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Pacific Rim uprooted. Can the franchise survive?

Does Pacific Rim Uprising keep the franchise alive under a new director? Find out what's changed in the sequel to 2013's cult Kaiju hit.

Jaegers facing off against a giant Kaiju

What can I say, I’m a sucker for movies where big things demolish stuff.

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King Kong, Godzilla, The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, oh my! I live for the day that some Australian filmmaker with a huge budget and loads of spare time decides to make a movie where all of our big landmarks come to life. I’d love to see an epic battle between Goulburn’s Big Merino and Ballina’s big Prawn for example! But, until that wonderful day arrives I’ll have to settle for Pacific Rim Uprising.

A sequel to 2013’s Pacific Rim which, while chintzy, had lots of charm thanks to director Guillermo Del Toro. He created an awesome dystopian future that saw the wold being attacked by the trans-dimensional precursors and their monstrous Kaiju, via a rift or portal that lies at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

It was big action, big cheese and lots of fun. It didn’t set the box office on fire but it managed to secure a cult following that has slowly built over time and led to someone getting the bright idea that they could wring a sequel out of it. Even if they didn’t need to.

But why not, always good to see some robots take on some monsters right?

Well, sort of.

Ok, what’s wrong with it?

The major let down is that Guillermo isn’t directly involved, he’s moved on to bigger and better things, like winning an Oscar for the Shape of Water. He’s been replaced by Steven S DeKnight, who is probably better know for being a writer/producer on TV shows like Spartacus, Angel, Smallville and Daredevil. All of which are decent, but not in the same league as the guy who gave us Pan’s Labrynth and Hellboy.

The result is, while the movie looks great, it’s missing that magic Del Toro seems to be able to bring into everything he works on. That is kind of countered by the presence of John Boyega, who everyone knows as Finn from the recent Star Wars films. I like him, he’s got a presence on and off screen that I think people connect with. He just seems to come across as a nice and charming guy. But in the absence of a decent story, it’s not really enough to to make this film hold a candle to the original.

The story

The story is not great. Which is a real shame.

Jake Pentecost is the son of Jaeger pilot, and saviour of the human race, Stacker Pentecost, the character played by Idris Elba in the first movie who closed the breach. What’s a Jaeger? Short for Jaegermeister, it’s a shot of liquor that tastes like cough medicine, people mix it with red bull to create a Jaeger bomb, once imbibed they turn into instant dickheads, The plus side is if they drink enough or them they may have a heart attack and die.

In this movie though a Jaeger is a giant robot built to fight giant monsters. The funny thing about Boyega’s Jake Pentecost is that at no stage whatsoever during the first film did they even mention him, not once, not even when his dad was about to sacrifice himself to save humanity. There’s no tell “Jake I love/forgive him” nothing!

Also, as far I could see, at no stage during Pacific Rim Uprising do they give us any clue as to what happened to Charlie Hunnam’s character, Raleigh Beckett. I mean he really was ONLY the main character in the first film, and last surviving Jaeger pilot! Apparently this was due to scheduling conflicts. Instead of waiting, they sacrificed the story to feed the masses and cash in on the cult following from the original.

The rest of the cast

A few other cast members make a return, Rinko Kikuchi is back as Pentecost’s adopted sister Mako Mori. She’s taking over where their father left off and is in charge of the Jaeger program. Burn Gorman is back as Dr Gottleib and Charlie Day returns as Geiszler. There’s a few newcomers, most notable would be Cailee Spenny as Amara, Scott Eastwood as Nate and Tian Jing as Liwen Shao.

Sorry, back to the story!

Anyways the Jaegers don’t have much to do since the world was saved. Things have devolved somewhat now that humanity has lost the unifying factor of a common enemy and there’s a huge black market for stolen Jaeger tech. This sees people scavenging parts from battles and selling them on the black market. The original Jaeger program is under threat from a new private company that have refined the technology to provide a more cost effective solution to protect the earth from the Kaiju, should they make a return. Jake is a disgraced pilot who was kicked out of the Jaeger program. He refuses to live in the shadow of his father and is now scavenging and selling Jaeger tech on the black market.

The best part

Now can we please cut the shit, and get to the monster battles?

Yes!

The monster battles and are awesome! A highlight for me, which made up for the appalling Australian accents in the first movie, was a battle that takes place in Sydney Harbour around Circular Quay. Having walked those streets hundred of times it was really cool seeing that location used so well, and accurately. I really loved that. Although I’m sure people who live in cities like Chicago and New York probably see that as no big deal. It’s still a massive novelty for Australians.

On the other side of the great representation of Sydney is a huge battle set in Tokyo in the final act of the film that involves a race to Mount Fuji where they completely fuck up the scale of the location which makes it look like Tokyo is at the foot of said mountain. It’s terribly, glaringly inaccurate. As the movie starts to wind up they clearly sacrificed scale for drama it would seem.

The verdict

John Boyega’s Jake is likeable and he puts in a good performance, but so much attention is put onto his character that the supporting cast kind of sink into the background. So you don’t really care about them, indeed I was more invested in the cool robots they were piloting.

The Jaeger and monster design doesn’t stray too far from the original. The look of the movie seems more polished which is good and bad. Good in that the new robots look super cool but bad in that it cleans off all the quirkiness of Guillermo Del Toro’s original vision.

This is a big visual, big sound movie with a forced and shallow plot. If you like big monsters and robots like I do, that’s what’s going to get you to the box office in the first place.

Pacific Rim Uprising is like meeting an absolutely stunning girl or guy, not believing your luck when you get to take them out on a date and then realising that, as soon as they start talking, there’s nothing going on up top.

You’re smarter than that and to your surprise they’re actually out of your league. And that’s ok, sometimes it’s just nice to have something pretty to look at.

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