Blu-ray Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

I absolutely loved Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 labour of love, Pacific Rim. It delivered one of the most fun and overall entertaining movie-going experiences I had that year, and it still holds up as an absolute blast to watch today. I remember leaving the theater already clamoring for a sequel, because who doesn’t want to see more badass Jaegers (giant robots) battle it out with even more badass Kaiju (giant monsters)? Flash forward five years and the sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising has arrived and it’s everything I hoped it wouldn’t be and more.

Pacific Rim: Uprising just misses the mark on so many levels, with the first being the lack of heart that Del Toro brought to the original film. Yes, due to various delays in shooting, Del Toro ended up having to pass on directing the sequel. And while he still produced the project it’s clear that the writers and director Steven S. DeKnight had their own vision of what they wanted Uprising to be, and out went Del Toro’s screenplay for the sequel and in came the bland, paint by numbers, cliché ridden action script that is Pacific Rim: Uprising .

I mean, when I review films I look at them for what they are, and Uprising is supposed to be a fun, popcorn action flick with robots and monsters going head to head. That’s mainly what I expect from it above all else, though some characters I can get on board with along the way wouldn’t hurt. But it fails miserably in both of those areas.

The film takes place 10 years after the first film ended, and no Kaiju have been spotted since the breach was closed thanks to the heroic sacrifice of Jaeger pilots Chuck Hansen and Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba.) With Charlie Hunnam also not returning as Raleigh Becket due to scheduling conflicts, John Boyega leads the charge this time out as Jake Pentecost, Stacker’s son. Now, I’m fine if they had to go a new direction with a different lead, but there’s no mention of Raleigh at all, which seems odd since the movie acts like they’re incredibly short on capable Jaeger pilots.

DeKnight said in an interview that they mentioned him briefly in a scene they’d written, but it tested poorly, as audiences had more questions than they could give answers; however, that seems like a rather weak excuse as it’s kind of something that would come up as the story moves forward. But hey, with how illogical the plot gets and how far away from the original they take things, I suppose that’s par for the course.

So the main question is: are there Kaiju Vs. Jaeger battles? Well, the trailer would make you think so! But what’s funny about the trailer is that all of that Kaiju/Jaeger action is taken from the final twenty or so minutes of the movie, and no Kaiju are to be seen before then.

Yes, what made the original so much fun was that it jumped right into things, kept it fairly simple, and just brought the goods. Kaiju were coming from a breach in the Pacific ocean, and the world banded together to create Jaegers to stop them. In order to pilot the Jaegers you needed two pilots who were drift compatible (basically, their minds would become one, with one pilot controlling the right half of the Jaeger, and the other the left) at the helm, or the machine simply wouldn’t function.

This time out, it’s been 10 years with no Kaiju sightings, the world has rebuilt itself for the most part – except for certain areas that were just left dismantled, and this is where Jake lives. He rummages for parts and makes trades to survive. Like he trades a car for a box of hot sauce at the start of the movie. Why? That’s not clear. Nothing about why these people living like this is made clear…such as why they’re just left to party and make trades while the rest of the world just works away, or why hot sauce is so expensive when it comes to trade value. I mean, hot sauce is good, but I’m not sure it’s “take my car” good. Anyway, they’re apparently left to do what they wish, so long as they don’t steal from abandoned Jaeger stations – which is exactly what Jake plans on doing to land a big score. But, he’s beaten to the punch by a young salvager named Amara (Cailee Spaeny).

Jake gives chase, finds Amara in her workshop, and realizes she’s built her own small Jaeger named Scrapper. It’s about the size of the house, but it’s fully functional because apparently this kid is super smart, though that’s never really delved into or explained at all. Somehow she just managed to build a fully functioning robot out of scraps, but hey, not important.

Jake and Amara are tracked down a few moments later, arrested, and thanks to Jake’s adopted sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) – who is one of the few characters to return from the first film – they’re both released so long as they join the Jaeger pilot academy. Now, Jake isn’t new to the academy…he flunked out during the first war, which is why he went off to do his own thing, but he’s back now to help teach these young cadets alongside his old friend, Ranger Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood.)

