Uprising could be considered the safe bet for a sequel regarding the risk of a new cast and a first-time director. It doesn’t exactly reinvent the robot, merely adding a few new twists, weapons, and monsters to the familiar plot of the human-built Jaegers versus the monstrous Kaijus. But as someone who grew adoring the likes of Gundam, Robotech, and Power Rangers, my adult critical facilities had a meltdown to see more robot-on-monster action for the big screen with a wink and a plasma cannon.
The world has become a much different place after the events of the first film. Ten years have passed, and while Kaijus are not as big of a problem, Jaegers are now becoming a nuisance. Scavengers have taken to the streets to reap the parts of the downed robots and build their ¼ scale, homemade Jaegers. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is among the scrapers, stealing what he can to eat while living on the streets. He’s surprised to discover the street rat Amara (Cailee Spaeny) has built a working Jaeger. After a run-in with the law, they’re pulled into the current Jaeger project of training new teenage pilots. Why teenagers instead of adults? Consider the movie’s genre and demographics.
The two-person piloting system, requiring a mental link to control the Jaegers, is being phased out by a Chinese firm that wants to replace human pilots with robot drones. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this plot is going, even if there are a few shocking reveals thrown into the mix. If you go strictly by the progression of action, this is mostly the same film with more robot battles and bigger baddies. What makes the movie shine past this flaw, however, is the more significant emphasis on charisma. Boyega and Amara may have predictable pathos, but much stronger chemistry than the previous film’s male/female duo. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman return as the bickering scientist pair, Day gushing about Kaiju brains and Gorman rambling on about calculations as he stumbles around on a cane. While most of the other characters adhere strictly to the expected tropes, there was rarely a moment I didn’t enjoy their presence.
Admittedly, Uprising is a poor construction of twists and turns if you slow down long enough from the adrenaline rush to question the story. Many puzzling aspects are rarely answered, as to the origins of the evil Jaeger or the method behind a secret Kaiju brain remaining a secret within a big company. While the story does offer plenty of twists and turns to keep a constant surprise, it is like delving into the bags of tricks better display the cracks in the formula. Only through the stellar action set-pieces and charismatic characters does this shaky narrative hold firm, more concerned with staging beautifully brutal robot fights than a concrete explanation of the Kaiju conspiracy.
But, of course, the big draw is the giant robot fights, and they do not disappoint. Jaegers come in all shapes and sizes, using all manner of weapons from energy sabers to gravity guns. Kaijus, coming in many different sizes as well, sink their many rows of teeth into the robots as they roar and rip up cities. And as if to give Michael Bay’s Transformers a giant middle finger, all the fights occur during broad daylight, well-staged with robot/monster designs, and well-shot so there’s never a moment where the camera gets too jerky or the action too chaotic to follow.
Though Pacific Rim Uprising merely offers up more of the same, trading incoherent story structure for more character and battles, I was never bored and never found myself cringing at the spectacle, even when the film resorts to touting an old meme. While it does hold more flaws than its predecessor and never veers wildly off the simple course, there’s just something about the adventurous and silly nature of this film that makes the mecha fan in me still beam with ecstasy. And when a sci-fi action picture sneaks in Easter eggs for Evangelion and Gundam, they’ve got my number.