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Review: Pacific Rim Uprising

Pacific Rim Uprising is a big, dumb and very fun summer blockbuster here to usher in the spring.

Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 film Pacific Rim was a muddled mess that could not find a consistent tone throughout. Wildly swinging from the serious and tech heavy, life or death stakes in the enormous battle sequences to grating attempts at slapstick comedy with an extremely annoying performance from Charlie Day almost sinking the film entirely. It was a film that was so stuck in universe/franchise building that the film underwhelmed and underperformed at the box office. This week the result of the franchise building hits theater screens with Pacific Rim Uprising.

Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of the first film’s Stacker Pentecost played by Idris Elba, is a hustler that lives the high life 10 years after the events of the first film by stealing rare to find parts from now abandoned Jaeger factories to sell in the black market. After getting arrested, Jake is forced by his half sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to reenlist as a Ranger in the world of Border Patrol that he left behind years ago. Saddled with an outlaw Jaeger builder also brought into custody, the underage Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), Jake soon reunites with former Jaeger Pilot partner turned adversary Nate (Scott Eastwood) as he tries to ride out his time in the corps. But a nefarious plan threatens his plans as rouge elements conspire to open the breach in which the fearsome Kaiju came from the first film, thrusting Jake headfirst into the battle he thought his father had finished when he sacrificed his life.

Make no mistake, Pacific Rim Uprising is a big, loud, dumb action film that repurposes a lot of the Starship Troopers plot into the world of giant robots and beasts. But it’s a film that knows exactly what it is, a clarity missing from the previous film, and invests itself in the premise with much success. And it also manages to be a lot of fun. The plot is pretty straightforward here and the twists are not that hard to figure out if your looking for them, but Uprising aims for a more pulpy comic book aesthetic then the heavily anime/manga mech based material that dominated the first film. The entire film carries a more tongue in cheek feel and doesn’t rely on shoehorning in scientific duo Burn Gorman and Charlie Day’s goofy antics for laughs, using both characters much more sparingly this time around.

Boyega is clearly having fun here, actually getting to use his native British accent on the big since for the first time since 2011’s Attack the Block and having a blast every time he’s onscreen. It’s a fun performance with an energy level that was sorely lacking in the original film. Eastwood is decent here as well, though his character is more archetype than fleshed out. The film puts newcomer Spaeny and her Amara in the middle of a bunker of fellow recruits of varying nationalities that echoes many war films and the aforementioned Troopers to a tee, but she manages to hold her own in the troop. Kikuchi is used sparingly this time around, as her Mako is not destined to be in the film for the long run. Thankfully Charlie Day’s participation is also cut back severely in this film as his Dr. Newton Geiszler still retains all the grating qualities of the first film, but better diluted this time around.

Helmed by Netflix’s Daredevil director/producer Steven S. DeKnight, Pacific Rim Uprising still manages to deliver the goods in the fight sequences as well, with new Kaiju vs Jaeger battles as to be expected. Not that the first film didn’t deliver in this category, but this time DeKnight infuses the fights with more built in laughs. It’s a credit to the team behind the sequel that the film doesn’t just rehash the story of the original but infuses it with the pulpier feel and a storyline that see’s some Jaeger vs Jaeger action as well as the big Kaiju fight at the end. The film even packs a twist, moustache twirling bad guy that admittedly audiences will either hate or love once the reveal comes down. The only aspect missing this time around is the inclusion of a character like Ron Pearlman’s Hannibal Chau, one of the true highlights of the original film.

Pacific Rim Uprising may not be a highbrow as it predecessor, but it also lacks a lot of the muddled effect of that previous film. It’s a big loud popcorn flick that might be better served with a mid summer release, but with the overpacked schedule of superhero films on tap for the muggier months to come chose to hit theaters now as the thaw is just hitting outside. And that’s just fine by me.

3.5