I mean, this is the first act of the film, and still there’s been no real Jaeger action, unless you count Scrapper running away from one when Jake and Amara try to escape, and I don’t, because I want to see Jaegers fighting Kaiju, not kids piloting robots for no real reason.

Okay, well there’s a small reason in that Amara wanted to be prepared in case Kaiju returned, but there’s no explanation of how she taught herself how to build a mini-Jaeger with the ability to transform into a ball for some crazy rolling action just by collecting some random scraps. I’d have to think that’d be some pretty advanced stuff since it took, you know, the entire world to come together to fund the Jaeger project in the original film; but hey, this is sloppy sequel logic, so why not.

And let’s talk about characters for a moment, as there isn’t one interesting character at all in this movie. In the opening act to the first film, Raleigh and his brother Yancy take their Jaeger, Gypsy Danger out to stop a Kaiju from destroying a city. There’s a huge battle, Yancy is killed, and Raleigh has to use all his strength to power the Jaeger by himself, kill the Kaiju, then get himself back to land. There’s more emotion, intensity and character development in that one scene than there is in the entirety of Pacific Rim: Uprising.

No character in this film has any depth or ever gives the audience a reason to care about them. Jake is bland and never given the chance to become anything but the cliché “I don’t play by the rules until I eventually have no choice but to lead,” protagonist, Nate is…I’m still not sure what Nate is. He’s a Jaeger pilot who never gets a real backstory outside of being handsome, and there’s this female soldier who both Nate and Jake have a crush on, so she shows up every 30 minutes, give or take, so they can make some stupid quip about which one of them it is she likes. I don’t even remember her name, or what her actual purpose at the base was outside of doing that. So yeah, female soldier who Nate and Jake like also has zero depth.

And that’s not even getting started on the cadets. So, Amara is supposed to train with these cadets, and there are seven or eight of them, and they’re all teenagers – and really, who didn’t sign up to watch teenagers bicker when they bought a ticket to Pacific Rim: Uprising? There’s a Russian girl named Victoria, and I only remember her name because one of the male cadets tells Amara not to call her that or it’ll make her angry. Yes, teenage angst! Forget the Kaiju and fill up my popcorn because this is pure blockbuster entertainment!

So there are seven or eight cadets in total, and they’re being trained to be the future of the Jaeger program because you apparently have a better chance of being drift compatible when you’re younger. What? When was that discovered? Because it certainly wasn’t during the first war, and now instead of badass Jaeger pilots we get a bunch of kids? I’m not sure who this movie is trying to appeal to, because even when I was a kid I found kids shoehorned like this into movies to be annoying. I didn’t go, “Oh, they’re my age! That could be me!”

That aside, none of these kids are memorable at all, and they somehow magically just know how to pilot Jaegers perfectly when the time eventually arises that they’re needed – even though there’s been 10 years since the last attack, yet somehow, there are zero older pilots ready to go. Nope, fate of the world is in the hands of Jake, Nate, female soldier that’s around just because Jake and Nate have a crush on her, and seven or eight cadets, of which only two have names I remember because every character involved has the depth of a postcard.

Oh, and Kaiju experts Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) also return for the purpose of making up even more new rules and ridiculous notions when it comes to the Kaiju, the precursors (the alien race that creates the Kaiju) and anything else that we enjoyed from the original that needs altering to fit this muddled plot.

The action is also lacking incredibly this time out. Not only to Kaiju not show up until the final act of the film, but before then there’s so little going on. It’s like the writers are trying to build on a world for potential sequels by throwing out everything that was good about the first movie and replacing it with silly plot devices, predictable twists and boring action sequences. The first real action takes place about 30 minutes into the movie when Jake and Nate are supposed to be guarding a vote that could potentially see Jaeger pilots no longer needing to physically be inside the robots, and instead placing Jaeger drones all over the world.

Okay, I’m going to get into a bit of spoilers for the end of the first act here, just because of how frustrating it is, so feel free to skip past the next two paragraphs if you want to avoid them.

