Family Movie Review: Pacific Rim Uprising (PG-13)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal(2.5 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 111 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 10+. The sci-fi-themed action film is similar to its predecessor in terms of content, with various fights between alien monsters and gigantic robots, explosions, and destruction of cities; some hand-to-hand combat and fights between various human characters; some characters die, either in explosions or robot vs. alien combat; some cursing; some drinking and partying; some flirting between characters and some kisses on the cheek; and some gross-out moments with the alien kaijus.

‘Pacific Rim Uprising’ is a dumbed-down version of its predecessor, an imitation of the first film that doesn’t live up to its creative imagination. John Boyega is having a lot of fun, but neither the supporting cast nor the plot match his energy level.

By Roxana Hadadi

PacificRimUprising ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReview“Pacific Rim Uprising” is sort of like the recent “Independence Day: Resurgence”—a sequel that doesn’t seem particularly inspired of a cult classic sci-fi film with a devoted audience. “Resurgence” felt like it was going through the motions of an alien-invasion film, and “Uprising” is the same way. There is an acknowledgment of the events of the first “Pacific Rim,” an unlikely protagonist pairing, and heavily CGI’d fights between gigantic robots and dangerous alien beings, but little here is truly original. It’s a retread without much zeal.

The only energy here is from John Boyega, who transitions from supporting hero mode in the latest “Star Wars” film to full protagonist here. He also served as a producer on “Uprising,” so clearly his affection for “Pacific Rim” goes deeper than just being the new face of the property. But his level of excitement and his playful performance are the exceptions in a film that moves too fast and doesn’t do much with its characters. The precision and passion from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who envisioned and directed the preceding film and crafted a mixture of earnestness, compelling characters, and goofy gross-out moments, aren’t present.

“Uprising” takes place 10 years after the events of the preceding film, in which the war against the kaiju was won by humans after the sacrifice of General Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, of “Thor: Ragnarok”) and the expertise of Rangers Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, of “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, of “47 Ronin”), Pentecost’s adopted daughter, who piloted the massive jaeger robot Gipsy Danger and helped save the world against the invading alien beings. Since then, the Pan Pacific Defense Corps has lost some of its luster. Some of the cities destroyed by the invading kaiju were never rebuilt, leaving their citizens in a cycle of poverty. The PPDC is having a tough time recruiting new cadets. And scrapyards for decommissioned jaegers are constantly pillaged, with thieves using parts to build their own robots.

One of those thieves is Jake Pentecost (Boyega, of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”), Stacker’s estranged son who was kicked out of the PPDC years ago. But after he’s picked up for yet another petty crime, his sister Mako offers him a way out: rejoin the PPDC and help train the new group of cadets, and he can avoid jail time. It’s not what Jake wants—“I am not my father,” says the man more interested in trading scrap for bottles of Sriracha and partying all night—but it’s the only option he has.

Also joining Jake in the PPDC is the young cadet Amari Namani (Cailee Spaeny), an orphan who grew up in one of the coastal towns destroyed by the jaeger vs. kaiju fights. Neither of them really fits in—Jake especially has tension with his old co-pilot, Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood, of “The Fate of the Furious”), who rose up the ranks after Pentecost left—but they’re all the PPDC has when the corps is under attack by a rogue jaeger. Where the rogue jaeger came from and how its origins overlap with the work of a private company, Shao Industries, is a mystery that Jake and the other rangers and cadets need to solve. Will the drone jaegers developed by Shao Industries, which is led by engineer Liwen Shao (Tian Jing, of “Kong: Skull Island”), make the jaeger pilots obsolete? Or is there something else going on that may enable a return of the kaiju to our world?

From the very beginning, “Uprising” moves at a pace that doesn’t let scenes breathe. While the opening that pairs Jake and Amari together in a mini-jaeger she built from stolen parts is an attention-grabber, everything seems to be moving too fast. Suddenly we have Jake’s backstory; then we briefly see Mako Mori; then other fan favorite characters from the first film are introduced and the last 10 years of their lives glossed over; then there’s a bad guy attack; then there’s an action scene; then there’s another action scene; rinse and repeat. Too many elements are like direct copies of what we’ve already seen—Amari also has a tragic memory of her family’s demise, much like Mako’s in the first film; the scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman do their frenemy thing, snarking at each other professionally and personally. And while the film is to be commended for a diverse cast that acknowledges all the countries involved in the PPDC and for positioning burgeoning engineer Amari as a hero, it still doesn’t do much with its characters overall. The first film set up this world and showed us its power dynamics and character relationships; this sequel, uninterested in how we got to the events of “Uprising,” is more concerned with smashing the robots and the monsters together.

For younger viewers, this will be fun; the sequel has a more straightforward vibe that taps into what makes children’s cartoons so enjoyable. Huge robots and huge monsters being thrown through buildings and slicing through city streets and fighting on the mountains of Japan, cool! But the world-building of the preceding film is absent here, and the wooden performance from Eastwood and the repetitive plot detract, too. Boyega will endear himself to viewers as the begrudgingly encouraging mentor figure to young cadets who need to hear that they too can become legends like his father and his sister, but he is one of the only bright spots in a film that otherwise doesn’t establish its own identity.

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