Monsters versus huge robots. What’s not to love about the fundamental premise of the Pacific Rim franchise? When the original came out back in 2013, I reviewed it here on my site and said “If you’re a science fiction fan, if you love mecha, comic books and have a soft spot for those old B-movies, especially from Toho Films (Godzilla, et al), if you can suspend your disbelief and enjoy a film that’s really just a series of increasingly epic battles between improbable robots and creepy monsters, you’re just going to love Pacific Rim.”
It’s taken a long time for a sequel to show up, even though the original movie enjoyed much popularity with its core sci-fi monster movie base. Was it a lack of script? Given the insipid dialog and daft storyline, probably not. More likely, the cost of all the visual effects doomed most attempts to assemble the necessary funding and it’s interesting from a film industry perspective to see how this new chapter features so much Chinese language, a Chinese lead, and, from the other great nation for funding, a Russian character too. All that’s missing is a scene shot in Abu Dhabi and an Arab prince in the story.
But business aside, rather to my surprise, I found Pacific Rim Uprising great fun and a really enjoyable film. Is it great cinema on par with Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey? Uhm, are you smoking something? That’s not the intention; Pacific Rim Uprising is pure cinematic eye candy at its best, a loosely related series of great effects and fight scenes, epic destruction and everything just big, big, big. In fact, if it pays homage to any film, it’s the equally entertaining – and daft – Starship Troopers. These are the kind of films where critics cry “terrible!” while audiences flock to the cinema to cheer and bask in the chaos, effects and simplistic good guys vs bad guys story.
The film takes place ten years after The Battle of the Breach, during which the dimensional portal that allowed the monster Kaiju to wreak havoc on Earth was destroyed at the end of Pacific Rim. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) ekes out a living by breaking into secure facilities and stealing Jaeger parts on the black market [yes, shades of Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens]. When he bumps into teen tough-gal Amara Namani (a terrific Cailee Spaeny), he’s startled to find she’s been secretly building her own Jaeger called Scrapper. She doesn’t believe the Kaiju are really gone and wants to be ready when they return!
One epic battle later and they’re recruited by the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps, him as an instructor, her as a cadet training to pilot full size Jaegers. In case you forgot, Jaegers are the huge robots that are apparently the only thing that can battle Kaiju, usually mano-a-mano. Yes, fist fights and ninja kicks between angry monster creatures and massive robots. I told you, what’s not to love about this?
The first film featured two mad scientists who had very different theories about the Kaiju and how to stop them, and both return in this new movie; Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). This time, however, Geiszler is working for the competition, a huge Chinese manufacturing conglomerate called Shao Industries. The head of Shao Industries is Liwen Shao (the ubiquitous Tian Jing). Shao plans on launching hundreds of Jaeger drones to protect the world, just in case, but… there’s a bug. Yes, a bug in 50-foot robots towering over all the major cities in the world.
The story moves along from there at a sometimes frantic pace as we see human versus human, Jaeger versus Jaeger, and, yes, ultimately, Jaeger versus Kaiju go at it. Always with the punching and kicking, though, because apparently actual weapons are useless for reasons that are never fully explained. But who cares? There are so many plot holes and illogical concepts in this film that you could walk through it in the refurbished Gipsy Danger and not scrape your shoulders. Or kick the pesky Obsidian Fury through! The dialog is banal, often bordering on painful, and there’s much inspired by both Starship Troopers and the Transformers franchise, but no-one in the theater will care. It’s big, it’s loud and the effects are terrific.
There are undoubtedly critics who will complain that Pacific Rim: Uprising isn’t serious enough, doesn’t address issues of equality or environmental concerns, doesn’t explore the cultural consequences of monsters threatening everyone on the planet. And where are all those fancy weapons? But if you can suspend your disbelief and still head to the theater with the intention of just enjoying a bang-up sci-fi spectacle, if you can cheer when the good guys overcome and hiss at the bad guys and monsters, you might just find Pacific Rim: Uprising one of the most entertaining films so far this year!