Pacific Rim arrives in cinemas with a fight on its hands. Guillermo Del Toro’s 2014 original was ignored by US audiences, with success in China perhaps the only reason a sequel was greenlit. With Del Toro gone from the director’s seat, and barely any of the cast returning, things looked grim. However, like all good Hollywood underdogs, this follow up has a surprise up its sleeve.
Cementing his star status is Star Wars actor John Boyega, stepping into the spotlight as Jake, the wayward son of Idris Elba’s character from the original (Charlie Hunnam’s character isn’t just missing, he isn’t even mentioned). His sudden existence is explained away with carefully placed exposition – he dropped out as a Jaegar (big robot) pilot just before the events of the original film, and is brought back into the fold just as a threat involving automated drone Jaegars lead to the return of the Kaiju (big monsters).
In short, it’s a lot of action with a hefty helping of redemption sub plots (young actor Cailee Spaeny co-stars as an engineering prodigy Jake befriends on the streets). With the first film having introduced the world, this sequel gets on with the business of massive CGI creations literally beating each other up with skyscrapers. On the ground, Boyega bucks authority and takes risks for the greater good. It’s gung-ho, it’s basic, and it’s actually rather fun.
The battles between the Kaiju and Jaegars have an old fashioned Godzilla movie quality to them, while the bits with flesh-and-bone stars are kept light with frequent humour and Boyega’s natural charm. The British star makes for a less sour lead than Charlie Hunnam, conveying a rebellious edge without coming off as obnoxious. Aside from a little assistance from Spaeny's feisty newbie, he carries the film virtually on his own.
Director Steven S. DeKnight draws inspiration from the action classics to maximise the guilty pleasure. There’s more than a hint of Independence Day in the plot, while Scott Eastwood’s suspicious military officer is a carbon copy of Top Gun’s Ice Man. Eastwood doesn't make quite the same impact however, with a horrifically wooden performance.
The final frames tease a third film, which would stretch the premise to breaking point. Still, Pacific Rim Uprising is a surprisingly satisfying sequel that showcases the potential of its star.