‘I’ ON CULTURE
Pacific Rim: Uprising is a fairly atypical sequel in that it is smaller than the original, but it also provides a fast ride on the adrenaline express. It does move to get to the action quickly and does not dawdle through useless scene setting. As a result, it was a pretty decent time at the movies.
The film starts with Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), a former Ranger and the son of Stacker Pentecost, the great leader of the first defense against the alien invaders, being chased by thieves, escaping by joining with young Amara Namani (Cailey Spaeny), a young genius who has rebuilt an old Jaeger, the gigantic machines that fought off the monstrous Kaiju aliens from another dimension in the last film. It turns out she was the young girl from the last film who survived when one of the monsters stomped on the rest of her family. They are quickly apprehended after a fun fight, and he is forced to re-enlist to help train young Rangers, and she is enrolled in the school. As soon as he gets to the school, Jake winds up arguing with his old frenemy, ex-partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) about discipline. Amara soon gets into trouble and is being expelled when new “drone Jaegers,” ones run by one person outside the machines, go rogue. It turns out the Kaiju had infiltrated and controlled a key person’s mind, and the new machines were ready to open up the rift between dimensions and allow the Kaiju to wipe out all life on the planet.
Jake’s big problem is living in Stacker Pentecost’s shadow, the great hero of the first film. He was played by Idris Elba and was killed after yelling, “Today, we are canceling the Apocalypse!” This is not one of the Star Wars films, despite Boyega being in both, where the dead can come back. Jake is rebellious and anti-authoritarian until things hit the fan. At that point, he can come into his own.
Jake and Nate fight off the first attack. At that point, the young trainees are tasked with running the few other machines in a major battle. They are about 300 feet long and weigh 7,000 tons, for those interested. While all of this is going on, industrialist genius Liwen Shao (Jing Tian), the developer of the rogues, battles to take control of the machines from the Kaiju-infected human and even remotely joins the big battle.
One of the great blessings of the film is that the director, Steven S. DeKnight, kept it short. It only runs for 100 minutes instead of the two hours plus we have gotten accustomed to. Instead of dawdling around with useless plot twists, the action begins fairly early and continues to the end.
While realizing that just about every cliché ever invented was used here — the problem son trying to live up to a dead father’s reputation, genius kid wanting revenge, two top performers arguing constantly until they have to work together brilliantly, crazed scientist, special secret weapon never used before, saving the day just before the end — things seemed to fit together reasonably well. In essence, no surprises, but everything followed the basic path reasonably well.
The cast does a pretty good job dealing with parts that are in large part stereotypical. Boyega is an effective leading man, although he does shift between American and British accents a bit. He comes across not only as heroic but also likable. Eastwood does very well as his buddy. Their chemistry works well, allowing the change from hostility to partnership to friendship to feel believable.
Young Spaeny carries off her part well. As the spunky kid who steps up to help save the world, she is quite good. Tian does a nice job with her role, although her main purpose is to build up the box office draw in China. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day reprise their roles as mad scientists and have fun chewing up the scenery.
This is a fun little film. It knows what it wants to do and does a good job. I was not bored, and I would guess most of you would not either. But it is what it is, a good “B” movie.