'Pacific Rim Uprising' Spoiler Review: The Saturday Morning Cartoon Blockbuster Warm-Up We Need

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick...and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Steven S. DeKnight's Pacific Rim Uprising.)

When it was announced that Guillermo del Toro wouldn't be coming back for a sequel to his 2013 sci-fi action adventure Pacific Rim, fans of the original movie were understandably worried. Sure, the idea of giant monsters called kaiju battling against giant pilot-controlled robots sounds like it sells itself, but del Toro brought his signature style and passion for monsters and epic fantastical imagery to bring it to life in spectacular fashion.

Pacific Rim Uprising is certainly not a Guillermo del Toro movie, but it benefits from taking place in a world he created that's rich with mythology. Thankfully, Steven S. DeKnight, along with co-writers Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin, jumps into this sandbox with an engaging expansion of that mythology, advancements of the wild sci-fi concepts introduced in the first movie, some scrappy new characters, and tremendous action sequences that surpass the thrills and excitement of the first film's monstrous battles.

Pacific Rim Aftermath

Pacific Rim Uprising begins by setting the stage for the world we're returning to. It's been 10 years since the events of the first movie. The kaiju haven't returned since then, but that hasn't stopped the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) from being prepared for when they eventually do.

There are more advanced Jaegers equipped with stronger, higher-tech weapons. Some citizens have even taken to tracking down older Jaeger technology to build their own custom Jaegers, and with no kaiju to fight, that leaves the advanced Jaegers to police junkyards and abandoned cities left destroyed by previous battles. However, Jaeger pilots are facing a crisis of their own as the company Shao Industries is trying to create an army of remotely controlled drones to handle the possible return of the kaiju.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has moved on from monsters. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) in particular seems to be living a life like some kind of makeshift sci-fi Scarface. He's not doing kilos of cocaine, but he's partying poolside in a partially destroyed mansion next to the skeleton of a dead kauji, dancing the night away, shaking off hangovers during the day. He's financing his wild days by selling scrapped Jaeger tech to shady individuals on the black market.

Honestly, I could have watched an entire series unfold in a world like this. It's not a post-apocalyptic world since the rest of the globe has far more advanced technology with their own Jaegers fully prepared to take on kaiju. But it's one that is unquestionably changed by the destruction brought by the last kaiju attack.

The world in Pacific Rim Uprising is certainly a departure from that of Pacific Rim. Some negative reviews have touted that it lacks the flair of Guillermo del Toro's rich world building. However, I think the film properly evolves the world because of how the things change after not having to worry about these kaiju attacks for 10 years. It's not unlike the kind of world we see in Independence Day: Resurgence, which doesn't sound like a favorable comparison, but this world makes far more sense and has significantly more style. This is Top Gun meets Pacific Rim in a bright, globally patriotic post-9/11 world where we've grown too complacent with our victory. Defense is more about business than survival. Jaegers look sleek and cool and come equipped with the latest weaponry, but they're still outmatched by their enemy.

A New Surrogate Brother and Sister

I'll be the first to admit that not all the characters work in Pacific Rim Uprising. Specifically, Scott Eastwood is the least charismatic mannequin in a warehouse full of mannequins, and the love triangle that is half-heartedly attempted between his character Nate Lambert, Adria Arjona's character Jules Reyes and John Boyega's Jake Pentecost is a complete dud both romantically and comedically.

But at the same time, Jake Pentecost does have a relationship that works wonderfully, and that's as a surrogate brother to a feisty scrapper named Amara Namani (played by Cailee Spaeny). Their two paths cross when Amara steals a Jaeger power core that Jake was trying to sell to some shady customers. When Jake ends up stumbling upon Amara's tiny, stocky custom Jaeger, appropriately named Scrapper, he ends up being chased by the PPDC, but sees how well Amara handles herself as a pilot, not to mention showing innovation with her little Jaeger by giving it some Sonic the Hedgehog-style rolling capabilities to evade the larger, advanced Jaegers.

John Boyega and Cailee Spaeny have outstanding chemistry in this movie. The fast-talking back and forth these two have when they're at odds upon first meeting is just the beginning of a delightful brother/sister dynamic. Eventually, Jake becomes the brotherly mentor that Amara needs as she struggles with coming to terms with her tragic past (her family was killed in front of her eyes in a kaiju attack), leading her to have a little trouble with authority. But as Jake himself shows, that's exactly what helps her stay strong and makes her one of the best cadets. This dynamic also helps keep an emotional core between characters after Pentecost's adoptive sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) meets her demise.

