CREDIT: Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Jing Tian

Director: Steven S. DeKnight

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Kaiju Guts, Tech Sparks, and Human Cuts and Bruises

Release Date: March 23, 2018

Pacific Rim: Uprising does not offer much in the way of a new paradigm in the annals of giant mecha or giant monsters. Honestly, the first Pacific Rim did not really offer that either. To be fair, this series’ purpose in terms of concept and design has never really been about establishing something groundbreaking (to my eyes, anyway). It has been more about the distillation of the gigantic tech and creature genres into something approaching an ideal form. That approach is all well and good as an academic exercise, but it does not have enough inherent oomph to ensure a fully entertaining feature-length film.

It is ten years since humans won the war against the interdimensional beings known as the Kaiju. There has been no hint of another breach by these creatures into Earth, but the training programs designed to fight against them are still operating. There is a weird mix between a sense of security that the threat has been permanently neutralized and an ever-present emphasis on defense. This seeming paradox is never commented upon, which gives the sense that this film has an ill-defined understanding of its own world. But it doesn’t really matter, because sure enough the Kaiju do return, and it is a good thing that the Jaeger program never folded.

The Jaegers were the one great concept of the first Pacific Rim, but in Uprising, their usage is rather perfunctory. As the mental stress is so great, these metallic war machines must be simultaneously operated by two pilots. They are neurally connected to each other, creating a partnership so intimate that they share not just responsibilities but memories and physiology as well, for a connection that lies somewhere between artificial and chemical. The main partnership this time is that between Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of a hero from the first film who gets his personality across mostly through his ice cream eating habits, and Amara (Cailee Spaeny), who gets cool points for building her own Jaeger but mostly comes across as the thinnest of archetypes. These two have only one notable memory-sharing moment, and it registers as little more than just hitting a necessary story beat.

The PR:U trailers position Boyega as the star, and while he does lead the way in screen time, the only notable degree of star power among the cast comes from Charlie Day, returning as the eccentric Dr. Newt Geiszler. He is emblematic of how this film has no idea what to do with its best assets. Newt has been in a bit of a mind-meld relationship with a Kaiju specimen, which might just have something to do with why they have returned. So to a certain extent, he is the main villain this time around. But inexplicably, he spends the entire climax just overlooking the action and not participating in it at all. This is a film that has its toys lined up but little in the way of a plan (or an interesting plan, that is) for how to deploy them.

Pacific Rim: Uprising is Recommended If You Like: Kaiju Fever, John Boyega Making Himself a Sundae, Charlie Day Given Plenty of Space (But Not Enough) to Go Crazy

Grade: 2 out of 5 Kaiju Wives