The first Pacific Rim back in 2013 wasn’t exactly one of the best works from Guillermo del Toro. With the exceptions of Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi, the movie was largely suffered from cardboard characters and a long-winded yet melodramatic screenplay. But one thing for sure, he sure knows how to stage spectacular giant robots vs. kaiju smackdown.
Now, five years and a lengthy production issues later, the sequel to Pacific Rim has finally arrived. Except for this time, Guillermo del Toro gave up the director’s chair for someone else but retained his other credits as one of the producers. That “someone else” in question is Steven S. DeKnight, making his feature-length directorial debut in Pacific Rim Uprising. Although he is barely known in Hollywood movies, DeKnight is an accomplished television producer responsible for well-known series like Angel, Smallville and Daredevil.
In this sequel, the movie takes place ten years after the events of the first movie, the world is now free from kaiju threats. But a new generation of Jaeger pilots led by Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and Amara (Cailee Spaeny) soon face new threats involving a rogue Jaeger as well as the return of kaiju.
So, how does the sequel fares this time around? Well, for a first-time movie director undertaking a big-budget Hollywood project, DeKnight is certainly competent enough in handling the large-scale action sequences. The special effects are top-notch, while the decision of shooting the robots vs. kaiju and sometimes against a rogue robot in broad daylight allow us to witness the action clearly. In fact, watching the smackdown in a giant IMAX 2D screen is no doubt an epic, cinematic experience. The final 20 minutes, where the Jaegers join forces to defeat the kaiju in the middle of the city, is particularly the highlight here.
Unfortunately, all the seamless CGI and well-staged action sequences can only achieve this much if the movie fails to establish the plot and characters altogether. This is exactly where Pacific Rim Uprising falters. While I appreciate the replacement of John Boyega’s livelier role compared to Charlie Hunnam’s wooden performance in the first movie, his character is sadly one-dimensional. The same also goes for Scott Eastwood, whose equally superficial performance brings little to the table. Put it this way, the introduction of new characters in this movie are all surface-level performances. There are barely any emotional hooks or worthy character developments to make me care about them. Then, there’s the so-called love triangle subplot between Boyega, Eastwood and Adria Arjona. The movie could have developed something from there but it didn’t. The subplot is just there as if the movie needs to throw an obligatory scene for the sake to fill in the 2-hour running time’s quota.
Pacific Rim Uprising, which took four screenwriters (Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight and T.S. Nowlin) to write the sequel, does little to make the storyline engaging. This is the kind of movie where you hope you can fast forward to the smackdown sequences and be done with it. Another major setback here is the way DeKnight handles some of the returning characters from the first movie. The absence of Idris Elba, who gave a memorable performance as the no-nonsense Marshal Stacker Pentecost, is sorely missed in this sequel. Even Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori is sadly underused as well.