Hollywood is edging closer to the summer movie season. We find ourselves in mid-March with some of the franchise tent poles barely a month away. In fact, Pacific Rim: Uprising earnestly starts the rush of summer movies to the box-office. How does the rock ‘um sock ‘um, science fiction film stand up to the challenging box office competition? What do you need to know before venturing out to see Pacific Rim: Uprising.
Pacific Rim: Uprising takes place ten years after our last film. For those who might be a little rusty, don’t worry, the film catches you up. Our main character is Jake (John Boyega), the son of the last film’s hero (Idris Elba). He’s struggling a bit, (but enjoying every moment of life) since the apocalypse was cancelled. However, things suddenly get more complicated when he meets a plucky young scavenger Amara (Cailee Spaeny). When the two are arrested, they find themselves pulled into the jaeger program. The film is directed by Whedonverse alum and Spartacus creator Steven DeKnight off a script penned by DeKnight. Writing credits are also given to Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin. If that feels like a lot of writers… it is.
John Boyega shines in this opportunity to stand out, and for once lead a film. While the young actor is best known to audiences for his work in the most recent Star Wars movies, he steps out to front this feature. Boyega brings the right charm and likability to the character of Jake, which could be boring (or even cliche) in the hands of another performer. He carries the challenge of this film, and absolutely succeeds. Boyega makes this movie.
Visually, the film picks up right where the last one left off. Pacific Rim: Uprising is a big, flashy robot movie. The robots beat up the kaijus in bone crunching fight scenes. Could there be more action sequences? Potentially. The pacing at times feels a bit cumbersome, but the movie still hits with the same visual punch of the last installment.
However, where the film struggles the most is with its script. There were a lot of hands in this pot, and quantity doesn’t always mean quality. The narrative problems become increasingly apparent as the story enters the second act. Once the fun and memorable characters are introduced, the script fails to set up the main narrative. There are robot drones, evil corporations, and political intrigue. However, none of the plot points are fully developed. Narrative archs feel awkward, rushed and lacking the necessary set-up. The competing threads in the script drown each other out, and it’s difficult to get a clear picture of what the story is trying to say.
At the same time, the secondary cast is fun and enjoyable to watch. A particular stand-out is the always amazing Burn Gorman. The actor is a treasure in each of his roles, and his work as Gottlieb in Pacific Rim: Uprising is no different. Hollywood, if you can cast Burn Gorman in your movie… just do it.
Pacific Rim: Uprising takes a upsetting turn in the treatment Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). The character from the original film returns in an authoritative role (though we are never quite told what). A great deal hinges on her relationship with her brother Jake. So, it is particularly disappointing that the script decides to kill the character off. She dies quickly and violently off-screen. In fact, the only apparent reason for the death is to fulfill an emotional beat for Jake. He needs an excuse to stay in the program… and the writers took the easy way out, kill his sister and appeal to his emotions. Don’t fridge one of your main female characters. Not cool, guys. Not cool.
End of Spoilers
Ultimately, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a splashy, big-budget popcorn film. This isn’t a perfect movie (far from it). However, is the audience going to see Pacific Rim: Uprising looking for a complex script? Or could the big, punching robots be the draw? Temper your expectations. This is an awesome, fun and enjoyable movie… just don’t over-complicate things.
Pacific Rim: Uprising opens in theaters around the country today.