Film Review: “Pacific Rim: Uprising” is the Best and Worst Kind of Saturday Morning Cartoon

Film poster: “Pacific Rim: Uprising”

Pacific Rim: Uprising (Steven S. DeKnight, 2018) 2 out of 4 stars.

Steven S. DeKnight fills the director’s chair for Guillermo del Toro with the second installment in the Pacific Rim franchise, Pacific Rim: Uprising, starring John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, and newcomer Cailee Spaeny.

A new generation of men and women are proud to serve humanity as the skilled pilots of Jaegers, skyscraper high robots designed to do one thing: fight and destroy the giant, multi-dimensional crossing monsters known as Kaiju. It’s been 10 years since the last Kaiju incident, but the leaders of the Jaeger program still keep a watchful eye on any monstrous activity. While these eyes survey the horizon, people like John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost and Cailee Spaeny’s Amara Namani sneak from behind and profit and survive off of the scraps of the Jaegers of yesteryear. After a run-in with the law, Jake and Amara are given a choice by his adopted sister, Mako Mori, played again by Rinko Kikuchi. Remain in jail, or fulfill their potential in the Jaeger program.

John Boyega in “Pacific Rim: Uprising” ©Universal Pictures

It’s been a real treat to witness John Boyega grow to become the perfect leading man. Charming. Credible. Believable. In the vein of Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis, Boyega evokes the old and familiar phrase “Women want to be with him and men want to be him.” He has the power to make something out of nothing and Pacific Rim: Uprising is a shining example.

John Boyega and Cailee Spaeny have a wonderful sister/brother relationship and their back-and-forth brings out a lot of heart in the film. What’s unfortunate is connections like Boyega’s and Spaeny’s is undercut by DeKnight’s desire to quickly cut to the next scene before the connection can hit its stride. The remaining character development is nothing but generic shorthand found on the back of the box of a G.I. Joe action figure.

Thankfully, DeKnight is aware of this and pairs his talented troupe of actors with distinguishable costume and makeup design that was popular in 1980s cartoon shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and camera work that harkens back to the purposely cartoonish cinematography of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Spider-Man films. Tilted Dutch angles, dramatic push-ins, and epic 360 degree spins around characters witnessing the onslaught of the Kaiju infuse the film with infectious energy. It’s an energy that helps make the weak plotting and characterizations tolerable, at the very least.

Something metallic this way comes in “Pacific Rim: Uprising” ©Universal Pictures

Pacific Rim: Uprising is as paradoxical as ballpark junk food: overpriced but cheap; terrible to digest but delicious for the moment. Would watching a François Truffaut film or a Stanley Kubrick film offer a more rewarding look into the capabilities of film language? Yes, absolutely. So much so, it is silly to even ask. However, there is still a substantial amount of passion in the eyes of the performers and from the capabilities of Steven DeKnight to leave you and the entire family entertained by giant robots and monsters beating the crap out of each other.

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About Patrick Howard

Patrick Howard has been a cinephile since age seven. Alongside 10 years of experience in film analysis and criticism, he is a staunch supporter of all art forms and believes their influence and legacy over human culture is vital. Mr. Howard takes the time to write his own narrative stories when he can.
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