Review: Pacific Rim Uprising

 

2018 has already been a big year for Guillermo del Toro. The Mexican-born director won the Oscar for Best Picture for his horror/romance film The Shape of Water, finally winning the mainstream Hollywood recognition that he has deserved for years. But while The Shape of Water is unique amongst its contemporaries at the Oscars, it fits right in with the rest of del Toro’s filmography.

From Hellboy to Pan’s Labyrinth to Crimson Peak, del Toro is a master of dark fantasy. His films are equal parts fairytale and H. P. Lovecraft, and often the real monsters that his protagonists face are the men in positions of power within the status quo. In fact, of all the films del Toro has made over the course of his career, only one really deviates significantly from the others: 2013’s Pacific Rim.

Directed by del Toro and written by Travis Beacham, Pacific Rim was a new intellectual property created as a love letter to Japanese kaiju (giant monster) movies. While elements of the film are undeniably silly, it is crafted with an affection so intense that it is visible in every frame. Everything from the pacing, to the way tropes are utilized in the best possible way, to the weight that is given both to the characters and to the practical effects that bring these giant robots to life results in a finished product unlike any other film to come out in the West. And even if you have no interest in the writing, visual design, sound design, or acting as they apply to most scenes in the film, they also make some of the most stimulating and engaging action sequences to be in a blockbuster. Which is good, because at its core, Pacific Rim is about giant robots fighting giant monsters, so the action does need to be good. In a lot of ways, Pacific Rim is a lot better than it has any right to be, but it just works.

 

 

Pacific Rim works in all of the ways that its sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, does not. And maybe no one actually expected it to measure up. For one thing, del Toro stepped back to a producer role, leaving directing duties to Steven DeKnight. In addition, most of the core cast of the first film did not return, which is actually a good thing, since Uprising is overstuffed to the point of corpulence. Considering the screenplay has four credited writers, this does make a certain amount of sense.

Every few scenes feels as if the film has grown bored of whatever concept it was just working on, and so it discards it in favour of a new one. Between the disgraced son of the first film’s commander, the group of scrappy young recruits bonding as they learn to pilot robots together, a romantic subplot, themes exploring the dehumanization of war, retreading plot points that were lifted from the first film, and some actually really good development for two returning characters, there’s just too much going on.

But it’s not all bad. There are elements of Uprising that build on what was established previously, and those elements are really interesting and entertaining. For instance, Charlie Day’s Doctor Newt Geiszler has grown in a legitimately unexpected direction from the first film and is easily the best part of the movie—which is kind of a shame, since he is so much more enjoyable to watch than most of the action sequences. This isn’t just a matter of weak fight choreography, though that is definitely a factor. The robots and monsters lack a sense of the scale and weight that they had in the first film, which makes these sequences feel more like cutscenes in a video game instead of fights between two enormous entities.

In a way, it doesn’t feel fair to compare these two films. Pacific Rim went to great lengths to set itself aside from its contemporaries, and Uprising does the opposite. It feels painfully derivative of the last decade of major blockbuster releases, having more in common with Michael Bay’s Transformers films than it does with Pacific Rim. None of this makes it bad, either. In fact, it still has a more coherent story than Transformers, there are some reasonably entertaining and interesting twists and developments, and the cast is pretty strong across the board, too.

 

 

The truly unfortunate thing is that Pacific Rim Uprising is just alright. It is a serviceable action film that is worth checking out in that context, but as a sequel to Pacific Rim and as a film with Guillermo del Toro’s name attached to it, Uprising comes up short. 2018 has already been a big year for del Toro. It’s just a shame it couldn’t be a big year for Pacific Rim, too.

 

Source: 1/2/3