Sometimes, we expect to love a movie, only to be unexpectedly disappointed.
Case in point: 2013’s Pacific Rim, which seemed tailor-made for people like me who geek out over the idea of giant robots battling giant Kaiju monsters.
I could barely contain my excitement going into Guillermo del Toro’s big-budget mash-up of Shogun Warriors and Godzilla, and I left the theater feeling decidedly Meh.
Depending on how you too felt about the first, here’s what you need to know about Pacific Rim: Uprising — it’s set 10 years from the end of the first Kaiju war, it’s much sillier in tone and more comic book-y in execution, and those two elements somehow coalesce to make for a more enjoyable movie experience.
In short, if you loved the first one, you should already have your ticket in-hand. And if you felt oddly unaffected five years ago, like me, I think it’s safe to say you should give it a chance.
Here’s why: Pacific Rim: Uprising benefits from a host of unlikely sources.
As much as I cherish del Toro, Uprising is better without him because it allows first-time feature director Steven S. DeKnight to exploit his roots in science-fiction and superhero-genre television. DeKnight previously worked on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff, Angel; the DC Comics/Superman re-imagining, Smallville; and, Marvel Studios’ Daredevil on Netflix.
In fact, DeKnight justifies his hiring early on with a wonderful sequence that pits a pint-size, home-built Jaeger (that’s what the giant robots are called) against a full-size Jaeger, and the results are funnier and more thrilling than anything Michael Bay has delivered in the last four Transformers movies.
DeKnight gets great support from a young cast that includes John Boyega as Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost from the first film. Boyega is better here than he’s been in the past two Star Wars films, and his performance recalls his early work in 2011’s Attack the Block. Scott Eastwood also finally steps out of the long shadow cast by his father Clint, delivering the necessary square-jawed military poise required of his character, Nate Lambert. Even better is newcomer Cailee Spaeny, who plays a young hacker named Amara Namani, who builds the pint-sized Jaeger from scrap parts.
Returning for a second helping of robot-monster madness are Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, Burn Gorman as Dr. Gottlieb and Charlie Day as Dr. Newt Geiszler, who famously mind-melded with a Kaiju in the original, thereby helping save the world.
The basic gist of Uprising is simple: After 10 years of peace, the Jaeger program is about to be replaced by super-sized robot drones that can be operated remotely, in the event more monsters ever escape the rift that separates Earth from an alien dimension. Of course, something goes wrong. And suddenly the fate of humanity rests on the shoulders of a bunch of Jaeger cadets, led by Boyega and Eastwood, who’ve never experienced actual battle.
Uprising is funnier overall too with a script that makes some not-so-subtle jabs at the uber-seriousness of del Toro’s original vision. At one point, Day regales the Jaeger cadets with a story about Jake’s father, Stacker.
“An amazing speechwriter,” Day says. “Ever hear the one where he’s canceling the apocalypse?”
Let’s face it, you really go see a movie like Pacific Rim: Uprising for two reasons — giant robots and giant monsters — and in that regard, this movie does not disappoint.
There are robots that morph into monsters! There are robots that fly! There are new, bigger and badder Kaiju this time around, including a mega-mega-monster that thoroughly delights.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is chock-full of plot holes. The actual villain of the movie, whom I found to be a big surprise, gets little screen-time once revealed. Scientists come up with ridiculous technological breakthroughs on the fly. And there are surprisingly few civilian deaths, which ensures that wholesale human casualty doesn’t distract from the cityscape-leveling destruction on display.
Such thematic issues likely would cripple any other movie. Not so much here.
Taken purely as popcorn-munching matinee entertainment, it’s nearly impossible not to grin and marvel throughout Pacific Rim: Uprising, and sometimes that’s all that matters.