son, Jake (John Boyega), a former Jaeger pilot turned thief. As he is seeking to rob old Jaeger scrapyards, he runs into another thief named Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a young teen who has built her own small Jaeger named Scrapper. When they are both busted, they find themselves enrolled in the military as an alternative to jail. Jake, it turns out, has already served as a Jaeger pilot and is simply reinstated to his former position, courtesy of his sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who is trying to steer Jake to the right path. This reinstatement reconnects him with his former Jaeger partner, Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), who is training new cadets, which now includes Amara.
The basic plot is that while the Kaiju have been contained, a new Chinese corporation named Shao, led by Liwen Shao (Tian Jing), has developed a new drone technology to take the place of the Jaeger program of the past. It will still utilize the Jaegers as a means to control the drones, but the new tech allows for faster deployment to meet a threat should the Kaiju breach their world again. Working for Shao is Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), who is guiding this new program, which undermines his former colleague Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) who is still trying to upgrade the Jaeger booster technology using the Kaiju information they learned in the original film. When hidden agendas surface, along with a problem in the new technology, the Kaiju will threaten to re-enter our world through breach, forcing our heroes back into the Jaegers to face them.
While that is a lot of synopsis, and one that weighs down the script at times throughout the run time, the fact is that this sequel is able to settle itself into what people really want: Robots vs. Monsters. When that is the case on screen, Pacific Rim Uprising is more fun than the original. Guillermo Del Toro gets a producer credit for Uprising, but his fingerprints are missing from this project. Its overall tone is missing Guillermo Del Toro’s creative flourishes, but honestly I was disappointed in the first film, especially because it seemed to lack the other-world quality that permeate Del Toro’s films whether it be the fantastic Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water, or the fun-ride adventure of his Hellboy movies.
That said, his concept was much more high-brow than this sequel, but Pacific Rim Uprising isn’t weighed down as much by the world building that was needed in the original story. This allows the sequel to be a leaner, faster film for audiences to digest, clocking in at under two hours. And let’s face it….whatever problems we can have with this film, and there are many, it still is better than the last 3 Transformer films combined.
Boyega is able to successfully break out of his Star Wars persona of Finn (which includes him using his native British accent over Finn’s more American one) to assume the lead in another franchise. Scott Eastwood isn’t given much to do, and the character of Amara doesn’t get as developed of a character arc that she could have. Especially awkward is her cadet rivalry with a fellow recruit named Viktoria (Ivanna Sakhno), that seems resolved as soon as it starts heating up. My biggest disappointment was the lack of Ron Pearlman, especially given his end credit scene in the original.
Too much of the plot centers around returning scientists played by Gorman and Day, which might be good news for fans of Pacific Rim (2013), or of them in particular where they both appear on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Here, it seems they are trying to make Charlie Day a version of Sam Rockwell’s Iron Man 2 character instead of an extension of who he was in the earlier film. A plot twist that I won’t divulge seeks to explain this, but it seems forced, especially as a means of setting up the sequel that is alluded to in a post film, pre-credit scene.
So, if you are planning to catch Pacific Rim Uprising at the theaters, if you simply want to see robots vs. monsters, then you will have a lot of fun with this film…especially knowing its miles ahead of any of the later Transformer films. Anyone with any other expectation might find themselves disappointed. Ultimately, this film is meant to be fun and entertaining, and all things considered, it does accomplish that.