Pacific Rim Uprising Review: John Boyega Elevates An Imperfect Sequel


In 2013, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim debuted to mixed-to-positive reviews, but earned a great deal of favor from fans who connected with the filmmaker’s world of giant robots and monsters – or, at least, those who enjoyed watching the giant robots fight the giant monsters. Though Pacific Rim only earned $100 million stateside (on a $190 million budget), it proved to be much more successful overseas, so that the film ended its box office run with $411 million. As a result, a sequel always seemed possible, but suffered a number of delays, including the departure of del Toro as well as star Charlie Hunnam, who played Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket. For the sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, Steven S. DeKnight stepped in as director. Pacific Rim Uprising builds out the universe for a bigger, more fun fight between giant robots and monsters, but loses sight of del Toro’s vision.

Pacific Rim Uprising picks up 10 years after the events of Pacific Rim, which saw Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) sacrifice himself to close the breach and prevent anymore Kaiju from coming to Earth. Stacker’s son, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) lives his life as a thief, stealing parts from broken down Jaegers to sell on the black market. However, that changes when his score is stolen by a young girl, Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who has built a small Jaeger of her own. Both are captured by the Pan Pacific Defense Corps and forced to choose between jail or service – with much annoyance, Jake chooses to return to service while Amara is excited to enlist.

Once back with the PPDC, Jake must work with his former Jaeger co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) to train the new cadet class, of which Amara is a part. Jake soon learns, though, that a private corporation led by Liwen Shao (Jing Tian), with the help of Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day), is gearing up to launch Jaeger drones to protect humans around the world. As such, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and the rest of the PPDC face the possibility of being made redundant. However, when new attacks begin, it becomes apparent there’s something nefarious going on under the nose of both the PPDC and the Shao Corporation. It’s up to Jake and his friends to cancel the apocalypse – again.

DeKnight made a name for himself in now-beloved genre television, having written and directed episodes of Smallville and Marvel’s Daredevil, and created Spartacus, but Pacific Rim Uprising is his feature-length directorial debut. And, unfortunately, it is apparent throughout the film, in some of the action sequences especially. DeKnight’s directing style works well in the character moments, helping to emphasize the performances of the film’s main cast, but doesn’t do the Jaeger fight scenes any favors. The action can be hard to follow at times, especially as the settings of these fights – often cities – simply seem to exist to be ruined by the robots and monsters. There are a number of beautiful shots in Pacific Rim Uprising, but that style is sacrificed almost entirely in the big third-act fight. The moments of spectacle in Pacific Rim Uprising are truly something to behold, at least when viewers are really able to see them.

As for the story of Pacific Rim Uprising, the sequel offers a great deal of compelling continuations of the universe created by del Toro and Pacific Rim co-writer Travis Beacham. Jake’s life as a thief is a natural evolution of the black market established in the first film and Amara’s self-built Jaeger is a neat idea that adds a new dynamic to the sequel. However, in an effort to set up the big third-act battle, Uprising offers some baffling explanations that do more harm than good to the franchise’s mythology so as to build out the motives of the Kaiju and the Precursors. These aspects of world-building in Pacific Rim Uprising veer more into schlocky sci-fi and do a disservice to the compelling mythology of the first film.

With that said, Pacific Rim Uprising is undoubtedly a lighter film than its predecessor and has no qualms about cracking jokes at the expense of itself or its universe. This lighter tone may not have worked if not for its star. Boyega absolutely shines as the rebellious and cheeky Jake Pentecost, elevating the sequel with his charm alone. Eastwood is a decent enough straight man to Boyega’s facetiousness, though his Nate Lambert falls flat when not playing off Boyega’s Jake. Additionally, Spaeny is a breakout in her role as Amara, working exceptionally well with Boyega. The two bring an emotional depth to Uprising with their heartwarming brother-and-sister dynamic – one that’s unfortunately lacking between with Kikuchi’s Mako, who is criminally underused in the sequel. Further, Gorman and Day bring back some of the fun of their characters, though with only a little of the odd-couple humor that worked so well before.

Pacific Rim Uprising hits theaters nearly five years after Pacific Rim, and is tasked with continuing on from a movie that had plenty of dedicated fans – but also a great deal of those who wanted something else from del Toro’s film. As a result, Uprising may not be the sequel some diehard fans were hoping for, while it may be exactly what other moviegoers expected when they first saw Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim Uprising simplifies some of the more complicated aspects of the mythology – particularly drift compatibility – and played up the fun of the Jaeger vs. Kaiju fights in order to appeal to more people. But, in doing so, Uprising loses some of the magic, and originality, of del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

Ultimately, Uprising is stronger because it builds off the mythology of Pacific Rim, but still doesn’t quite match the original. Though, depending on whether moviegoers were hoping for a simpler actioner with giant robots fighting massive monsters, that may work for some viewers who were disappointed by the first film. Uprisingisn’t a perfect sequel to Pacific Rim, though with a largely different team behind the scenes, it was never going to be the sequel del Toro would have made. Still, Pacific Rim Uprising is a fun return to the Pacific Rim universe that will undoubtedly delight fans of Boyega and provide some intriguing new concepts to the franchise’s mythology. Whether the Pacific Rim series will get a chance to further build on those concepts, however, remains to be seen.

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