So Mako is the deciding vote, and she’s arriving in a helicopter, and Jake and Nate are already in position inside the Jaeger Gypsy Avenger. But then out of nowhere comes a rogue Jaeger who opens fire on Gypsy Avenger, and also targets Mako. The helicopter dodges the missiles and Gypsy Danger and the rogue Jaeger start doing battle. A few minutes pass, and the rogue Jaeger shoots more missiles at Mako’s helicopter, hitting it and causing it to start to go down.

Okay, so can someone explain to me why they didn’t fly the helicopter away from the battle? Or go land somewhere safe? They seem to be just flying around in circles so that Mako can die, and Jake can get that leadership boost his character is lacking. Unluckily for fans of the first film they kill a character I would’ve rather watched lead the charge than any other new blood brought in for the sequel, and to rub salt in the wounds, it still doesn’t make Jake any more interesting as a character.

Okay, end spoilers.

It takes roughly another 30 minutes before Gypsy Avenger once again faces off with this Rogue Jaeger, and then another twenty or so before the action really starts to kick in – and when it does, it’s incredibly anti-climactic because it’s so predictable in how it all goes down. Then in ridiculous fashion a few Kaiju return and the trailer takes place to close things out.

The best comparison I can make for Pacific Rim: Uprising is that of the terribly mishandled Independence Day sequel, Resurgence. This follows that film almost to a tee in terms of directions not to take a potentially lucrative movie franchise, right down to the incredibly ludicrous final words in both films that I guess the filmmakers all thought would have audiences leap to their feet cheering and frothing at the mouth in anticipation of what was to come next.

Instead we’re left only with the somber thoughts of what could have been if only scheduling had permitted Del Toro to make the sequel he wanted to make, and the movie fans of Pacific Rim wanted to see – because in the end, Uprising is a boring, generic action flick that misses a huge opportunity to continue in Del Toro’s footsteps and expand on this intriguing world of robots versus monsters that he so lovingly created, and Uprising so brazenly destroyed.

The film looks solid, with the Blu-ray transfer coming through crisply, with vivid colours during the day, and solid blacks with no muddied tones during the night and darker scenes. The audio transfer is also strong, with the dialogue, sound mix, and effects all blending together nicely.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary – Director Steven DeKnight gives an audio commentary and delves deeper into production and their ideas of where things were headed with this sequel. If you’re a fan of the movie then you may want to hear all he has to say about it.

Hall of Heroes – This featurette comes in at roughly three and a half minutes and sees Boyega talk about each of the Jaegers used in the film.

Bridge to Uprising This is a four and a half minute featurette that sees the cast and crew talking about things that brought this world from the first film to where we are today.

The Underworld of Uprising This featurette is almost four minutes in length and talks about the character origins, and the start of the film.

Becoming Cadets – Just under six minutes long, this featurette goes over some of the cadets in the movie – in case, you know, you wanted to know something about them since the film doesn’t get into any of that unimportant stuff like character.

Unexpected Villain – This featurette is also just under six minutes in length and goes into talking about the film’s unexpected villain. And while it was unexpected, what this person was doing was predictable, and this entire twist is just ridiculous to begin with.

Next Level Jaegers – At five minutes in lengths this feature talks about the new Jaegers once again, as well as how they were designed to fit properly in the film’s environments.

I Am Scrapper – Just under three minutes in length, this piece talks a bit about Scrapper.

Going Mega – This featurette is almost 3.5 minutes in length and talks about the films Kaiju. It’s so brief because the film heavily lacks in Kaiju.

Secrets of Shao – This three minute featurette looks at Shao, one of the film’s new characters.

Mako Returns – This two minute piece takes a look at Mako, who unceremoniously returned for the sequel.

Deleted Scenes – There are also seven minutes of deleted scenes, which you can watch if you want to subject yourself to more of this movie.

Universal Pictures Presents Pacific Rim: Uprising. Directed by: Steven DeKnight. Written by: Steven DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, T.S. Nowlin. Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Burn Gorman, Charlie Day, Tian Jing, Rinko Kikuchi. Running time: 110 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: June 19, 2018.

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