Having just seen Pacific Rim: Uprising, I can’t help but feel cheated. I was, by no means, a huge fan of the 2013 original, but having Guillermo del Toro as director gave the film an infectiously fun feel that I couldn’t help but enjoy. In several interviews, del Toro said it was his dream to make a robot/monster beat ‘em up. The man wanted to make a Saturday morning cartoon, and damn if he didn’t succeed. The characters were stale, sure, and the writing was pretty formulaic, but the sense of scale and spectacle was just too much but to not love. The action was pure popcorn adrenaline and the score literally makes anything exciting. He pours out his heart in every one of his films, and even in what might be his weakest feature film to date, Pacific Rim is pretty damn good.
The sequel, however, depletes all the excitement and big-match feel that the original had in spades. From the first scene, it’s obvious that del Toro’s wizardry is missing. First time director Steven S. DeKnight tries his best to match the excitement of the original, but ultimately delivered a shallow, cliched, and at times boring film about robots fighting monsters complete with painfully uninteresting characters. I honestly couldn’t think how a film like this could be boring, but lo and behold, here we are. As stated before, DeKnight is making his feature film directorial debut, after a very respectable television career. But to hire a rookie film director to make a film for a multi-hundred million dollar franchise is the equivalent of giving the keys to a Lambo to a student driver.
Leading man John Boyega does his best to charm his way through the picture, and it almost works if he didn’t have to give out such forced attempts at humor. Ironically enough, biggest laugh of the whole movie came from one of the cadets while standing face-to-face with another cadet literally saying, “Bigger. Is. BETTER” (about Jaegers, of course) with the utmost seriousness.
All in all, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a sequel unmotivated and unwilling to even try to top any aspect of the original. Considering there was a fairly large room for improvement in that movie, the fact that Uprising didn’t seem to try to one-up it is bafflingly pathetic and lazy. I do believe this film will eventually become known as “the one del Toro didn’t make” and it is his absence that creates the film’s defining flaw: for all the themes of unity and being your best self, the film turns out to be without a soul, deprived of any sense of passion or ingenuity. Last time they cancelled the apocalypse, but compared to this, the end doesn’t seem so bad.