REVIEW Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

“It was Independence Day: Resurgence,” my flatmate said, as we started to leave our seats and head for the foyer.

After we saw the Independence Day sequel together back in 2016 (a lifetime ago in terms of blockbuster film releases), we had spent a large amount of time discussing the fact that it was essentially the same film as the original: scientists make puzzling discoveries in the first act, the aliens reveal themselves and move against humans in the second act, leading to a final confrontation for the survival of humanity in the third, complete with humans trying to escape the mothership.

Resurgence didn’t bring anything new to the Independence Day franchise. Nor does Pacific Rim: Uprising really offer anything new to its franchise; this film isn’t giving us anything that the original did not.

To be clear, I’m not saying it is as bad as Resurgence. The Independence Day sequel was monumentally bad, a misstep – and a somewhat unexpected one at that – that surely brought a swift end to any further plans they had for it.

Uprising isn’t that bad. It’s just unoriginal.

We start with a quick recap of the events of the first film, followed by a quick rush through the next decade: the kaiju (the giant monsters) haven’t returned (yet) and society is rebuilding, though some coastal areas are still devastated – including the home of Jake Pentecost (played by the energetic John Boyega), the son of war hero Stacker, who is living in a half-destroyed beachfront mansion and working as a thief, specialising in high-end parts from decommissioned jaegers (the giant robots).

It doesn’t take long for Jake to get caught red-handed and dragged back into the PPDC by his big sister Mako (first season returnee Rinko Kikuchi), where he is immediately given his former rank (Ranger) and put in charge of training the new batch of cadets. After a scene or two, Jake – and his former pilot partner Lambert (Scott Eastwood, son of Clint), flying their jaeger the Gypsy Avenger – is assigned as the honour guard for Mako, now the head of the PPDC, who is going to a world council vote on whether to switch from manual jaegers to automated drone jaegers.

That is where the fun begins: the council vote is interrupted by a rogue jaeger, assigned the name Obsidian Fury, leading to the activation of the drones, a rogue element in the drone company, a surprise bad guy, an attack on the PPDC base and the re-emergence of the kaiju themselves.

If it sounds like a lot, it is; Pacific Rim: Uprising is a fast paced film that never really rests on its laurels for long – a lot happens in around two hours, as the world expands to include all manner of crazy science, and then retracts again until it becomes the simple giant robots-vs-giant monsters film that audiences will be heading to the theatre to see.

Yet for all the plot the film burns through – the drones and the thieving and the voting and the rogue jaegers – it doesn’t ever really feel like it offers anything new, it’s more like a remix of what worked the first time. In fact, I’m kind of reminded of the last couple of Metallica albums: I know they’re different songs but they kind of just sound the same.

It isn’t all bad. I like Boyega and I thought he made a fine lead, even if the sheer amount of things that happened in this film made the few moments of levity – as he looked back on the legacy of his father – seem rushed and out of place. There was some very cool world-building going on in the background: the idea of rogue jaegers built from robots scrapped during the war is an interesting one that would lend itself to further exploration, and a later scene that showed some of the precautions taken by cities to ensure the safety of citizens in the event of another kaiju attack was intriguing.

And the robot-vs-robot action in the early going is fun, but totally outdone by the eventual robot-vs-monster action in the conclusion of the film. This is a massive spoiler, but the final battle in Japan – with the four remaining jaegers fighting against three kaiju was exciting, especially when the three kaiju combined into one humongous mega-kaiju. Though at some point, it all stopped looking real: the sheer amount of CGI meant that the final battle eventually turned into a cartoon.

It was all in good fun, though. Unoriginal though it may be, Pacific Rim: Uprising was at least entertaining. Just go in with low expectations and high amounts of popcorn, and you’ll be fine.

Pacific Rim: Uprising is directed by Steven S DeKnight, from a script by DeKnight, Emil Carmichael, Kira Snyder and TS Nowlin, and stars John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Jing Tian, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman and Adria Arjona. It is distributed locally by Universal Pictures, and is in cinemas as of March 22.

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