Turning an action blockbuster into a successful franchise can be a tricky undertaking. Get it right and you’re laughing all the way to the bank. Get it wrong and you risk tarnishing the memory of a classic. Pacific Rim: Uprising — sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 global smash – fits firmly in the latter camp.
Set 10 years after the explosive events of the original, PRU follows ex-Jaeger pilot Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) — the legendary war hero killed preventing a Kaiju-led apocalypse. Unlike his strict father, Jake enjoys a life of indulgence and sells stolen Jaeger parts on the black market to fund his partying. After a run in with the law, he’s given an ultimatum: return to the Jaeger Academy as an instructor (where talented recruits learn how to control the giant robots) or face prison instead. Obviously, he chooses the second option and moves back to base just as a new Kaiju-shaped threat is emerging.
Thankfully, that’s where things start to get interesting. The first half is all plodding exposition, building painfully to a climax. But when the initial, actually-surprising twist hits, the previously conventional plot is thrown for a loop. Old friends turn into enemies and once-solid truths prove false. It’s sort-of clever, and quite engaging for a robot-monster smash-em-up. The problems come only when important character development is swapped out for extra explosions and reptile-on-metal combat.
Crucially, there’s too many characters and few are complex enough to bother with. John Boyega is excellent as Jake — full of energy, and downright hilarious. Newcomer Cailee Spaeny impresses as plucky scavenger-turned-cadet Amara. But despite her infectious charisma, she features too sparsely to make a proper impact. The rest of the cast are nothing more than window-dressing. Director Steven S. DeKnight (Daredevil) sidelines Burn Gorman’s quirky professor and Scott Eastwood is stuck in ‘dependable military man’ mode. Even Charlie Day’s bonkers plot line feels silly rather than shocking.
If all you’re after is a quick injection of testosterone-fueled violence then step right up. But even then, Pacific Rim: Uprising might disappoint. At 111 minutes it feels bloated and the action scenes are so similar they soon grow boring. The studio is already planning a third episode in the series, but given this entry’s questionable quality that seems premature. Michael Bay’s Transformers behemoth has the genre all sewn up and with a Godzilla reboot scheduled for next year, you get the feeling this franchise might be over before it’s even begun.