Review: ‘Pacific Rim Uprising’

dfn-pacific_rim_uprising-300Big, dumb, fast and loud, Pacific Rim Uprising is everything you might expect from a sequel that feels like it was willed into existence by corporate executives desperate to make a profit with someone else’s money.

No one on the face of the Earth needed this film and there is no external evidence that anyone who worked on the film had a burning creative desire to make it, either. Still, those of us who work in widget factories probably don’t have a burning desire to make widgets, either, but if we’re conscientious about it, we can probably make a pretty darn good approximation of a widget, one that will please our bosses, lure potential buyers to purchase one before they realize they don’t really need another widget, and possibly turn a profit and enable us to keep our job making widgets.

And so we have Pacific Rim Uprising, a sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, which pitted giant robots versus giant monsters in a desperate attempt to stave off a worldwide apocalypse. At its heart, del Toro’s movie recreated Japanese monster movies of the 1950s and 60s in a somewhat fresh and somewhat twisted manner, which made it very enjoyable to watch.

Director Steven S. DeKnight, working from a screenplay credited to himself, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin, is a seasoned veteran of the genre wars. After starting with MTV’s zippy Undressed series, he gained experience writing for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Smallville, moved on to a couple of Spartacus spin-off series before developing Daredevil as a series for Marvel and Netflix.

Although Pacific Rim Uprising is his feature directorial debut, he has helmed several of his episodic shows over the years and clearly knows what is expected. Thus, the new film is as creatively satisfying as any of the sequels to Gojira (1954), which is to say, not very.

But fun? Yes, Pacific Rim Uprising is a lot of fun to watch. Watching an early battle sequence convinced me that: (a) they spent far too much money on the visual effects; and (b) I’m glad they spent all that money on visual effects. The film’s very reason for existence is tied up in those effects and the spectacle of giant robots fighting giant robots (and also giant monsters, eventually) and destroying giant cities.

Japan gets the brunt of the destruction, and a quick conclusion could be fairly drawn that all Japanese people (and buildings) are expendable in this film. Of course, all Japanese people were also expendable in Gojira and its many sequels and spin-offs, but that feels OK because in those cases, it was almost entirely Japanese filmmakers who were destroying their own (fake) country and fellow citizens.

So it’s difficult to throw off entirely the vanquishing of Japan — or, at least, one giant city there — but, really, let’s be honest: some city must be fictionally destroyed in order to satisfy the demands of the genre, and we (barely) see anyone suffering. Oh, when one character is killed, another character is visibly moved for a few minutes, but then it’s onward and upward with the action.

On a more visceral, much more juvenile level, I was entirely satisfied by Pacific Rim Uprising. John Boyega plays a version of himself that is upbeat and full of self-deprecating wit, Scott Eastwood plays a version of himself that is made of solid wood, young Cailee Spaeny plays a short young woman who is full of vim and vigor, Charlie Day is as annoying as always (which I think is intentional) and Tian Jing gets to show leadership skills and a welcome edge of determined evil.

Pacific Rim Uprising is even more satisfying if you go to a matinee screening and pay less money, as I did at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson this morning. If you go, make sure it’s to a theater that will play the film as loudly as possible.

The film is now playing in many theaters throughout Dallas and Fort Worth.