Easiest review ever: If you liked the original Pacific Rim, you’re going to like Pacific Rim: Uprising. If giant robots punching things left you cold the first time around, this one isn’t going to change your mind.
Several years after the original Breach is closed in Pacific Rim, Jaegers are still around because thankfully humanity isn’t dumb enough to think its safe. We find out that Stacker Pentecost had a son named Jake (John Boyega), who is a sriracha and oreo-hoarding party boy rather than following in the footsteps of his father. Jake runs across Amara (Cailee Spaeny) while they’re both trying to steal the same junked Jaeger parts–only Amara wants them to finish her tiny Jaeger, Scrapper, who is small enough for a single person to pilot. Jake and Amara get caught and dragged to Ranger academy, where we find out that Jake was a full-blown Ranger and crapped out of the program for… daddy reasons. Then things get real when Liwen Shao’s company wants replace Jaegers with remote-controlled giant robot drones. Too bad that’s not the only existential threat facing the scrappy Jaeger pilots.
This movie is mostly special effects fun of giant robots throwing down in a way where you can actually tell what’s going on at all times. Unlike another giant robot franchise I could name (*coughcoughTransformerscoughcough*). Visually, it looks cleaner and more streamlined than the first Pacific Rim; you can tell that Guillermo del Toro wasn’t at the helm of this one.
I felt Uprising managed to leave a little more room for characters than the first movie, surprisingly. John Boyega seems to be having a ton of fun as Jake, bouncing off his even-more-generic-than-Charlie-Hunnam white boy foil, whose name is apparently Nate (okay) and is played by Scott Eastwood (sure). There were multiple female pilots, and they all got to talk and have little moments of their own. Newt and Gottlieb get to be quirky and interesting and consequential again. But the real show-stealer is Tian Jing playing Liwen Shao.
And I can’t really tell you why without getting into spoilers. Which follow below the fold. But anyway, enjoy this movie if it’s the kind of movie you like.
The thing I loved most about Pacific Rim: Uprising is that it does have a twist, and a clever one. The first half of the movie is spent setting Liwen Shao and Mako Mori up as enemies, with Liwen Shao as the villain. She’s set up as the classic corporatist ice bitch; she’s incredibly fashionable, commanding, driven, and ambitious. She’s focused on her life’s work, which is wound up in the drones that are intended to replace the heroic Jaegers, which is another classic indication of villainy–corporate robots replacing real humans. She slaps Newt down coldly when he’s trying to be his quirky self at her. (Maybe she’s got a good reason to not want to put up with his cutesy shit, hm?) And of course the real nail in the coffin of Liwen Shao’s supposed villainy is that when Mako is assassinated by the evil Jaeger, she mentions that it was beneficial to her company, since it means she won the vote in the council.
But then the twist happens. Newt turns out to be the villain, controlled by aliens because I guess he misses his boyfriend so much he spends all of his spare time drifting with a kaiju brain. Newt takes over the drones and starts trying to bring more Kaiju in the world. And Liwen Shao suddenly becomes a hero. First she stops the drones, then she reminds us again and again that she is a fucking brilliant engineer–she built her company, after all–and immediately pulls together with the Rangers to save the world. Her dedication and brilliance is matched with her pragmatism and that she has no issue seeing that the fate of humanity is more important than the injury to her own ego done by her drones getting taken over.
I fucking love this character, if you couldn’t tell. And what I love most of all is that she’s a hyper feminine fashion plate who is unapologetically ambitious, and she’s the day-saving brilliant engineer. (Also, the costume designer who put together all of her fashion looks deserves some kind of award because holy shit.)
I love it when writers take character archetypes we’ve been trained over time by other films to see as villains (corporate ice queen who destroys everyone with her ambition) and uses what is basically our own internalized misogyny to surprise us. When it’s done well, it’s wonderful. So to me, that was the best part of this movie, more than watching John Boyega be hilarious and punch a kaiju from low earth orbit.
Though that was pretty dang fun too. There’s nothing wrong with a popcorn movie.