It’s ten years after the close of the breach in Pacific Rim and Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the previously unmentioned son to the first film’s stern, dead father figure, is threatened with jail or a return to the jaeger program. He chooses the latter and joins ever-squinting Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) in training a bunch of new teen robot pilots. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) is back, doing the weird science stuff he did in the first film, but his partner Newton Geiszler (Charles Day) has joined a Chinese corporation run by the ever-grumpy while simultaneously hot Liwen Shao (Tian Jing). Her plan is to replace manned jaegers with drones. When a rogue jaeger appears and kills the cameo-only Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), it is clear that there’s something fishy with the drone program that will result in a lot of giant robot combat before the giant monster vs giant robot combat.
Pacific Rim would have flopped if it was up to US movie-goers, but the Chinese had other things in mind. It made 75% of its box-office overseas, so a sequel was planned with a focus on China. Parts of the film would take place in China, characters would speak Mandarin (and apparently Cantonese) and the cast would be filled out with Chinese nationals, including Tian Jing in a major role. The film would look much like Chinese action flicks (think bright) and follow the general philosophy of those films (you must recover from your individuality and join the team to become strong).
The first Pacific Rim wasn’t great, but it got by on the coolness of giant robots fighting giant monster and by the even greater coolness of director Guillermo del Toro. It looked great and had style to spare, which it needed to camouflage its drab and inconsistent characters, weak plot, and trite dialog. This sequel lacks del Toro, which is a severe blow. Gone are the fantasy colors and Lovecraftian feel. In its place is a more standard, Chinese-favored color palette and the feel of a generic robot anime. It’s not that interesting, but it isn’t that bad either. And the characters…well, they aren’t any worse than they were the first time around. Eastwood is a block of wood, which puts him even with the previous generic white guy, Charlie Hunnam, and the rest of the new cast is a slight improvement over the old (except for Ron Perlman—Uprising could have used Ron Perlman). Boyega isn’t anything special here, but he has personality, and I could tell the teens apart, so that’s a plus. Their character development is either ridiculous or non-existent depending on the person, which is on par with the first film. And it is hard not to like Tian Jing.
So, Uprising has most of the same pluses and minuses as its prequel, but with less style. What came to my mind was the old mech films from Full Moon Entertainment: Robot Wars and Robot Jox. Those were cheap, but the cheapness added to the fun. If I’m not going to get an artist like del Toro, I’d rather see some stop motion robots and it all done on a budget rather than fancy CGI. It’s rather silly anyway (they “tie” a rocket to robot and we’re in Wile E. Coyote territory). Pacific Rim: Uprising is low concept filmmaking with a high price tag. It’s as if someone said, “Let’s make a Friday the 13th-type slasher for $150 million.” But hey, if I was given big piles of cash to create a live-action cartoon of robots punching, I’d do it too. And the result it fine. Just fine.