More Action, Less Enjoyment in ‘Pacific Rim Uprising’

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CHICAGO – The giant robot film genre is in trouble. It wasn’t enough that “Transformers” has ground it to dust, but now the “Pacific Rim” sequel is going the same direction. There is action-a-plenty in the followup to Guillermo Del Toro’s fun and light first film, that lightness is missing in “Pacific Rim Uprising.”

It’s not a bad film, it’s just a conventional one. Del Toro did sort of an anti-Transformers take in the first Pacific Rim, applying his signature of myth and fairy tale to giant robots versus Godzilla-like creatures. He also produces this one, and first time feature director Steven S. DeNight helms and co-writes this latest adventure. There are folks from the first film, including a hyper Charlie Day (time to switch to decaf, dude) and Burn Gorman as scientists, but with a five year gap between stories it’s a constant, “now what his (or her) purpose?” This will be a satisfying take for fans of the developing franchise, but what made the first one interesting is missing, and that becomes more pronounced than what is there.

The film first introduces Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of war hero Stacker Pentecost, who lost his life in the battle that defeated the Kaiju… those strange other-dimensional creatures that emerged from the sea at the Pacific Rim. The global world is still producing their protectors, the Jaeger (giant robots), but a black market for their parts has emerged and Jake actually participates in feeding that market.

Lotsa ‘Bots in ‘Pacific Rim Uprising’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

When he encounters Amara (Cailee Spaeny), a teen girl who is building a rogue Jaeger, they both end up in jail. To obtain release, they both agree to go into Jaeger training – Jake is already a full ranger, Amara is a recruit. At the same time, a Jaeger corporation is developing a drone program. Their technology, aided by Drs. Geiszler and Gottlieb (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), contains a biological chip that is connected to the Kaiju. Another battle is coming, with Jake and Amara about to participate.

As in the first film, the robots are piloted by two people, who connect their brains to manipulate the machines. This is how two mismatched hotheads can get together, like Jake and his ranger rival Nate (Scott Eastwood). So the relationships in this film are based on personality types instead of development, and that creates ordinariness. The humans, like the humans in the Transformers series, are secondary in this version of Pacific Rim. The action and fights between the robots and creatures are the focus, with none of the feeling that the first adventure had. I’ve always wondered about the edict to “pour in more action” even as it sacrifices story or fun.

Charlie Day is back as Dr. Newt Geiszler, and since it’s “film two” he decided to be twice as adrenalized. His overcharged character flitters all over the place, with only an attempt to dampen him with the more interesting Burn Gorman as Gottlieb. It’s hard to blame either of them, though, when the film obviously doesn’t need them as comic relief as in the first film, they are just in the way of the action.

Amara (Cailee Spaeny) and Jake (John Boyega) in ‘Pacific Rim Uprising’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

And what powerful action it is. I couldn’t help but think, as I was watching “Uprising,” of the history of “giants” in the movies, whether it be a Godzilla or the 50-foot Woman, for example. But living in the tech cinema of now means more realization of fantasy for these creatures. It’s truly amazing when we step back and just look at these sequences. Humans and machines invent this, and it has generated a new reality in entertainment. It’s cray cray.

So buy the popcorn, and sit back in awe. I suspect they’ll be another PR movie, and another and another (as long as the international box office numbers hold). More megapixels, more gigantism, more Charlie Day. More, more, more, how do you like it, how do you like it?

“Pacific Rim Uprising” opens everywhere on March 23rd in regular and IMAX screenings. See local listings for IMAX theaters and show times. Featuring John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Burn Gorman, Rinko Kikuchi and Charlie Day. Written by Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin. Directed by Steven S. DeKnight. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2018 Patrick McDonald,

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