Monsters outshine the cast in Pacific Rim Uprising

Pacific Rim: Uprising stars John Boyega (far left) and Scott Eastwood.
Pacific Rim: Uprising stars John Boyega (left) and Scott Eastwood.PHOTO: UIP

REVIEW / SCIENCE FICTION ACTION

PACIFIC RIM:UPRISING (PG13)

113 minutes/Now showing/3 stars

The story: A decade after the events of the last movie, with the Breach closed, humanity is repairing the damage. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of Stacker, the jaeger pilot who helped close the Breach, refuses the mantle passed on to him. But when there are signs of new kaiju activity, Jake has to decide between hiding and working with former pilot colleague Nate (Scott Eastwood) and new friend Shao (Jing Tian), a scientist.

The first movie, Pacific Rim (2013), was a popcorn flick with arthouse flourishes. There was the rugged blonde hero and creature-mashing action, but remember the surreal Hong Kong baby-monster slapstick comedy interlude? What about the stylised, cartoon-like tone, the maudlin father-daughter dramatics and the awkward cross-culture romance between the hero (Charlie Hunnam) and the Japanese pilot (Rinko Kikuchi)?

Chalk that up to director Guillermo del Toro's love affair with Asian science-fiction and action cinema. He is executive producer on the sequel, but the weirdness he introduced - and which, many say, led to the movie's poor performance in the United States - has been stripped away.

The result is a lot leaner, yes, and without the odd tangents, it feels a lot less sluggish. It also helps that the new movie is about 20 minutes shorter than the previous one.

Now streamlined, and boasting brighter, clearer battle scenes that do not lean on fog and water to camouflage the digital look, the new movie, under the hand of American helmer Steven DeKnight, conforms much more to the standard science-fiction template.

The problem is that stripping away the strangeness exposes everything that is mundane and derivative, and that is the problem that exists here.

 

Breathing life into characters in an ensemble is tricky. Some movies do it well (Saving Private Ryan, 1998) and others are awful at it (47 Ronin, 2013) - del Toro's attempt in Pacific Rim produced spotty results. DeKnight does a fairly decent job in Uprising, firstly by giving pilots and crew a range of ages and ethnicities, but no character is particularly memorable or interesting past the first glance.

The standout here are the kaiju-jaeger battles. Oddly for a sequel, there are fewer of them here than in the original movie, but they go on for longer and the martial arts styles and weapons used are more visually interesting.

In fact, the kaiju themselves, in their bizarre characteristics and highly imaginative use of bio-weapons, are more interesting as characters than the jaeger pilots. When these neon-coloured and outlandishly limbed creatures bite the dust, as they all must, the pang felt is far more intense than one felt for a pilot's demise.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Monsters outshine the cast'. Print Edition | Subscribe