Pacific Rim Uprising: The Beginning of the Kaiju Film Renaissance?
Let me begin by admitting some bias. I am a HUGE monster movie fan. I have been for as long as I can remember, ever since my parents rented some old Godzilla VHS tapes from the local video store. Godzilla was my gateway into anime, and my gateway into more giant monster movies like Space Amoeba and The Host. Yet, after a botched attempt in 1998 by Tristar Pictures to craft their own American Godzilla film, all hope of any modern giant monster, or Kaiju films (as they are called in Japan) seemed lost. So, imagine my surprise when in 2013, Guillermo Del Toro released Pacific Rim, a fun, high budget love letter to all those old Godzilla films and a ton of different anime, where mankind built giant robots called Jaegers to fight giant beasts from another dimension known as Kaiju. Not only that, but the success of Pacific Rim led to what can only be described as a Kaiju Film Renaissance, paving the way for 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, with more on the way. Then imagine my shock when, FIVE YEARS after the first film was brought to screen, we get a sequel. You can begin to understand where I’m coming from when I tell you that I was incredibly excited. So, does the sequel rise up to meet expectations? Well, let’s break things down and take a look. (P.S. Spoilers Below)
Pacific Rim had several standout characters among a few intentionally over the top caricatures. Arguably the most iconic character from that film was Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost, who had a commanding presence, complex personality, and a gripping backstory. Fitting then, that Uprising centers on Stacker’s son, Jake Pentecost, played by John Boyega. When we’re introduced to Jake he’s a loner, a man squatting in an abandoned, half destroyed mansion and stealing Jaeger parts just to get himself fed. As the film goes on, we learn that Jake joined the Jaeger Program to be closer to his father, but he got in a fight with a cadet and his father kicked him out and practically disowned him. So when Jake is arrested, and forced back into the Jaeger Program, all he wants is to leave or just keep his head down and do his job as a consultant until the Cadets graduate and he can leave. Boyega’s performance is nuanced, and as the film progresses we start to feel how torn he is about where he is in life, to the point where he says the film’s most poignant line – “Don’t ever let people tell you who you are. You won’t like where that leads.” At the time, Jake says it to a recruit, but really, he’s talking to himself. His entire life, Jake Pentecost has let other people tell him he’s not the hero his father was. That he doesn’t belong in the Jaeger Program. And Jake believed all of them, and let what other people labeled him to define his life. It’s only after Jake decides that he wants to be a part of the Jaeger program not for his father, not because he was forced into it, but because it’s what he wants that he truly finds where he belongs.
Another major player in Pacific Rim: Uprising is Nate Lambert, played by Scott Eastwood. He’s the man Jake got into a fight with that resulted in his expulsion from the Jaeger Program. Nate is naturally opposed to Jake’s return to the Program, especially since he’s supposed to help him train the new Jaeger cadets. And yet, as the film goes on, Jake comes into his own as a leader, and Nate fights him less and less. Nate sees that Jake finally knows how to lead, and steps down from his rather drill sergeant way of leadership, and even calls Nate his brother by the end. Scott Eastwood’s performance was very understated, almost as if he was a background character at times, which given his billing on the movie poster, isn’t great. Yet, he’s not meant to be a huge character, just one that inspires the next generation.
EXPANDING THE WORLD OF PACIFIC RIM
Arguably the absolute best thing Uprising has going for it is the expansion of the fascinating world Guillermo Del Toro brought the world back in 2013. This sequel takes place ten years after the conclusion of the first film, and with that advancement in time comes advancement in technology, as the Shao Corporation, run by Liwen Shao (played by Tian Jing) aims to make any future Jaeger combat unmanned via the use of drones powered by Kaiju remains and remote pilots. This is a natural progression of technology, as we’ve gone from fighter jets to unmanned drones ourselves, so it makes sense that Pacific Rim Uprising would follow the same line of progression. And, you recall how I said Jake Pentecost was squatting in a mansion? Well, that’s due to the fact that half of it was crushed by a Kaiju, whose skeleton is still there, despite it having been ten years. This shows that even though the war is over, rebuilding is still a slow process. People are stealing Jaeger parts from junkyards to sell to make ends meet, or to build their own bootleg Jaegers for their own ends. This film also goes into the ramifications of certain actions taken to stop the Kaiju in the past film, and what may have seemed fine may in fact have had terrible consequences. Every single time that new information was introduced in this film, it made me take notice, because it made what was initially a fun popcorn movie into a universe that felt more and more alive.
RISE, OR FALL?
So, at the end of the day, is Pacific Rim Uprising good? Yes. Great, even! But does it measure up to the original? That’s a harder question to answer, especially with how different the films are from one another. Pacific Rim was a colorful, campy yet intense popcorn flick that kept me on the edge of my seat with its fun characters and over the top action. Uprising takes a more serious look at the world the films take place in, and ask bigger questions like “Why are the Kaiju attacking to begin with? What can we do to stop them to minimize loss of life? How do we prepare the next generation of Jaeger Pilots?” This film answers all of these questions and more; leaving you wanting to know more about the universe the movie takes place in.
Additionally, while the film’s action didn’t reach the heights that the original did for me, it also knew to hold back the giant monster battles more. The original Pacific Rim had a bit of a problem in that its greatest action scene was in the film’s second act. By the time the final battle happened, I was almost fatigued. Pacific Rim Uprising on the other hand, has less big action scenes, and provides a unique, compelling story which resembles something right out of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion.
I’ve been a little vague in my review, but only because I want you to go out there and see it. Steven S. DeKnight, Pacific Rim Uprising’s director has gone on record, saying that “If enough people show up to this, we've already talked about a third movie.” I’ve already explained how biased I am and how much I, for one, would love more of these movies to exist, but it extends beyond that.
When Pacific Rim Uprising ended, I could hear a little kid in the row ahead of me excitedly talking about the big final battle scene saying “how cool it was to see the robot hit the monster with the buildings”. That’s important. Giant Monster movies have become rare in recent years. A lot of kids grow up without knowing anything about a whole genre of film. But what if other films like Pacific Rim Uprising go out there in theaters, and become successful? If they can make a whole new generation of kids fall in love with the Giant Monster movie, then I hope there are many more below the water, just waiting to surface.
I give Pacific Rim Uprising....