Summary: A few years after the world has defeated the Kaiju, Jaeger politics come into play, kind of, while humanity faces a new threat, kind of, while a man struggles to fulfill his destiny, kind of, while yet another new threat emerges, kind of?
When I say “certain parts,” yes, I mean all scenes with John Boyega, who absolutely carries this movie and has all the charm on the world. Boyega plays the son of General Pentecost, the man who saved the world in the first movie, trying to fill his shoes and carve out his own path. (Also, shout out to Lin-Manuel Miranda for single-handedly making the phrase “Rise Up” and its relatives a thing. It’s badass.)
That’s just one of the many things happening in Pacific Rim: Uprising. There is a lot going on here, to where it’s way too much. Uprising presents a lot of good, potentially interesting ideas but doesn’t fully develop them- there are about three or four quick plots in here that, had they focused on just two of them and let the character dynamics do the rest, Uprising could have a been a damn good series or at least a damn good trilogy. Everything moves far too quickly to really let the ideas resonate or the characters take off with them. I get it, this is a popcorn movie- but this is a less than average popcorn movie and toning it down, slowing it down just a teeny tiny bit would have let the ideas settle and fester in a much bigger payload.
I’m going to fault the movie so much that I’ll even let charisma vacuum Scott Eastwood get away with his lack of Everything A Decent Actor Does. It’s not his fault his role was written for Charlie Hunnam’s character. (They can say what they want- his lines and part were clearly meant for Raleigh.)
Taking place a few years after the first movie and post-Kaiju attacks, the world hasn’t fully recovered and kind of lives in a black market where Jaeger technology is all the rage. Shao Industries has hired Dr. Geiszler, the scientist from the first movie, to make Jaegers remotely controllable and drift compatibility obsolete. Meanwhile, Jake (Boyega) and Nate (Eastwood) are in charge of training new Jaeger pilots because no one really trusts the drones yet.
This part and where it eventually goes moves pretty quickly and I was all game for it. I was feeling it. I was invested. The characters had personality, their relationship dynamics were presented well, the politics surrounding the technology made sense… then Uprising did my least favorite thing: it got bigger, louder, and- yes- not much better. Visually, it’s much more cartoony than the first- this really didn’t matter to me. The story collapses onto itself at a certain point.
I point to one factor as the fault- the bigger, louder part of Uprising doesn’t produce any sort of new challenge except a bigger Kaiju. Literally. (And it’s not even done well- my partner had to ask me, “Wait, where did XYZ go?”) The dynamic between the characters isn’t allowed to grow because it’s road-blocked by the action in the story, which I voiced my concerns about in my review of the first one. The moment in the third act where the story loses grasp of its characters (you know when it happens) is where it starts to fall apart. I was on board for three of the four major points and I was even going to let some of the characters get away with under-development and some of the plot holes pass. I was even going to overlook part of a rehashed story from the first one but that story didn’t even get to go anywhere, so I have to at least tag it for unfinished now. There’s a lot of those. Uprising has great ideas of what this Kaiju/Jaeger world could be, but it never becomes anything substantial or complete because there’s just too many on board.
I’ll say that the first part of the movie really does feel like the first- the characters are vivid and instantly relatable, there are puns, it’s about humanity, and there’s lots of Boyega. In this sense, the first half of Uprising gets a lot right, but it fails to evolve any of the characters and their relationships- which is what the first one got right and gave it a distinction from other giant robot and big explosion action movies. It’s unfortunate Del Toro stepped away from the director’s seat because it’s really his firm grasp of humanity and dynamics that was needed to carry the rest of the movie through.