The time has come for our return to the universe of Jaegers and Kaiju. The west’s take on the giant monster/mech genre has been pretty well received, relatively small dedicated audience aside, and Uprising hopes to keep that trend going. With a loyal fan base, drops of nostalgia, promises of over the top robot on monster fight scenes, and the current hot item that is Star Wars’ John Boyega, the pieces all seem to be in place to do just that.
10 years after the Kaiju War and the events of Pacific Rim, Uprising picks up with our new protagonist Jake Pentecost (Boyega) giving us the run down of life in the world after the sealing of the Breach. Son of legendary war hero Stacker Pentecost, Jake grew up with his father and adopted sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps. Unfortunately things don’t always go as planned and after failing in Ranger academy, and being kicked out BY Stacker himself, Jake turns to a life of petty crime and vagrancy. While doing a job with some shady fellows attempting to steal abandoned Jaeger tech from the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, he runs into a rival thief (Cailee Spaeny’s Amara Namani) who is looking to use the tech to complete her own homemade Jaeger. Both plans go south quickly and after their inevitable capture, Mako arrives and gives the two a choice; join the PPDC and the Jaeger program or face prison.
With a Pacific Rim sequel, you should know what you’re walking into. The monsters want to destroy life on Earth, the robots fight the monsters to stop it, roll credits. The trick is to make the ride from point A to point B enjoyable for the audience. That in mind, I can actually say that the main story line for the movie was pretty enjoyable. Aside from the occasional ex machina to help the Jaegers reach their goal, I was genuinely surprised (but simultaneously scratching my head) at the way the antagonists arrived on Earth and how the story tied directly into what we already know from the last film. It provided just enough nostalgia to appease the fans of the first outing without droning on about it, and led to what feels like a satisfying payoff at the end. I’d actually say that the worst part of it all WAS the Jaegers and the fights which come nowhere near holding a candle to the battles of Pac Rim. While the animation was far more fluid and the Jaegers had cool new moves to show off, their designs showed none of the innovation or cool factor of the originals and actually feel really generic. When I think Pacific Rim I have specific things in mind and memories that color my anticipation of a sequel. Uprising, unfortunately, doesn’t deliver on or play to any of it.
There are a lot of old, played out tropes going on throughout the movie that sometimes make it all just feel way too forced. The entire story surrounding Jake is just tired, unbelievable, and uninteresting. The “get back at dad by being nothing like him” shtick is pretty worn out and Uprising does nothing to make it more than cookie cutter character motive. The same can be said about his rivalry with former co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) which goes from, “I hate you and you should leave,” to, “I love you unconditionally,” all within the same sentence at times. Conversely, I found Amara to be pretty interesting and would have loved to get more of a story about her and her growing up in the post-Kaiju world. I could, however, do without the literal copy/paste of the story of Ender Wiggin regarding her acceptance into and training in the academy. For a second I thought I went back in time again but it turns out it was just….questionable writing. The same level of interest could be said for the new “bad girl” Liwen Shao (Jing Tian). Her motivations that lead her to creating her life’s work in the film (a drone army of Jaegers to replace PPDC pilots) would have been interesting to have fleshed out or mentioned at all. Instead, all we see is an uptight corporate businesswoman/researcher that will stop at nothing to make sure that it happens for reasons unknown to anyone other than herself. The returning characters, Mako, Newton Geiszler, and Gottlieb, seemingly play minor, “ha! I remember them,” roles aside from one and I guess you can appreciate them coming back to be a part of the story again.
I’m sure for some this goes without saying, but if you liked Pac Rim then you will at least enjoy Uprising. While it doesn’t pack as much punch (literally and figuratively) as the first film, it has enough to keep you interested in the genre at least until the inevitable part 3 or Godzilla 2020. If you’re on the fence about shelling out the cash for a ticket, then I’d say that you won’t be missing TOO much if you do decide to skip it. If you’ve got the time and the money, however, you won’t feel like it’s a waste if you do check it out. It is fun, entertaining, and has its wow moments, so give it a look. Those looking to get into the genre/series that have no experience with either would see their time better spent visiting Pac Rim, Godzilla 2014, or Skull Island instead. Hopefully the vision and feel of the first will be brought back again in the future and we can see the genre moving forward with as much force as it started out with.