If you notice that there are way too many united colors of Asians in this sequel to the 2013 original blockbuster hit, you’d be right.
That you may notice, among those of our Eastern brethren, that the Mandarin speaking parts and on-screen time is dominated by Chinese actor Jing Tian Liwen as Shao, CEO of Shao Industries who wants to replace the manned, giant robot Jaegers into a remote-piloted drone program, you’d get plus points for being observant.
If you also happen to notice that this Steven S. DeKnight–directed sequel is spectacularly underwritten, crashing like a hormonal bull without stakes in the (sometimes literal) China shop, and heavily reliant on the knuckle-dragging, eye-bleed CGI action, we’d give you a ticker tape parade complete with San Miguel Pales at the end of this mindless two hours-plus robot-thon.
After the big heart, breakneck story, and tenderly crafted homage to the genre of the first movie, DeKnight has made the mythos and world of the Kajiu-invasion versus the Jaeger Corps something disposable, inconsequential, and worst of all cloyingly commercial.
The reason for the prominence of the Chinese character Shao is easy. Legendary Pictures was recently sold to the Chinese Wanda Group for US$3.5 billion, and entertainment insiders were quick to note that Pacific Rim 2's production would likely be revitalized with this new cash infusion because the first movie was such a big hit China. So was World of Warcraft. Go figure.
No problem, Great Wall was pretty decent and don’t get us wrong about mechas and the big robot genre, we love them and grew up on Robotech, Gundam, Transformers, and Macross like most 90s Pinoy kids. And who doesn’t like seeing a giant Godzilla get punched in the face by a 300-foot metal humanoid? But there’s something to be said about the kind ruination of childhood memories that Michael Bay’s slick and empty style has inflicted on the beloved series and Uprising can now add itself to the count of that odious trend. Congratulations, Mr. DeKnight, you’ve managed to fuck up Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece into something gaudy and ornamental.
The premise starts out promising enough. It’s been 10 years since the Battle of the Breach and the valiant closing of the portals by the heroes of that era. In an Earth in the throes of a rebuilding, we find former Jaeger pilot Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Kaiju War hero Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) partying, chilling with the post-apocalypse generation, and generally making a living through criminal means.
In his one heist to steal and sell Jaeger parts on the black market, he is caught and arrested by the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps. As he tries to avoid arrest, Jake encounters orphan whiz-kid and DIY engineer Jaeger bootlegger Amara (Cailee Spaeny) who’s built a mini-jaeger called Scrapper. They both get caught and end up in pilot school.
It’s Amara’s first time to interact with kids almost her age, recruited involuntarily into cadet service, but with Jake, it’s literally a familial and familiar mess. Turns out our reluctant hero has an estranged sister in the person of the first movie’s Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchil), now in charge of the whole Jaeger program and sporting a general’s suit on her admin role as a hero of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. Mako gives him one last chance to live up to their adoptive father’s legacy: Jake must train and lead a brave new generation of pilots that have grown up in the shadow of the Kaiju war.
Among those reprising their roles for visual comfort of the old fans are Charlie Day as the upbeat and resident comedic relief Dr. Newton "Newt" Geiszler and his former nerd partner Burn Gorman as the bumbling but brilliant Dr. Hermann Gottlieb. By and large though this cast of Jaeger pilots is dominated by teens, tweens, and quite a few adults whose names and fates you won’t remember or give a damn about as the few plot twists roll out—except maybe for the brief appearances of the gorgeous Eiza Gonzales as a military functionary.
In between the attempts at emotive team-building and hormone-charged conflict to ensure some kind of across the board demographic appeal are plenty of flash whiz bang beatdowns against fellow Jaegers in a paper villain setup where Shao Industries tries to make its bid to take the pilots out of the Jaegers in favor of the drone program.
It’s also an opportunity to present the new Jaeger line in the sleek and spiffy nomenclature of names like Gipsy Avenger (oh, hello new Gypsy Danger), Saber Athena, Bracer Phoenix, and Guardian Bravo that are full of sound and fury but signify exactly nothing. Sure, Amara briefly lists down their names and one unique attribute in a fit of Jaeger nerdism but nobody bothered to write in any decent context on their abilities, weapons features, or even the differences in their damn paint jobs. Oh, but you’ll get all that in the, wait for it, new market for Jaeger action figures coming out a few days after the film’s release.
We breathed a sigh of relief when the Kaiju finally came out and engaged with the Jaegers but since we expected more out of this exhibition—you know, since the first movie set the bar high with story and actual filmmaking flair—even John Boyega’s high-grade charisma exploding off the screen like its own elbow-rocket fueled punch can’t distract us from how hollow it all is.
There will be a time when all we’ll want from a robots vs monsters schlockfest is to behold martial arts robots battling rampaging Godzillas and that’ll be enough. But not today. Uprising makes us feel like that time we find out the empanada we just bit into only has half the mat filling, and is mostly air.
Excuse me, Mr. Del Toro, we would like another cancellation of the apocalypse, please.
Pacific Rim Uprising is showing in Philippine cinemas on Black Saturday, March 31