Pacific Rim Uprising review - does its predecessor proud!
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You wouldn’t have thought anyone could be capable of filling Idris Elba’s remarkably compelling shoes, but John Boyega both follows in his footsteps and makes Jake Pentecost (Stacker Pentecost’s son) completely his own.
Pacific Rim (2013) is the perfect monster film. Though disparaged by critics who aren’t fans of the genre, for audiences who are, the perfect storm of invading aliens and huge mecha-suits, alongside the implacable determination of the human spirit — it all comes together to create an unrivalled action-packed and genuinely moving visual spectacle. It’s also a perfect standalone film, so I wouldn’t blame you for being little skeptical about the sequel — especially without the newly double Oscar winning Guillermo del Toro at the helm of this one. Never fear: Pacific Rim Uprising is a complete success.
The ideal blend of new characters and old, throwbacks and innovations, allow this film to give audiences exactly what they want: the same feeling they got when they watched Pacific Rim, but with a fresh new take.
There was some concern that introducing a son that hadn’t been mentioned at all in the first film would cheapen the relationship between Mako Mori (Rinko Kukuchi) and Stacker, but the script is impeccable. The sibling relationship between Jake and Mako, and the love they share for their late father, is the undeniable heart of the film, shining as brightly as Gypsy Avenger’s.
The return of some other familiar faces - the mad scientist duo Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and Geiszler (Charlie Day) - works for comic relief, for furthering the plot, and for providing some heavy hitting emotional moments of their own! Gorman is on top form as the nervous, exaggeratedly British purist, while Charlie Day, whose character has sold out an gone corporate, embraces his full It’s Always Sunny manic energy.
Alongside them, there’s a whole slew of new characters introduced: the snarky Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), the scrappy Amana Namari (Cailee Spaeny), and a wasted Adria Arjona as mechanic Jules. Eastwood’s character acts as a foil to Boyega’s, but the rivalry between them is rooted in idealogical difference rather than just nonsensical alpha male head-butting. It’s refreshing to see the two of them talk rather than fight about their differences!
Amara’s the new female lead, a teenager who falls into a somewhat reluctant student-mentor relationship with Jake. A mechanic herself, and a fiercely independent survivor, she faces some difficulties falling in line in the Jaeger pilot cadet programme. Her fellow cadets are a diverse bunch, representative of the global teamwork that Del Toro envisioned for the world of Pacific Rim. Standout amongst them are played by Karan Brar, Wesley Wong, Shyrley Rodriguez, and Ivanna Sakhno — each bringing a unique brand of humour and intensity to their roles.
In the same way that The Force Awakens has similar plot beats to A New Hope, Uprising utilises some of the same devices as its predecessor. We get some emotional reveals done via flashback through the drift. We get some new technological experiments yielding some life-changing results. There’s a huge final fight that’ll have you hollering at the screen. But alongside those moments, this film complicates matters a lot more than the first. The straightforward fight between humanity and its invaders has various layers and bait-and-switches added to it, keeping the audience on its toes without losing the spirit of global community that makes these films so much more than simply robots punching monsters.
On the subject of robots punching monsters, however, the fight scenes are absolutely to die for. The hyper-saturated neon visuals are just as stunning as in the first film, and there are so many never-seen-before combinations of Jaegers (with innovative new capabilities!) and Kaiju in the various fight scenes throughout the film that each one is distinct and absolutely jaw-dropping.
There are a fair few jaw-on-the-floor moments throughout the film, which really show the care gone into the screenplay. Those moments are perfectly balanced with humour and emotion too, and though everyone does a good job, Boyega blows them all out of the water. He’s proven himself to be an actor with incredible range already, with films like Detroit contrasting with Star Wars, but in Uprising he does it all. From a cocky party boy to belligerent delinquent to remorseful son, to leader, to hero — he embodies all of these with such fluidity and down-to-earth believability. The world already knows he’s one to watch, so I’m just glad he gets to work on projects where he’s having as much fun as he looks like he did on this one!
Raising the stakes without ever disrespecting those in the first film isn’t an easy job, and Steven S. DeKnight (the co-writer and director) being a huge fan of the first film is what makes it so successful. The care is evident in every frame, and the attention granted to making this coherent emotional arc follow on from its predecessor, makes it a joy to watch.
Pacific Rim Uprising hits UK cinemas 23rd March.