Furthermore, what I like about the introduction of Amara is how she fits into the expansion of the world's mythology, but will also likely serve to expand upon how the PPDC will proceed when they take their fight to the kaiju instead of waiting for them to come back to Earth yet again. Her custom Jaeger Scarpper shows potential for a team of giant Jaegers and little, more versatile Jaegers that can more effectively battle the kaiju in more ways than just matching their size and strength.

Wild and Crazy Kaiju

Perhaps my favorite element of Pacific Rim Uprising is the escalation of insanity. The prospect of giant piloted robots fighting enormous, city-destroying monsters was already something wild to behold. But the turn the kaiju offensive takes in Pacific Rim Uprising is totally bonkers, and I love everything about it.

Charlie Day's character Newt Geiszler was already a little off-kilter in Pacific Rim. He's described as a kaiju fanatic in the first film by his partner in science Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), and Newt even goes so far as to drift with part of a kaiju brain in order to understand more about where they come from. There are some side effects in the first film, and they turn into a full blown plot twist complete with weirdness that feels straight out of Guillermo del Toro's playbook.

Newt is no longer just Newt. His mind has been corrupted by the hive mentality of kaiju, specifically the Precursors who control the harvested kaiju monsters who are genetically designed to destroy humanity. He even has some kind of virtual sexual relationship with the brain that he drifted with before (The Shape of Kaiju anyone?). That's why he built a rogue Jaeger controlled by a kaiju secondary brain, making the drones designed by Shao Industries more necessary than ever. And that's why he created a backdoor to manipulate the kaiju DNA used to help power these drones to turn them into Jaeger-kaiju hybrids that can create multiple portals around the world to bring even more kaiju to Earth to continue terraforming the planet for their own use.

Yeah, that's all crazy. It's the kind of plan you'd see executed on X-Men: The Animated Series, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, or even a superior iteration of Power Rangers. Some might see that as a slight against the movie, but for me, it's just the natural progression of a movie where the premise was already larger than life and is merely escalated to some next-level, bonkers sci-fi storytelling. It's in the spirit of the movies and TV shows that Pacific Rim was always trying to emulate.

Smash, Crash, Bang, Boom

Finally, at the end of the day, this movie ups the ante on what everyone loved about the first movie: giant monsters vs giant robots. That's what we all came for, and this movie delivers plenty.

What I like most about the action is how it mixes things up from the first movie. We got plenty of scenes featuring the Jaegers fighting various kaiju, and they were magnificently created with visual effects, featuring some incredible, rainy, nighttime action sequences. But when it comes to the action of Pacific Rim Uprising, everything is different. Every action sequence offers something new.

First, we see a tiny custom, rolling Jaeger chased by a giant, advanced Jaeger. And it's not the last time that we see some Jaeger vs Jaeger action because a rogue Jaeger interrupts the final approval of the new drone Jaeger program, giving us a big, city-smashing battle between two of the most well-equipped Jaegers we've seen in the franchise.

Then there's the arrival of the Jaeger drones that suddenly become kaiju with Jaeger armor thanks to the aforementioned plot twist put into action by Newt. A whole army of Jaegers take on these gnarly hybrids, and it's on par with the best battle sequence from the original movie (the one where Gipsy Danger uses a ship as a weapon).

And finally, we have the final battle featuring four Jaegers piloted by mostly cadets taking on three kaiju. Making this battle even more insane is the fact that Newt, still being controlled by the Precursors, activates these little swarming robots to not only heal the kaiju after being sliced, diced, whipped and beaten by the Jagers, but fuse them into one mega kaiju.

C'mon, how can you not have a fucking blast with this movie?


Pacific Rim Uprising isn't meant to be this groundbreaking piece of cinema, and the action is off the charts crazy as hell. But it's on par with the insanity of the Fast and Furious franchise, with the scale of a Transformers movie, but the endless fun of a Saturday morning cartoon that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's mindless without being stupid, and it's loyal to what came before while also branching out into thoroughly entertaining new territory.