Pacific Rim was deemed a commercial failure at launch. Despite this, the film introduced a whole generation to kaiju films, and giant robots. Despite its commercial failure in the US, it did okay in Japan and did well in China. It was only a matter of time before it got a sequel. Originally, Del Toro was still attached to the project and there were rumors it would in fact be a prequel staring Idris Elba. But, for whatever reason this didn’t happen. Del Toro became producer and was no longer the director of the project and with him gone went the magic of the first film. Pacific Rim Uprising was a direct sequel to the first film with a few recurring characters and similar plot, the only ties to the Del Toro original, and as we are about to see, there are good and bad things about the change.
Pacific Rim Uprising takes place about a decade after the kaiju were defeated in the first film. The world has changed, and we are introduced to Jake Pentecost the son of Stacker Pentecost, who makes his living as a thief. There is no better way to make money than to steal jaeger parts. In this new post-kaiju world, people build their own jaegers through junk and we get a sort of slightly future urban dystopia feel. Although, one that has somewhat healed from the kaiju invasions, less than a decade ago.
The film begins like the first one. Jake is our protagonist and like Raleigh Becket in the first film, he has done some deeds in his past and he runs from it. He is then recruited to become a pilot again, although in this film Stacker’s role is replaced by Mako, who is Jake’s adopted sister. His female ally is Amara Amari who is a scrappy engineer who managed to build her own mini jaeger called ‘Scrapper’. The two of them get arrested after trying to steal a jaeger core. Mako gets them out of prison but are then recruited to become jaeger pilots. Pentacost becomes a marshal while Amari is to go through training.
We are introduced to a group of diverse recruits, but in all honesty, they are not important so I’m not even going to describe them. The film only focuses on our two protagonists and their foe, computerization and drones. Yes, apparently, we don’t need the gimmicky two pilots in a jaeger anymore when we can just send drones out to the field. Why, this wasn’t a thing in the first film is beyond me. A short summary is one of the drones goes AWOL and we are slowly given a mystery.
The mystery makes you think that Shao Industries the maker of the drones are the evil masterminds. Shao herself seems overconfident and cocky. But, in fact the plot twist is that Dr. Newton Geiszler who has been manipulated by the Precursers is the main antagonist. It’s such an anime trope, and one that brings an interesting twist to the plot.
Geiszler hacks the drones which have kaiju parts in them, the drones then open rifts in the Pacific and let three kaiju into our world. Shao and Gottlieb manage to shut down the drones, but those three pesky kaiju are heading towards Mt. Fuji. Another anime plot is that the kaiju want to go to Mt. Fuji to cause a chain reaction to open a seismic event to terraform the planet for the Precursers. They do this as it is found out that kaiju blood is highly reactive. Gottlieb wanted to use this knowledge to crate jetback thrusters on the jaegers for deployment. Geiszler uses this same plan to make the world ready for the Precursers and kaiju and destroying life on earth in the process.
The kaiju are pushed back, but not defeated. In another interesting moment, Geiszler uses some of the smaller drones to merge with the three kaiju creating a super kaiju. Yes, this is a thing, and it is awesome. The super kaiju ends up defeating the other jaegers one by one. Even, injuring Jake’s copilot forcing a deus ex machina moment where Amara and Jake become co-pilots to take down the kaiju. Eventually, they pilot Gyspy Avenger to explode and destroy the kaiju, and are saved by Shao who is automatically controlling Scrapper via drone tech. The kaiju is defeated, and the day is saved. But, not before a warning that the Precursers will continue. But, Jake assures us that there is room for a third film by stating, “Next time, the Precursers won’t have to come here, because we will be bringing the fight to them.”
This film has great action and is like a live action anime. It has a lot of charm despite it cutting a lot of the more enjoyable parts of the first film. The banter between Jake and Amara is golden, and they are the obvious focus of the film. I feel their friendship is better constructed to whatever type of partnership Mako and Raleigh had. Instead of kaiju fights, we have robot on robot action which is a nice change of pace. Mako is still as charming in this film, but let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
The worse thing this film does is not only does it kill Mako the spirit of the film. It does it in the most meaningless way. Yes, her death was important for the plot. But, it was a plot death and all it did was cut off the remaining ties to the first film. Mako was a great character in this film and killing her off as a basal casualty was a wrong choice. If she died as a sacrifice it would had been more meaningful. Other reviews have talked about this fact, and it is a major complaint.
Neither Jake nor Amara have that heart and soul that Mako brought to the first film. They are not bad characters by any means, but they lack the heart and admiration and relatability that Mako had in the first film. This is probably the film’s worst flaw.
So, despite this, I loved this film. It is cheesy monster fun. Nothing less but lacks the heart of the original. The touches of Del Toro are gone, but it has a cheesier charm like a mecha anime or Power Rangers. If the first Pacific Rim was more like Evangelion, than Uprising is more like Gurren Lagann.