By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Five years after Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim hit theaters, a sequel has finally arrived, but without the original filmmaker at the helm. Though I had a lot of fun with the first film, I very well knew then that the film has only so much substance to offer audiences and was intended as pure popcorn cinema. Still, director Del Toro, writer Travis Beacham and their crew obviously had much love for what they were doing and it definitely shows. Since Del Toro was probably busy working on his Oscar winner The Shape of Water, he simply had to bow out of this project.
The new director, Stephen S. DeKnight, has thus taken over this project so that fans wouldn’t have to wait any longer for the sequel. DeKnight has co-written the film with Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, and T.S. Nowlin and their treatment for the sequel, along with DeKnight’s direction, just doesn’t seem to have the same passion for this universe as the Del Toro and Beacham had for the first film. Don’t get me wrong, though. Regardless of these issues, Pacific Rim Uprising is still a blast, as it delivers more of the “mech vs. monster” goods and also has humor that works much better than the first installment.
The film takes place ten years after the final events of the first film. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of the deceased heroic Jaeger pilot Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), is the apple that has strayed a bit far from the tree. Jake spends his days as a thief and scavenger, selling spare parts on the black market. When a particular job goes sour after a run-in and forced collaboration with a hacker/scavenger named Amara Namari (Cailee Spaeny), the two reluctant crime partners end up under arrest. In lieu of jail time, Amara and Jake agree to serve in the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps.
Jake isn’t new to the corps and had previously served as a pilot before he decided to quit. The corps pairs him with instructor Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) to whip the young trainees into shape. When a new mysterious threat arises in the form of rogue Jaegers, it is up to the cadets and their instructors to kick ass, take names and save the world.
Despite the weaknesses of the script and the seemingly rushed appearance of the finished product, I still had a great time with this long-awaited sequel. Without Guillermo’s direction, the action sequences don’t play as well, but well enough to keep the movie enjoyable. The development of the supporting characters is a bit lacking. However, in my opinion, the humor in this installment works way better and didn’t irritate me as much as it did in the first film. To DeKnight’s credit and the credit of his co-writers, the movie still delivers on a popcorn entertainment level and I am good with that overall.
Casting John Boyega as the lead character is an awesome choice as his natural charisma, comic timing and genuine intensity makes his protagonist a compelling and highly likable character. Cailey Spaeny brings much spunk and attitude to Amara who also makes for an engaging character. Scott Eastwood is well, Scott Eastwood, and that’s fine for this type of role, but if the young actor really wants to become a great leading man, he definitely needs to show a more dynamic range with his work. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman reprise their respective roles as scientists Dr. Newton Geiszler and Dr. Herman Gottlieb, but this time, I actually loved the humor developed for their characters. Rinko Kikuchi also makes a welcome return to portray Mako Mori, Jake’s sister. The rest of the cast is fine in their roles, but their characters suffer from a lack of proper writing and development.
And though the film as a whole is lacking in that department also, the kid in me still had a blast with this movie. For those who didn’t care much for the first film, I would not recommend this sequel at all. Now for those who did, I would recommend it with tempered expectations. As fun as DeKnight and crew make this sequel, they perhaps didn’t take the material as seriously and lovingly as Del Toro and his crew. I still think DeKnight has a promising future in cinema, but perhaps he needs to find his passion project. I would definitely love to see Del Toro return to helm a third installment, as this property is one he obviously adores.