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 Jaeger Bomb 

John Boyega
John Boyega
Universal Pictures
 111 Minutes
Directed bySteven S. DeKnight
Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood 
Pacific Rim: Uprising

Here is a start-to-finish list of everything that the new sequel Pacific Rim Uprising gets right: John Boyega. Caillee Spaeny. John Boyega. No, that isn’t a misprint or a computer glitch that erased a chunk of this review. John Boyega demonstrates that his success in the Star Wars franchise was no fluke or one-hit wonder, and newcomer Spaeny makes the best of a highly clichéd role. Other than those two performances, however, Pacific Rim Uprising gets just about everything else imaginable wrong, in the process making Guillermo del Toro’s rather mediocre original look like an Oscar winner (something of which del Toro now has firsthand knowledge).


The original Pacific Rim was Guillermo del Toro’s take on the Transformers genre, pitting giant Godzilla-style monsters called Kaiju against equally giant, Transformer-style robots called Jaegers (immediately bringing to mind a number of alcoholic beverage comparisons). The robots operated by means of two human pilots who had to mind meld together in order to operate each robot, which was crammed full of weaponry to blast the monsters to bits. It was as silly as it sounds, but a lively cast featuring Idris Elba and Ron Perlman, along with del Toro’s touch in the action scenes, made it generally tolerable. This time around, however, del Toro is gone, Perlman is gone, Elba is gone, and in their places are Steven S. DeKnight, whose experience consists of directing a grand total of seven television episodes, Scott Eastwood, and Boyega. Only the last of these tradeoffs can be considered an even swap.


Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, son of Elba’s character in the original film. Jake dropped out of the Jaeger pilot program after the first film and now, ten years later, makes a living scavenging for salvageable relics in the suburban Los Angeles wasteland left behind from the earlier Kaiju attacks. When the authorities catch up to him and scrappy street urchin Amara (Spaeny), who is also scavenging for relics, Jake agrees to rejoin the program while, at the same time, Amara becomes a pilot cadet. And it’s a good thing that Jake and Amara return to the fold, because an unknown enemy seizes control of some of the Jaegers and causes them to turn against the military’s machines, managing to destroy almost all of Earth’s defenses along the way. That same unknown enemy also manages to let some more Kaiju loose, who, in true Japanese monster movie fashion, make way for Tokyo and a battle royal with the remaining Jaegers. Among the few pilots in their way are Jake, his friendly rival Nate (Eastwood) and a bunch of cadets pressed into service.


Despite the fact that the Jaeger “pilots” are moving around inside 50-foot tall robots, Jake, Nate, Amara, and their buddies are no different from the zillions of other pilots in war movies from Wings to Top Gun. Amara is the outsider trying to fit in with the established cadets and beset with uncertainty whether she’s good enough or not. Taking it up a notch to the established pilot level, Jake has to deal with the baggage of his relationship with his late father and his guilt feelings for not being around during the initial movie, while his rivalry with Nate disappears the minute they need each other in combat.


Of course, not every character in Pacific Rim Uprising is a total cliché. Charlie Day is back, reprising his role as a somewhat goofy scientist from the first movie. His character proves to be rather more than he lets on in the first place, but that’s definitely not a good thing. It means that viewers are exposed to more of Day’s excruciatingly annoying on-screen demeanor, an experience akin to listening to fingernails dragged across a chalkboard for a half hour at a time. Day manages to do something that I had not believed possible for an actor who has a reasonable sizable resume: he is a painful distraction in every film in which he appears, so much so that I was actively rooting for his demise in one of the big set piece battles.


Pacific Rim Uprising does deliver on the action, at least in quantity, if not in quality. There are major showdowns in both Sydney and Tokyo (leading to a finale on the slopes of Mount Fuji), as well as a couple of other battle sequences as well. And I have to say that, at least on a conceptual level, the idea of 50-foot-tall rock-em sock-em robots running around and using flaming swords on each other (as in the clip below) does appeal to the youngster in most moviegoers. That inner amiable goofiness was a large part of the original film’s appeal.


Pacific Rim Uprising keeps the concept intact but completely messes up the execution. While watching 50-foot-tall robots run around is kind of fun, watching six-foot-tall humans run around in giant hamster balls and wave their arms around to simulate throwing punches and swordplay is downright ridiculous. But that’s what director DeKnight does, time and time again: cut away from his action for several seconds of footage of his actors humiliating themselves. These cut-ins completely destroy the flow of the fight scenes in favor of reminding the audience none too subtly just how silly these fight scenes are.


Director DeKnight also gets the fight scenes wrong from a technical standpoint as well. Free of any need of having to accommodate the limitations of human actors in any of these scenes, he could have simply let the battle rage on. Instead, he chooses too tight shots with the wrong camera angles to portray the action. A close-up of a fist headed towards but not connecting with a robot’s head, followed by a cut to an arm flying backwards as the robot is hit. completely fail to establish the perspective of the scene. CGI action work is an art of sorts and requires a director who knows how to handle it so as to choreograph a scene properly. DeKnight completely botches almost every action sequence in Pacific Rim Uprising.


John Boyega took such an interest in this movie that he helped produce it, and, at least on one level, his decision was rewarded. Pacific Rim Uprising will probably serve as his Raiders of the Lost Ark, a movie that cements his reputation as an A-list action star even when he leaves the Star Wars universe. In addition, Caillee Spaeny makes a case for herself as the new spunky teen. But two good performances in roles that don’t really demand good performances do not redeem a bad film. In every other way imaginable, Pacific Rim Uprising is a complete mess, so much so that the only uprising in theaters will be that of unlucky ticket buyers headed for the exits.  

In this scene, two Jaegers battle each other.

Read other reviews of Pacific Rim: Uprising: 

Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) on IMDb