Even with a Kanye West endorsement and an all-star cast, many believed Guillermo Del Toro’s mecha-monster film Pacific Rim would bomb when it was released in 2013. While it is unfortunate that the guileless thrills of seeing giant monsters brawl equally colossal robots no longer excites as it used to, Del Toro’s eye for detail and ability to bestow a haunting grace to his extraterrestrial and mechanical monsters alike elevated Pacific Rim above the typical creature features. A stellar overseas performance helped drag the sequel’s status from the depths of development hell and now, Pacific Rim Uprising graces screens five years later. However, the absence of Del Toro’s idiosyncratic and artful touch looms over this Steven DeKnight directed film. While Pacific Rim Uprising never quite “rises up” to the iconic nature of its predecessor, it is fast-paced and undeniably fun, delivering exhilarating and bright action sequences and crisp CGI spectacle that excites in the moment, even if it does not stimulate much afterthought.
Pacific Rim Uprising works well as a stand-alone sequel,though a quick voice-over covers the essential plot-beats. In 2013, humanity built massive robots (Jaegers) to fight Kaiju, alien sea monsters that emerged from an interdimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. With the help of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the world was able to defeat the Kaiju and seal the portal. Ten years later, humanity is rebuilding cities and the Shao Corporation has launched a new program of automated Jaegers that threaten to put pilots out of business. When new Kaiju emerge, a group of pilots must put aside their differences and past histories and suit up to save the world.
Sadly, even with this straightforward plot, the character’s narrative arcs are not enough to anchor the film. Rinko Kikuchi reprises her role of Mako Mori yet is reduced to a glorified cameo, with her presence only present to help further Jake’s story. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day also return as the eccentric Dr. Hermann and Newt respectively, and while Gorman’s performance is a carbon copy from the first film, Charlie Day’s character factors significantly into the plot. The notable exception is John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost who, while loquacious and rebellious, delivers his lines with a passion that is convincingly reminiscent of Idris Elba’s Stacker. His brash personality clashes well with pilot recruit Amara Namani’s (Cailee Spaeny) fiery temper, who proves to be resourceful and courageous in the heat of battle.
To DeKnight’s credit, he honors the themes of the first film by attempting to answer question of “can you fight monsters without becoming monstrous yourself?” This is cleverly explored through the Shao Corporation’s drone Jaeger program. For Jake and his comrades, they view piloting Jaegers not as privilege but as a duty; the machines are less symbols of scientific innovation than they are weapons of last resort. Yet by creating drones, the Shao corporation literally removes humanity from machine, rendering Jaegers solely as armaments used for destruction. Likewise, the film raises interesting questions about legacy. Jake cannot deny the influence he has being the son of a great war hero. Is he obligated to “honor” his dad and sister’s legacy by fighting, or can he justify avoiding the past?
Yet being a monster movie, Uprising provides an action feast for the eyes. From Sabre Athena to Obsidian Fury, the outrageous Jaeger names are only matched by the equally insane fight scenes. There’s a childlike glee in seeing a Kaiju toss a Jaeger around like a doll or seeing two Jaegers, one with flame chainsaws, and the other with glowing cobalt swords spar against the backdrop of snowy Russia. It is in these moments where DeKnight excels; he chooses not to focus on the majesty of the robots’ aesthetic but their abilities.
If I were to describe the monster movie genre as a food, it would be pasta: difficult to mess up, yet it takes a master to transform this plebeian dish into a piece of culinary art. Guillermo Del Toro is one of those master chefs who is able to take the simple recipe of a monster movie and imbue it with zesty flavor that still lingers long after you have partaken in his cinematic feast. DeKnight’s sequel is largely lacking of those unique components yet still gets the job done. For my pasta cravings, while I usually prefer a lobster carbonara spaghetti with smoked bacon and sugar snap peas doused in truffle cream sauce and topped with parmesan and hot peppers, sometimes, a vat of tomato sauce with meatballs is not a bad alternative. Likewise, for those looking for action and adventure, look no further than Pacific Rim Uprising.
Zachary Lee is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.