It’s been nearly 5 years since the release of Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi extravaganza Pacific Rim. Despite some setbacks its sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising, has finally arrived. It is a continuation of the original story, takes place 10 years later and centers on Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of Stacker (Idris Elba), the original’s fallen hero. There are some holdovers from the original (namely Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), but with a Steven S. DeKnight directing instead of del Toro (del Toro, though, stayed on as producer) this follow-up comes with a different vibe.

Jake provides narration during the prologue, catching audiences up on the state of the world. Earth is safer since the portal that brought the Kaiju (giant monsters who run amok destroying everything) to our planet closed. The global economy is up and the need for Jaegers (the giant robots which humans created and developed to fight the Kaiju) is down. Jake mentions he’s not like his father since Jake is seen selling unused Jaeger parts on the black market. But when he’s caught stealing those parts he’s given an option from his adoptive sister Mako Mori (Kikuchi) to either serve jail time or rejoin as an instructor the Jaeger program he deserted.

Jake’s return brings back a difficult past he would rather forget – he comes face-to-face with his former co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and Jules Reyes (Adria Arjona), the woman who came between Jake and Nate. Along for the ride is Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a teenage loner who aspires to be a Jaeger pilot and has vast knowledge of how to build them. Even though Jake told audiences that Earth has been peaceful for the past 10 years, the time has come for the Kaiju to return and run amok again.

Let’s begin with the bad – Uprising is a typical sequel. It’s bigger and louder than the first and DeKnight jettisoned subplots (midstory, mind you) and emotional content. With del Toro foregoing directing duties that lack of depth was to be expected, but depending on what you’re looking for in a big budget blockbuster it could be good or bad. Fans of del Toro’s approach will likely besmirch this approach, whereas those looking for a lot of Kaiju buttkicking should be happy with DeKnight’s offering.

I happen to love Guillermo del Toro and although I enjoy tentpole films with depth I personally wasn’t wowed with those attempts in the original Pacific Rim. For example, since Jaegers need to be piloted simultaneously by two people, both pilots have to tap into each other’s minds in order to properly command a Jaeger. That meant del Toro was free to explore the psyches of his characters, namely Mako’s. Mako had difficulty opening up to others (even on a casual level), so opening up her mind was beyond comprehension. But Mako had the potential to be the program's greatest Jaeger pilot, and if Stacker and Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) were able to break through Mako would be the key to defeating the Kaiju.

The concept of “drifting” (syncing two minds to pilot a Jaeger) is completely avoided – DeKnight touches upon the importance of working together as a team by having Jake and Nate give speeches to the cadets. But it didn’t go any deeper than that. DeKnight also skipped the love triangle between Jake, Nate and Jules – it was wasteful to set that up only to completely dump it. In addition, Amara seemed as if she would follow the same subplot as Mako, but outside her memorable introduction; a love and knowledge for Jaegers (there’s a scene in which she names the giant robots like a child naming off every professional athlete); and a spat with a fellow trainee (can't we evolve past girls being catty towards each other?), she’s barely around to make a major impact until the final act.

Speaking of the third act, the finale is one giant battle involving a mega-Kaiju, four Jaegers and Mt. Fuji. Call it a race or call it a fight, but essentially the Jaegers have to stop the biggest Kaiju ever from destroying the planet.

From a technical standpoint Uprising doesn’t look as sharp as its predecessor. That likely has to do with the slightly smaller budget - $150-175 million compared to the original’s $190 million. The visuals are still outstanding but the Jaegers lack detail, the monsters look more crude and it looked more like an anime than live-action.

Despite having many of the blockbuster/sequel tropes, I enjoyed myself more than I did the original. Uprising benefits from not needing exposition, so more time and effort can be focused on the giant monsters and robots. It suffers from not following through on many of the subplots it introduces, and it doesn’t offer more than just spectacle in regards to its action sequences, but it is mindless fun and the perfect film to watch on a big screen. I will forever be thankful for Guillermo del Toro's artistic approach but in the end all I want are big ass monsters fighting big ass robots – just the way nature intended!

3 stars out of 5

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