The original Pacific Rim is not a great movie. It’s something of a love letter to the giant robot and giant monster genres, but it lacks any of the various spirits that come with the various varieties of either type of story. Sure, it has Jaegers fighting Kaiju and some aesthetic references to things like Gamera and Evangelion, but it’s all surface level things. The cast is largely listless, especially in the pilot department. About the only hot-blooded mecha pilot action we get is from Idris Elba’s speech about canceling the apocalypse, and he’s just a supporting character. Not that a mecha story needs that sort of thing, but his Pentacost’s speech is about as close as we get to anything that resembles the behavior of what you’d expect from any sort of mecha anime pilot, be it Amuro Ray, Shinji Ikari, or Koji Kabuto. And outside of one kaiju that looks kinda like Guiron from the Gamera series, the monsters have even less about them to distinguish themselves. They’re just blobs of cgi meant to be destroyed by metalic cgi blobs posing and mecha.
Where Pacific Rim worked was in the things that weren’t a part of its obvious genre. The little touches about how some people worship kaiju while others run black market schemes selling monster body parts has little to do with the actual giant robot/monster battles, but it’s also the place where del Toro’s personality shined through the most. The meat of Pacific Rim was kind of lame, but the world reacting to that tedium was infinitely more fascinating.
What makes Uprising a more interesting movie than its predecessor (although not necessarily a better movie) is how this strangeness is better integrated into the meat of the plot.
Charlie Day’s character, Newt, hasn’t stopped “drifting” with one of the alien brains left from the previous movie. Before you realize what it is, he refers to it as “Alice” and speaks of it as if its his girlfriend. The way he reacts when he puts on the mind visor thing and “drifts” with it makes it look like he’s getting off on his continued exposure to this alien entity. The movie doesn’t devote much more time to this than it took me to describe the scene, but it’s a decidedly strange development. It’s clear that Newt’s psyche is compromised, but is it a simple matter of the aliens mind controlling him, or is there something else going on here? Was he seduced by this entity? If it was only a matter of the outside mind taking over, there wouldn’t be the cute asides about “Alice” or anything like that. It really does seem like Newt looks at this thing as a partner rather than some pod monster taking over his identity.
What makes this especially cool is that this isn’t just a neat aside like Ron Perlman’s cameo in the first Pacific Rim. Newt’s “relationship” is the at the crux of Uprising’s plot, since it’s through this symbiotic/parasitic/abusive relationship that these Precursor aliens/extra-dimensional beings are able to slip Kaiju brain matter into drone-styled Jaegers, which in turn not only wreak havoc on humanity, but also briefly reopen the “rift” to allow in a few new Kaiju to enact their ultimate plan. It’s a genuinely clever “twist” that takes elements from the first movie, builds upon them, and creates a scenario that’s familiar enough to work as a traditional sequel while being different enough to avoid any legit rehash complaints.
The problem is that this is about as good as the movie gets.
The Jaeger/Kaiju fights are definitely superior to the first movie’s, especially because most of them take place during the day and are shot and composed in such a way that you can actually see most of the action. You don’t get any of the first movie’s murkiness. Unfortunately, the actual cast may be even more bland and unmemorable than the original group. John Boyega does his best to add some charisma to his role, but he’s given about as much to do as everyone else, which is next to nothing. He and his precocious, spunky kid sidekick both have some issues with dead family members, but a lot is said about these problems and little is actually explored— the reasons for angst are there, but we don’t really feel any of it.
Rinko Kikuchi’s character is killed off as fast as they can, only to effectively be replaced by Jing Tian. It really does feel like Tian’s role was written for Kikuchi’s character, only to have the bulk of the plot given to a different character after the fact. There’s an attempt to mold a new motley crew of young pilots and the like, but those rivalries, and the rivalry between Boyega and anti-presence Scott Eastwood, never gets off the ground by the time everyone’s supposed to reconcile their differences and band together to defeat the stitched-together Mega-Kaiju that’s trying to get to Mt. Fuji so it can set off a volcanic chain reaction that’ll terraform Earth to suit the Precursors.
At least said final battle works on a purely visceral level.
Ultimately, the whole thing feels like one of those late 80s/early 90s direct to video sequels to a movie made 10 years prior– like those Scanners sequels that have little to do with the original– and the first 30 minutes or so is just as bad as such a movie. Once we get to the Charlie Day strangeness and the bulk of the action scenes, things finally start to ramp up and start to supersede the original. I can’t really call it a better movie than the first, but its highs are higher and it wears its quirks better.
Still needs more alien brain sex.