Look, I gotta be honest. Without Guillermo Del Toro at the helm, there’s simply no way Pacific Rim: Uprising could match up to the original. Del Toro grew up watching kaiju movies and mecha anime, and it showed through every shot of Pacific Rim. It had its own set of issues, but it was a movie that was essential to see in theatres, on a huge screen with a great sound system. Del Toro understood what was great about those genres, and loaded PacRim with all that.
Uprising is thoroughly underwhelming in comparison. Spoilers ahead.
The original PacRim had underdeveloped characters. That was okay though. They were archetypes, characters you immediately understood the function and personality of. Still, I would’ve loved to delve more into the other Jaegar pilots’ histories, especially the Chinese triplets and the Russian duo. Newt and Hermann worked excellently as comedic relief characters, and Mako Mori and Stacker Pentacost were so thoroughly likeable. Despite their somewhat shallow nature, there was still emotional and comedic payoff. The stakes were understood. The sense of scale, the impact and weight of both the Jaegars and the Kaiju, an unforgettable soundtrack that, frankly, just gets me fuckin hype every time I hear it–all of it came together so well to form an action flick full of both hope and optimism and really good monster-robot fights.
Uprising understands almost none of that. Uprising is a skeletal copy of the first film, akin to the movies Quentin Tarantino puts out, all style and no substance. Heck, even style is barely there.
To be fair, Uprising was in a difficult position. It had to explain enough of the previous movie for those that hadn’t seen it while still introducing all the new stuff. Unfortunately, it results in a whole lot of breakneck pacing and expositional frontloading that leaves you overwhelmed and feeling nothing for its barely there characters. John Boyega does the best he can with an interesting role, but everyone else is immediately forgettable and have no real chance to be understood and developed as characters. Their relationships aren’t earned, the jokes aren’t earned, there’s no real emotional build up or catharsis, and the ending is anticlimactic and so sudden, I left the theatre not pumped up and ready to kick giant monster ass, but thinking, “That’s it?”
I couldn’t even be excited about my prediction that Newt was the antagonist. He was always a comedic side character, but even his relationship with Hermann and the rest of the Shatterdome felt real and solid. Uprising completely destroys his character. He’s pathetic and thoroughly unlikeable, an ugly little lackey of the Precursors.
It’s sad, because the basic premise of Uprising is actually pretty good! The drone Jaegars immediately reminded me of the Mass Produced Evas, and the most developed characters, Jake Pentacost and Amara Namani, have excellent foundations full of potential. A fused Kaiju is so self-evidently cool, like OF COURSE that was the next step up from Cat 5 monsters.
But that’s where it stops. The big boy critter is nowhere near as cool looking as the originals. Its component Kaiju are barely there. The new Jaegars have some cool gimmicks, but are otherwise pretty generic looking.
The worst thing though, is the movie doesn’t even sound good. Pacific Rim had amazing sound design with a deep, rhythmic base that sold every punch and slash and throw. The animation had an excellent focus on showing the sheer scale and weight of the robots and monsters. The Jaegars felt heavy; the pilots had to put a real effort into maneuvering them. The Kaiju felt strong, massive, beastly, an immediate threat.
Uprising throws its antagonists around willy nilly and the battles feel like little more than slapfights. There’s no impact, nothing that communicates the danger and destructive potential. Everything starts and ends so fast with no time to absorb it. I didn’t freakin’ care.
I can’t say I didn’t have some fun. It was better than nothing, and somehow still better than what I expected. But I wouldn’t tell anyone to go see it in theatres. Wait till it shows up in a Redbox, honestly. There’s a setup for a third movie, and I can only hope that Del Toro is able to direct it.