More like downsizing.
The biggest flaw with the first Pacific Rim was its third act, where its runtime extended so long with so much content packed together that it really could have been cut out and edited into its own separate movie. This flaw, unfortunately, carries over into its sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising, which descends into a classic case of sequelitus with all of its ideas spent. It has a stupid plot, dull characters, boring dialogue, and humor so unfunny that Adam Sandler could have done a better job at writing it. The movie’s one saving grace is its visual effects. Gee, I wonder where else we’ve seen that before?
Taking place 10 years after Raleigh Beckett, Stacker Pentecost, and the other Jaegers closed the Kaiju portal at the end of the first movie, Pacific Rim: Uprising follows Stacker’s son, Jake (John Boyega) living the good life in a post-Kaiju world. He parties, drinks, trades on the black market, swindles dangerous mob bosses, and steals any Jaeger tech that he can find.
Well like clockwork, Jake’s criminal activities leads him into the jail cell, and this time he can’t simply just bail himself out. Now faced with a potential prison sentence, his sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) gives him an ultimatum: come back to the Jaeger program and help train the new cadets, or rot in a cell for the next 30 years. Jake slightly prefers military service over prison. Slightly.
The problems with Pacific Rim: Uprising all starts with its writing, which is such a poorly-done retread of the first Pacific Rim that it feels more like fan fiction than it does a faithfully-produced sequel. The writer and director Steven S. DeKnight has had several television credits prior to his film debut in Uprising, including writing episodes for Warner Bros.’ “Smallville” and being the showrunner for series’ including “Spartacus” and “Daredevil”. Trust me, he’s definitively a talented storyteller. Unfortunately, all of his experience is wasted here in his first foray into film, and there is no evidence that any skill or talent exists behind his camera at all.
Case in point: the screenplay. It is essentially the exact same plot as the first Pacific Rim was, point by point. We start with a big, epic Jaeger fight, follow with an underdog hero who doesn’t believe in himself, suddenly recruited into a military operation, bonds with the girl in closest proximity to him at the base, a shocking revelation is made about the alien threat, and our heroes team up to disband of said threat.
That’s it. That’s the whole story in a nutshell, a preposterous copy-and-paste of the first Pacific Rim and adding Uprising at the end of the title. Granted, sequels don’t have to be original in every aspect of their storytelling. Shoot, even the most recent Star Wars movies are almost straight rip-offs from the original trilogy. The difference, however, lies in the extra details the filmmakers put into those movies to further their interest. Pacific Rim: Uprising’s mistake was thinking that the interest lied in its derivative plot, which of course, it doesn’t.
Look at the first Pacific Rim as evidence of this. It has the same plot, yes. Yet it succeeds so much more in being fun and entertaining to its audience. Why? It’s because Guillermo Del Toro knew which details to focus on and why. He knew that the size and scope of the Jaeger/Kaiju fights needed to be reflected in the buildings and environments around these monsters. He knew Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba needed on-the-spot, quick-witted dialogue to make them more than the average one-dimensional movie heroes. And (most importantly), he understood the movie he was trying to make. He knew he wasn’t trying to make some seriously out-there, psuedo-dimensional experience like Inception or Gravity. He was trying to make the next explosive, Transformers-esque action fest that overjoyed the inner child in him. That was the movie he aimed for, and he succeeded spectacularly in making it.
Compare this to the desperately confused approach behind Pacific Rim: Uprising. It has no idea what it wants to be. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a serious action movie, a silly Hollywood blockbuster, a complex science-fiction fantasy, or all three at once. All it knows for sure is that it wants to be like the first Pacific Rim, but it doesn’t know how to get there. That’s because the screenplay hasn’t earned the right to compare itself in its storytelling. The sad part is that it knows it too.
Yes, the fight scenes between the Jaegers and the Kaiju are cool. So what? The fight scenes were just as fantastic in the first Pacific Rim, and that was made over five years ago. The music’s electric jams sound fantastic, but again, there’s nothing there that you can’t find in the original already. The only thing to really set this movie apart from its predecessor is John Boyega, who brings such an oafish charm to the movie that he can make something as mundane as eating ice cream seem funny to us.
Even then though, his performance is plagued by the mediocre cast members surrounding him. Scott Eastwood fills out the generic stiff-necked soldier cliché to a “T”, and he demonstrates little personality outside of pure smugness. Newcomer Cailee Spaeny plays the movie’s second underdog, and she overacts so much that she fits better inside of a Disney Channel movie. And Charlie Day? God-awful. His character does such a forced 360 turn from his personality in the first movie that I couldn’t take him seriously or urgently. He felt more like a parody of a mad scientist than an actual mad scientist (and if you didn’t like him in the first movie to begin with, wait until you see him here).
All in all, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a haphazard, unnecessary sequel; one that would have added value to the franchise if it were never made at all. The first Pacific Rim was an epic love-letter to Japanese Anime and monster movies, a rock-em-sock-em creature feature that was loads of fun. Pacific Rim: Uprising is just clueless. At the end of the movie, the big baddie Kaiju monster grows three secondary brains to fight our movie’s heroes. Perhaps it would have helped if Steven DeKnight grew a few extra brains himself.