‘Uprising’ is a failed cash grab

Gone is the heart and charm of the first film, replaced with obnoxiously bad and incessant exposition, subplots and characters.

By George Haerle

For The Daily World

Well, not every blockbuster can spawn a successful franchise.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is a disappointing and uninspired sequel to the loads-of-fun original. Where the first “Pacific Rim” was popcorn-fueled escapism with the right amount of corn but the care and craft of a master filmmaker, “Uprising” seems to be an attempt to turn it into direct competition to the terrible “Transformers” films. Gone is the heart and charm of the first film’s world-building and grim atmosphere, replaced with obnoxiously bad and incessant exposition, subplots and characters.

The first film followed the war between humanity and the Godzilla-sized alien invaders called the Kaiju. The human race built equally massive, pilotable robots called Jaegers to fight the monstrous doom-bringers.

Taking place 10 years later, the far less interesting “Uprising” follows a world more stabilized — mostly recovered from the previous war, but preparing for the possibility of another one should the Kaiju ever return. When a rogue Jaeger suddenly poses a threat to the world’s defense forces, it’s up to Jake Pentacost (John Boyega of “Star Wars”), son of the first film’s Stacker, to stop the Jaeger. He also has to figure out how its acts of terrorism are related to a possible return of the Kaiju.

The film gets a few things right, so it’s not an outright loss so much as a severe, severe disappointment. First is John Boyega. He is the heart and soul in a movie that is pretty hollow and pathetic in execution. His Jake Pentacost actually has a couple layers to him, simply by Boyega’s pure charisma, charm and earnestness.

Second, director Steven DeKnight knows how to make an action scene. The film’s Jaeger vs. Kaiju fights are awesome to watch. Too bad they’re drowned out by an utterly disposable hour of film we don’t care about. There is not one memorable scene in this film aside from the handful of action sequences.

The only other good thing involved with the film is that original director Guillermo del Toro bowed out, opting instead to make last year’s masterpiece “The Shape of Water.” After watching this saltine cracker of a sequel, it’s not hard to see why he chose to make “Water” instead, which netted him the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars this year.

Bogged down by a lot of useless characters and subplots barely even worth mentioning, the film gets dishonorable mentions for its scatterbrained self-identity. It jumps around several story beats that should have been pared down to one or two. It bounces from Jake and his daddy issues, to a group of cadets training at the academy, to Jake’s old Jaeger pilot partner, to a rogue Jaeger on the loose, to a pointless love triangle that goes nowhere, to a corporation trying to manufacture Jaeger drones, to oddball Kaiju science capers, to an apocalyptic return of the Kaiju threat.

The amount of ground the movie tries to cover gives the story and characters no room to breathe in a two-hour film. Nothing is given room to grow — whether it be plot, tension or character development.

And you shouldn’t need a lot to make a fun film with entertaining story and characters; just refer to the first film. The first Pacific Rim wasn’t deep or hugely plot-driven by any means — but the story was entertaining, the world felt authentic, the characters were fun but not too deep, and the massive battles were generous in number. But somehow DeKnight has crammed so much into this film that it somehow manages to feel hollow and forgettable.

The second dishonorable mention is the many terrible — almost laughably bad — performances across the board, but most notably Scott Eastwood’s. As an actor, his entire career so far seems to be hinging on him riding his father Clint’s coattails. His last name may be Eastwood, but an actor he is not. His acting is best described here as having the same amount of life and charisma of a cardboard cutout of himself.

DeKnight, for some reason, seems to have taken to the Michael Bay handbook for making garbage sequels to fighting robot movies, and has made something only slightly better than the awful “Transformers 2.” It’s an obvious cash grab to try to launch a multi-film franchise stemming from a movie that didn’t need it.

The only thing this monster movie will make you want is for Godzilla to show up and burn everything on screen with atomic fire. Now, that would be an awesome sequel.

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“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is currently playing at the Riverside Cinemas, 1017 S. Boone St. in Aberdeen.

George Haerle holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing for media and lives in Cosmopolis.