Fringe With Benefits: PACIFIC RIM 2 Is A Tonally Different But Totally Fun Follow Up
Del Toro has officially landed to the Hollywood elite. Yes, to all of us monster kids, he's been there forever. However, with the recent Oscar praise for The Shape of Water, only time will tell of Del Toro will ever be able to travel back to something like kaiju versus giant robots. After a lot of audience appraisal but a relatively small box office, Pacific Rim Uprising being made without Del Toro at the helm is a miracle. Newcomer Steven S. DeKnight, alongside new leading man John Boyega, are able to craft an enjoyable (and much more colorful) sequel.
Taking place ten years after The Battle of Breach climax of the original Pacific Rim, we follow Jake (Boyega), the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba of the original)and his reintroduction to the PPDC, brining along with him the scrappy young recruit Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny.) Returning cast appears from the predecessor as well, with Charlie Day, Burn Gorman and Rinko Kikuchi all reprising their roles as Newt, Hermann and Mako, respectively. Jake is tasked alongside his old jaeger pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) to train the new recruits and ends up jumping back into the PPDC right when a tech genius from China (Jing Tian as Liwen Shao) is looking to replace pilots with drones. And then, you know, a bunch of kaiju show up.
The movie is drastically different from the original. Where as Pacific Rim played more with the human psyche while also balancing a tonally more serious look at robot versus monster battles, Pacific Rim Uprising leans heavily into it's decidedly anime inspirations. Although almost all of these fights are displayed in full technicolor glory in the middle of the day, a far cry from the dark and stormy battles of Pacific Rim, we're not just talking color palette here. Whereas Perlman (noticeably missed) and Day serve as most of the comic relief in the original, Uprising takes numerous stabs at comedy throughout. From the neon red of Saber Athena to the jokey banter between Boyega and Eastwood, Uprising is a much lighter affair in all aspects. Sometimes it lands, and sometimes it misses, but it does give a fun Saturday morning cartoon feel to the film.
Speaking of Boyega, he's absolutely every bit the star of this movie that's he portraying. While his story arc is a bit shallow, and a little glossed over, his charm and charisma carry the movie. It's enough to forgive the lack of character development to make you pump your fist in the air excitedly when he gives his big inspirational speech. Day and Gorman coming back are noticeably even more hammy than the original, chewing scenery like it's bubblegum, but a nice curveball about halfway through the movies gives both characters different motivations to act off of, allowing them to flex out of their characters from the first film. Eastwood is completely serviceable too, and his strong chinned pretty boy routine may have been too on the nose if they didn't do such a great job of poking fun of it in context in the actual movie. The other standouts in the cast are Cailee Spaeny, the self-taught jaeger genius and Jing Tian as the brilliant industry leader Liwen Shao. . While Spaeny definitely plays a stereotype, the scrappy girl genius, she sells it with flair and Tian maneuvers around a character pivot with such ease that she goes from hatable to lovable at the drop of a hat.
Uprising takes everything we like on the surface level of Pacific Rim and amplifies it. You like giant robots? Here's five. You like kaiju? Meet the mega kaiju. More guns, more swords, more crazy robot fights with crazier robot things. Because of this, however, it does lose some of the emotional connections created in the first film and it also teeters dangerously between cartoony fun and cheesy sequel. The action is all flashy and everything is on a much bigger scale but the shallow story and overtness of it sometimes makes itself lose perspective.
Steven S. DeKnight sees his first directing credit here, after years of writing for various projects, including Buffy, Spartacus and Transformers. We definitely see some of that Transformers style action-comedy hybrid tonality here, and even in some of the silly slo-mo fight scenes, but DeKnight and crew are able to do something cinematically dangerous, moving completely away from the original spirit of the series, and still make an enjoyable beat 'em up movie.