“Why is this movie being made?” is a question I’ve asked myself and many others ramping up to Uprising. The first film did poorly in the US by tentpole standards, relying on its excellent overseas intake (specifically in China) to make its huge budget back with a bit of profit on the side. It was Del Toro’s love letter to kaiju films, but didn’t end up a favorite for moviegoers at large, or for some die-hard fans of the genre, either (myself included).
To make matters more confusing, gut reactions have not been kind to Uprising‘s ad campaign. The trailers we’ve seen have been abysmal, toting cartoonish, Transformers-esque sequel fodder no one asked for with some of the worst musical choices and cues in recent memory. How would something that looked like this have anything to offer to the Pacific Rim canon? In what way would it be a worthwhile risk for Legendary, Universal, and/or audiences?
Watching that trailer again is an awful experience. It pushes itself into your brain as a hollow, borderline-parody of its predecessor. The final product is neither of these things – and far exceeds expectations set by such poor marketing. Turns out, it seems, that “this movie was being made” because there are still stories worth telling in this universe.
Uprising is honestly, well, good!
The first thing to do is drop the modern mentality that every ticket purchase guarantees a masterpiece. I’ve read dozens of reviews so far comparing this film and the original to Del Toro’s most recent Oscar-sweeping work The Shape of Water. In no world are these similar films, nor should every film be cerebral or ponderous. Movies are here to challenge us, yes, but also to entertain. And Uprising entertains!
John Boyega is in top form here. The writing for and delivery of his Jake Pentecost is miles better than anything offered as Finn in the Star Wars sequels. His jokes land, his confidence and swagger works, and he seems much more apt to give a true-to-life performance in his native British accent. Sure, I don’t remember a single mention of Pentecost (his father) having a son in the original film, but perhaps it wasn’t pertinent to that plot. Either way, this is the best time I’ve had watching Boyega since Attack on the Block, and he carries the film as an empathetic leading man worth investing in.
It’s hard to discuss other newcomers to the series and their characters without getting into spoilers, but rest assured that the actors are not a problem this entry has. Even the typically wooden Scott Eastwood ends up someone you’ll want to root for, and newcomer Cailee Spaeny is a main focus for the film despite being almost completely left out of the ad campaign. She adds just enough youth and fire to the ensemble without becoming the “spunky teen smartmouth” stereotype, and with her fellow cadets will hopefully entice a whole younger generation to tap into kaiju as a genre.
Returning to the series are three main characters/actors from the first film: Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), Newt (Charlie Day), and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). We see a semblance of a relationship form with Boyega’s Jake and Kikuchi’s “big sis” Mako, but Jake not having a presence in the original makes for much less dramatic impact for their dynamic. Newt and Gottlieb, however, steal the show once more with their own brands of kaiju and jaeger science that further the mythos in great ways while also keeping the sequel lively and above all: surprising.
There are not one but several twists in Uprising that no one in the theater saw coming, and this is largely due to the aforementioned abysmal ad campaign. After seeing the film, it makes a bit of sense now: Universal didn’t want to spoil the entire movie through trailers as so many have been recently. Why they chose to accomplish this by offering Legendary’s work as another throwaway giant-robot punch’em’up is anyone’s guess.
What we are treated to instead is a giant robot vs giant monster movie that delivers on both accounts. Unlike the first film, the Jaegers are the true focus and star of the show here, which was definitely the right move. Their designs, execution, and utterly cool-as-hell combat styles will have you grinning a mile wide. Lots of new tech and weaponry are on display, and it all makes for some truly epic action that scales far better than the trailers would have you believe. The kaiju may be a bit overshadowed by this, but that’s okay, as their designs have never been unique enough from one another to truly stand out as entities the way the Jaegers do. That is, until the big-bad shows up. The final boss kaiju for Uprising is by far the best monster produced for the series so far, and his reveal is as unique as it is terrifically framed. Massive credit for this must be given to director Steven S. DeKnight, as the action is all phenomenally choreographed, shot, edited, animated – and flows so beautifully and brutally from scene to scene that it alone has me rooting for a third entry in the series.
Regardless of whether you’re in it for robots, the actors, the actions, escapism, or the kaiju (and it is kaiju plural, no “s”), the two rows of press members surrounding me had the exact same smile on their face during and after that I did, and the general audience for this screening was along for the entire ride – which is the important part. This is what matters. Here’s to hoping other critics translate that brisk experience into truthful recounts of a movie worth enjoying, instead of picking it apart for the occasional plot hole, clunky exposition dialogue, or an ending scene that, yes, could’ve been stronger.
The horrible missteps made with musicality in the trailers is also, I am thrilled to report, absent from the film which, thanks to composers John Paesano and Lorne Balfe, adds a terrific amount to the proceedings.
With that in mind – Comparatively, let’s take a look at how Uprising is sitting reaction-wise so far, thanks to Google:
Not bad, right? Certainly not terrible, but also not stellar – which is right where the film should rest. It’s a great example of what it aims to be: an entertaining flick about giant robots and monsters punching the $#!+ out of each other – which is thankfully void of cringe-inducing tropes making it a worthwhile venture.
Now, let’s stack that up against a similarly budgeted, non-summer tentpole out right now, Tomb Raider:
Helps put it in perspective, right? What about the original Pacific Rim and Legendary’s most recent kaiju effort, Kong: Skull Island?
And to really drive it home, an enormous tentpole film from the past half-year that is an actual bad film:
The point is – if Uprising were what the trailers project, it’d have scores along the lines of Justice League’s cobbled, jumbled, depressingly off the mark mess. Instead, it’s right up there with Legendary’s other kaiju offerings, and just as fun as KONG or the original Pacific Rim, and definitely more fun than the dreary (but still great) GODZILLA 2014.
Don’t judge this one by critics for big-name outlets that expect every film ever to be a life-giving soirée of endless cultural value. And this is a harder request, given the purpose of trailers, but don’t judge it by those, either -as they’re terrible – and Uprising is far from terrible.
If you were worried about a sequel that would pale in comparison to the original, don’t be. If you’re worried that this will, in some way, be as immeasurably crass and irrelevant as the Transformers sequels, don’t be. Above all, if you’re looking for a really great giant monster movie where the final battle takes place in the one location that will make all kaiju fans scream “#*%@ YES!” – then this is your movie.