Pacific Rim: Uprising
Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight
Written by: Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, T.S. Nowlin (screenplay), Travis Beacham (characters)
Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Tian Jing, Jin Zhang, Rinko Kikuchi
When Pacific Rim opened almost five years ago the knee-jerk reaction from just about any moviegoer worth their salt was that we were being treated to nothing but a Transformers knock-off. There was also a dash of Godzilla thrown into the mix to at least try to set it apart and protect its future home video life… not that The Asylum’s Atlantic Rim wasn’t going to attempt to derail it, mind you.
However, general audiences’s lukewarm response notwithstanding, what Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro delivered with their original screenplay (if it can even be called original in the existing movie landscape) and the latter’s direction was their straightforward but lovingly reverential take on both Mecha and Kaiju. It became immediately apparent if you looked beyond the mere facade that with its exquisitely designed production, cleverly staged action sequences (marred only by the movie’s insistence on shooting almost all of them at night), Ramin Djawadi’s score, willing cast, and coherent, meaningful storytelling, the movie offered everything the Transformers franchise didn’t. That’s why Pacific Rim: Uprising is so disappointing: because it reinforces expectations most people may have had of the original. It is a bad movie.
Apparently adamant about cloning Independence Day: Resurgence as identically as possible (quite the truly questionable choice in the first place) the movie goes through the checklist thoroughly. It sets the story a long time after the previous one, the deceivingly dispatched threat comes back, it drowns you in an overabundance of characters, and it stars the son of one of the original’s principal characters (John Boyega) plus a new ally / rival played by an insultingly personality-free (in script and performance) square-jawed “hero” (Scott Eastwood). It also mainly deals with the consequent tampering of the remaining alien technology (in this case, physiology) left behind and it offers a pathetically anemic callback to the original’s rousing speech that elicits nothing at all. Then it ends with the promise of taking the war to the enemy (and another sequel) and as with Emmerich’s flop, I really don’t care if they keep it.
The screenplay is a waste of time, paper, pixels, ink (I can’t say if it is a waste of talent for there is none shown). Whereas the set pieces in the first entry were accommodated in the natural evolution of the story as subtly as possible, Uprising starts by introducing the most (only?) interesting character in the film (this one, continuing with the filmmakers unholy tendency to loot from the very worst, ripped off from Transformers: The Last Knight): a completely improbable tech-savvy and plucky teen girl builds her own Jaeger. It opens with a bang that is as deafening as it is senseless, an obvious beat scribbled on a post-it note amidst a writers room full of them. Rinko Kikuchi comes back for a vapid cameo that spits on the goodwill her character might have originally generated only to almost instantly be gone.
The only other two familiar faces joining her are Burn Gorman and Charlie Day, who reprise their scientific vaudeville duo. While the former remains basically the same in terms of character and screen time the latter is given an unexpected upgrade in plot importance. This twist – mischievously concealed by judicious editing around the one line he utters in the trailers – ends up being unexpectedly original (especially given how the movie concludes). This is the kind of tentpole movie that doesn’t usually portray such a key character with what is an essentially comedic performance but that is far from enough to salvage anything.
Steven S. DeKnight directs, making the transition from TV work on Daredevil, Smallville, Dollhouse and Angel. Following in the footsteps of genre lover Del Toro he inevitably falls short, failing to imbue anywhere into the inert script even the slightest empathy. The most egregious example comes with the final battle smack dab in the middle of a Tokyo we are supposed to believe was completely evacuated in a matter of hours. The ensuing rampage all but levels the whole city, logically provoking a staggering amount of lost lives, but I felt neither the awe of a spectacle-driven apocalypse like Independence Day (1996) nor the justified stupor caused by the mindless way Superman was portrayed during the climactic holocaust in Man of Steel. I simply felt nothing.
The action is completely clear especially since, against all odds, all battle scenes but one are shot in broad daylight, but the lack of care in the animation (particularly in the excessive ease which these gigantic robots move with) give a sense of cheapness way more in line with Power Rangers than with Legendary’s own Godzilla and Kong titles. Overall, there are no iconic or memorable shots – let alone story – anywhere to be found and the whole endeavor feels extremely disposable, almost completely forgotten before I reached the exit. — Eloy Ricardo Balderas Salazar