Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim—like pretty much all of his films, including The Shape of Water—was a tribute to the genres he loved that lack mainstream recognition, in this case a fusion of Toho kaiju monsters and mech suit anime where there is as much drama inside the suits as there is out, most notably Gundam and “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” It was quite a lot of fun, where even the most valid complaints, like flat characterizations and rushed exposition with lore that is never fully explained were intentional and genre-appropriate. The only problem it could not escape was the frustrating decision to stage all of the fights at night in the rain, thereby obscuring the creature and mecha design and dulling what ought to have been the greatest visual treat of 2013.
Its sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising (directed by Steven S. DeKnight), has none of the nerdy charm of its predecessor, and expands the lore while cheapening its effectiveness. But at least you can see what’s happening this time. Pick your poison.
Pacific Rim Uprising
PG-13, 110 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
The story picks up 10 years after the war against the kaiju has been won. Some cities have been rebuilt, others are still lying in rubble. An underground economy has formed around the theft of tech found in the abandoned mecha, known as jagers.
Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of war hero and legendary jager pilot Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, of the previous film), lives in this world, staying one step ahead of being caught by the criminals he does business with and the authorities who tolerate him so long as he minimizes the trouble he causes. When a heist goes wrong, he encounters Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a teenage tech prodigy who has illegally built her own miniature jager in preparation for if the kaiju come back. The pair are caught by the authorities, and are given a deal: Go to prison, or join the fight in an official capacity, as trainer and cadet.
Many of the performances are solid despite being one-dimensional characters, but that is not something you can hold against this film any more than you can against the original. Spaeny shows tremendous promise in her ability to bring raw emotion to Amara; she is driven by revenge, but her personality is not reduced to a bundle of raw nerves. She’s a believable teenager given the way growing up in this world has shaped her. Boyega is charming as ever, though the role rests entirely on his screen presence. Scott Eastwood finally feels like he belongs in movies like this instead of being there because some super agent insisted, and Charlie Day is better utilized here than he was in the original.
Then there are the monster fights. Yep, they’re pretty dang cool and look great, but why they’re happening is far less engaging than in the first Pacific Rim, which had charm and inspiration to carry it across other flaws that might exist. It was a statement in its own right, while Uprising as a sequel is entirely conventional. It can be engaging moment- to-moment, but is instantly forgettable. And through it all is the why factor: In the first film, they need to save people from monsters. Great! Thrilling! Why is any of it really happening? Who cares? There are monsters that need punching! Here, there’s stuff about alien races, blood, rare earths and corporate conspiracies that only delay the appearance of monsters or robots, which are the entire reason you bought the ticket in the first place.
On a final note: Please, studios and filmmakers, when releasing sequels, please make the subtitle memorable in its own right. Imagine if people only said “Uprising,” would anyone know what movie you’re talking about? And it’s exhausting to cycle through, trying to remember if this one is Redemption, Revelations or Origins.
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
A Wrinkle in Time, Black Panther, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Game Night, Love, Simon, Nine to Five, Ready Player One, Sherlock Gnomes, Tomb Raider
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213 z
Days in Entebbe, A Wrinkle in Time, Black Panther, The Greatest Showman, I Can Only Imagine, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Love, Simon, Midnight Sun, Paul, Apostle of Christ, Peter Rabbit, Ready Player One, Red Sparrow, Sherlock Gnomes, The Strangers: Prey at Night, Tomb Raider, Unsane
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
A Fantastic Woman, A Wrinkle in Time, Annihilation, Black Panther, Game Night, Love, Simon, The Party, Red Sparrow, Sherlock Gnomes, Tomb Raider, Unsane