The world of Pacific Rim is an inherently silly one. It’s a franchise that centers on skyscraper-sized robots called Jaegers battling equally enormous monsters called Kaiju. The fact that Guillermo del Toro’s original film was a little too dark and brooding to fully embrace the fun aspects of the world is why I think it fell short in terms of box office success or critical praise. First time feature film director, Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus, Daredevil) takes a decidedly different approach for the sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and is pretty successful at fully realizing the fun that can be had with giant robots punching giant monsters into buildings.
Uprising is a sequel that switches gears and feels directly aimed at a younger audience. The fight scenes are more frequent, they’re brighter, and feel less visceral. There is also a lot more humour and lessons about believing in yourself and family. Still, it never forgets that the audience is there for one reason: to see Jaegers do battle with Kaiju.
Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, and Burn Gorman return from the first movie, but the focus is put on a new generation of Jaeger pilots who also represent the newer and younger direction the franchise seems to be going in. The new star of the franchise is John Boyega (Attack the Block, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as Jake Pentecost, the younger brother of Kikuchi’s Mako Mori and son of Idris Elba’s legendary pilot Stacker Pentecost.
Jake was kicked out of the Jaeger program before the events of the first movie and spends his time scavenging for Jaeger parts he can sell. His journey from family disappointment to leader of the new generation of Jaeger pilots works in large part because of Boyega’s charming performance. Unlike Charlie Hunam’s Raleigh Becket before him, John Boyega gets to be funny and heroic as the younger Pentecost. This gives the audience a better rounded protagonist to invest in. It also showcases a new side to Boyega, who has shown he can do stoic in Attack the Block and earnest on the verge of dorky in the Star Wars films. He has never been this confident and funny in a film before.
“If you’re looking for something to see with a younger person in your life or just want to see some silly, larger-than-life action, this might just be the movie for you.”Advertisements
Jake meets up with Amara Namani, played by newcomer Cailee Spaeny, when they both attempt to steal the same Jaeger part. Amara is young, scrappy, and a character I could see myself identifying with if I were a kid. Amara and Jake are swept up into the Jaeger program as an alternative to jail when they’re both caught with the stolen parts. This gives the audience a chance to be reintroduced to the Jaeger program through their eyes. The budding mentor/mentee relationship between the two provides some heart to the film which works nicely. Scott Eastwood is another new addition and he plays Nate Lambert. Nate is just as humourless as Raleigh from the first film, but it all works because he is paired with Jake who never lets Nate, or the movie for that matter, get too self-important.
A lot of decisions like this seem deliberate. The filmmakers were obviously well aware of what slowed the first film down and tried to address those problems head on. There are jokes about common tropes like motivational speeches before going into battle, getting kissed for good luck, and even “superhero posing” during battle that feel knowing and fun. The crowd I saw the movie with definitely cheered and laughed along with all of these moments, and the audience even applauded when the credits started, even starting back up after the mid-credits scene.
Pacific Rim: Uprising won’t work for everyone, though. If you’re not excited by the idea of John Boyega cracking wise and piloting a giant mech while Kaiju attack cities around the world, there is a chance the changes made to the franchise will have a negative effect. However, if you’re looking for something to see with a younger person in your life or just want to see some silly, larger-than-life action, this might just be the movie for you.