Pacific Rim 2: Kaiju Boogaloo!

I saw Pacific Rim: Uprising with The Wages of Cinema’s Jack Gattanella. We managed to neural handshake into a shorter than usual podcast review. Then I made this drone-Jaeger review that’s secretly infested with spoilers! Or as many as you can have for a sequel to a homage of multiple anime & tonkatsu tokusatsu. Giant robot suits punch giant monsters! Will you rise up to scroll down, or are you writing this off as PR Nightmare? At the very end there’s more lamentations about the demise of Toys R Us.

Unlike how the Tomb Raider reboot left room for potential sequels to expand, the first Pacific Rim tied everything up with a big bow. Since it breezed through the start of the Kaiju-Jaeger War during its prologue, it even felt like the best sequel in a nonexistent franchise. Pacific Rim: Uprising has to devote a big chunk of of screentime reestablishing the Kaiju threat. It ends with a threat of more Kaiju to come, but a third movie would have to reset again as this ends with another definitive defeat for them. This isn’t a great strategy if they intend to make more installments.

Although there have been no incursions for a decade, the Jaeger Industrial Complex remains too big to fail. New Jaegers that can be operated by individual pilots remotely are presented as a commentary on drone warfare, although cities are going to be destroyed regardless of whether a pilot is physically inside. At least drones resolve the drift compatibility issue. Not as much time is spent on smuggling in battle ravaged cities as the trailers implied. Unfortunately the return to Jaeger academy is full of stock conflict filler between mecha slugfests.

The first half is all Jager vs. Jager fights, which are well staged but not why I bought a ticket. The one major improvement over the first is that all the fights are set during daylight instead of rainy night. Their violation of Galileo’s Square-Cube Law carries over. Gipsy Avenger has a nifty anti-gravity lasso! Rookie movie director Stephen DeKnight & John Boyega helped choreograph the balletic mayhem of the final battle by playing with toys! (Guillermo Del Toro chose to make The Shape of Water instead, which is honestly a better use of his talents.) Maybe they used the NECA toys of the first film that appear as set dressing? (Diamond Select Toys, Tamashii Nations, & Bandai have the licenses this time.)

John Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, the disgraced maverick hustler who rises to the occasion. He has so much fun he makes the role bearable. Making him Stacker “my name is as absurd as a Jaeger’s” Pentecost’s son was inspired casting. You’re more likely to remember Scott Eastwood here than in Suicide Squad if only because he’s got a prominent role this time. He plays along wooden type as the Cyclops of Jaeger pilots. Cailee Spaeny outclasses him as the teen prodigy who single-handedly builds a turtle-esque Jaeger named Scrapper. (It’s unique for having a one word name to match its single pilot.) Ivanna Sakhno plays a Russian Jaeger cadet with a chip on her shoulder who looks eerily like a mini-Black Widow disguised as Yelena Belova during Infinity War. She’s part of Bracer Phoenix’s three pilot crew, yet she manually fires its torso artillery instead of being a necessary third of its neural handshake? The two cadets with the least characterization pilot the coolest Jaeger, Saber Athena, to compensate. Tian Jing cuts an imposing figure as drone obsessed mogul who’s effective as a red herring since 95% of the contrary evidence is offscreen. Mechanic Adria Arjona picks up the role of Schrödinger’s love interest.

There’s not enough of returning fan favorites like Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori.  Boo to fridging her! Why couldn’t she & Jake pilot Gipsy Avenger as a sister-brother duo instead? The Drs. Gottlieb & Geiszler (Burn Gorman & Charlie Day) duo fare better, although they’re separated for most of the film. They get a riff on The Winter Soldier elevator fight, but sadly don’t hook up & pilot a Jaeger together. My favorite scene is when Geiszler returns to his apartment to mindmeld with a disembodied alien brain in a jar scored to Foreigner. Oh, it turns out this process has turned him into a double agent for the Kaiju. So that puts a big crimp in the ship of these science bros sailing. The specter of Hannibal Chau searching for his lost shoe looms large. (This really would’ve benefited from Ron Perlman as a spooky ghost, although what movie wouldn’t?)

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“And why was he named after a weight loss supplement?”

Somehow Geizler acquired spare Kaiju brains to inset into the drone-Jaegers & outfitted them with beams that open portals to their dimension. Shao Industries is negligent at quality control! Sadly the three Kaiju that emerge are not as distinct as those of the prior movie. We don’t even see their secondary attacks before they combine into one big one (much like the four screenwriters that conjoined to write this movie). It’s kind of a “Make my monster grow!” moment aided by more really convenient unexplained technology. Charlie Day gives good Rita Repulsa because you do not cast this man for subtlety. What took the Kaiju so long to attack Mt. Fuji if that was supposedly their plan since the beginning of the war?

This feels even more like a love letter to Power Rangers & similar tokusatsu than the first. A decade of tech advancements allow the Jaegers to move more fluidly like actors in vivid costumes. The cast is young, fights are bright, & physics remain dubious. This is not necessarily a negative, although I wish the screenplay had less cliche military tropes. The overall effect makes it feel lightweight, but I prefer that to it trying to be high art via solemn grimdarkness. Considering how dopey Pacific Rim could be at times, evoking a kid friendly television series isn’t that jarring a downgrade in quality. The action is as good or even better than the first’s despite the stuff betwixt being more forgettable. The original Pacific Rim is the superior movie, but Pacific Rim: Uprising is a fun candidate for a rainy day matinee.

Toys R Us founder Charles Lazarus died shortly before his creation did because fate is cruel. OAFE’s “The Killing of a Sacred Giraffe” sums up how predatory capitalism killed the company. (Management didn’t help either. Maybe they would’ve been wiser if competing toy stores hadn’t gone extinct earlier.) And here are some anecdotes from a veteran of two TRU stores. I hope you like decreased consumer options! More depressing tidbits to come as this story progresses. My latest liquidation era receipts still have survey invitations to for a $500 gift card, so there’s no better odds of winning than now!

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