Pacific Rim: Uprising – review: Headbanging havoc as John Boyega saves the world

When armageddon beckons, it's time to strap up and enjoy the ride

Geoffrey Macnab
Tuesday 20 March 2018 21:02

As a cinemagoing experience, Pacific Rim: Uprising is the equivalent of being clattered over the head with a pair of dustbin lids for close on two hours. This is crash, bang, wallop filmmaking par excellence. Once you get used to the decibel level, the incomprehensible plot and the constant trail of destruction the giant robots leave in their wake, it is more pleasurable than you might expect.

The new film is a follow up to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013). Del Toro serves as producer alongside the star, Britain’s very own John Boyega. Of all the humans in the film, Boyega, playing Jake Pentecost, comes out just about the best. He gets to show off the same mix of heroism and humour that make him so likeable in Star Wars. Early on, he is the delinquent rebel type. However, once the world is threatened in earnest by the evil Kaijus, he does sterling work for the Pan Pacific Defence Corps and shows all his leadership qualities.

There is lots of hopping between continents. We begin in Santa Monica, which has turned into a dystopian wilderness. Jake is a wheeler-dealer and petty criminal, seemingly very different from his heroic dad (played by Idris Elba in the original film). Through some very contrived plot twists, he is thrown together with Amara (Cailee Spaeny), a scrappy and tough talking youngster who never does what she is told and has somehow taught herself enough engineering skills to build her own Jaeger (as the robots are called). Her family died years before.

In the course of the film, we take in China, Japan and even the frozen wilderness (where the robot giants fight it out in the ice).

Whenever battle is commenced, the Jaegers and their adversaries knock down buildings, bridges and roads as if they’re all made of powder. Incongruously, at even the most apocalyptic moments, the humans operating the robots look as if they’re on running machines, enjoying an afternoon in the gym. In one scene, as a helicopter falls from the sky, we see Boyega in his Jaeger diving to catch it, seeming for all the world like a cricketer in the slips desperately trying to reach a ball that has come off a thick edge.

Director Steven S DeKnight assumes that everyone has seen the first film. “My generation, we were born into war” is about all we get by way of contextualisation. The violence is deliberately very cartoonish indeed. So are the performances. As the perhaps sinister Dr Newt Geiszler, working at Shao Industries, Charlie Day behaves as if he is a villain in an Austin Powers spoof. We are never quite sure what is wrong with him. Apparently, the “precursors” may have injected his mind when he was “drifting with the Kaiju.” (This explanation doesn’t clarify much at all). Burn Gorman plays Dr. Hermann Gottlieb in traditional mad scientist mode, limping, grimacing, and always looking for “Eureka!” and “Hey presto!” moments.

Scott Eastwood is cast as Nate Lambert, the square-jawed commander at the Pan Pacific Defence Corps. There is bad blood between him and Jake but we know that when Armageddon beckons, they’ll both strap up together and operate one of the Jaegers (which need two people at the controls). They’re also in charge of training the new recruits.

At one point in the film, a gigantic reptile lays waste to Tokyo and then slithers off in the direction of Mount Fuji. This is a spiritual Japanese landmark that has featured in several recent films, often about characters who get lost in the suicide forests at the bottom of the mountain. The creature, though, has no intention of killing itself.

“We are a family now and we are earth’s last defence,” is the rallying cry as the final battle beckons. “Help me save the world…let’s do this!” Such lines sum up the innate absurdity of the project. Clearly, little of its reported $150 million budget has been spent on plot or character development. Still, if you like films that are very noisy, very brash and have storylines that revolve around prolonged meaningless wrecking sprees, Pacific Rim: Uprising won’t let you down. It has a likeable, tongue in cheek quality that you don’t find in Michael Bay’s horribly bombastic Transformers movies. And amid all the general headbanging havoc, Boyega lends a human touch. He is not taking the film too seriously and nor should we.

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