Now, I love a good 'giant robot versus giant monsters' movie. It’s what I loved about the ‘Pacific Rim’ but it’s also what I felt was lacking in the first installment of this giant robot franchise. Sure, the first film had amazing fight scenes with the kaiju, but only all the action on the lead Jaeger was really featured. As a science fiction geek, I wanted to see more.
'Pacific Rim Uprising' gives us more Jaegers and more kaijus, but in doing so, gave us a huge overly complicated plot and multiple underdeveloped characterizations that muddled what I love about the film in the first place. Sure, I get my big battle scene between multiple Jaegers and kaiju, but the framing of this film is all messy.
The narrative is all over the place as we follow the story of Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Stacker Pentecost from the last film, as he runs away from being a Jaeger pilot to live in the rubble of broken cities. And we are then introduced to the young, brilliant scavenger Amari Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who builds her own Jaeger from scraps. But that’s not all. We see the return of Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), the adopted sister of Jake, his former partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), an industrialist Liwen Shao (Tian Jing), and the two scientists from first film, Dr. Herman Gottlieb and Dr. Newton Geizler (Burn Gorman and Charlie Day, respectively). But that’s not all--we also have smaller roles for the other new cadets for the Jaeger program and a Jaeger tech with romantic ties to Nate, Jules Reyes (Adria Ajona).
With all these characters, there is still a complicated storyline that brings the kaiju back into Earth and a set up for the big battle at the end.
There is so much going on in ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ that it’s so hard to properly connect with any of the characters. Boyega, with as much charm as he can muster, tries to hold the film together but can’t as the multiple stories keep undercutting any attempts the film makes to create an emotional foundation for us to hold on to.
Other than Jake, Amari, and the two scientists, everyone else must try to do the best they can with the limited screen time and bad dialogue to try and piece the film together. Jules plays out like a useless romantic character that you wonder why they even tried to put it there at all. Nate plays off as a one-dimensional ‘good soldier’ stereotype and while all the cadets have the potential to be interesting, they get set aside only to pilot the Jaegers without really knowing who rode what and why.
Kikuchi manages to really find her footing, mostly because we remember her so much from the previous film but she only really gets to play off Boyega and it’s a shame because she’s one of the stronger presences in the film.
Subjectively, I’ve always found the two scientists annoying and over-written. There’s no difference in ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ as they try to chew the scenery, shouting every bit of dialogue for comedic or dramatic effect.
At some point, I could excuse a big budget science fiction film for lapses in realism or believability for the fun factor, but without really connecting to anybody in the film or to the story, there was no fun factor to be had. They took shortcuts to every emotional beat that I began to spot all the logical weaknesses in the plot. There’s a lot of deus ex machina to fix plot holes and to conveniently put people in the right place at the right time. I normally wouldn’t bother with such things if I was having fun, but the film never bothers to really lay down a connection between the characters and the story.
I’m not so demanding as to expect a well-written movie with proper dramatic turns and profound statements about battling monsters in a film like ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising.’ But a film like this should at least try to make sense and by trying to do so much, it ended up spreading itself too thin. Bigger, louder, and noisier does not automatically make a big budget science fiction film better and ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ proves that.