'Pacific Rim Uprising' Knows Exactly What Kind of Movie It Is

There's something to be said about a film that delivers on its premise (and nothing more).
Courtesy of Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures

Who is Pacific Rim Uprising for?

That's a question that cynics have asked since a sequel to Guillermo Del Toro's 2013 film was greenlit. The film from director Steven S. DeKnight won the battle at the U.S. box office this weekend, but did so with a rather tepid $28 million. Overseas, it fared much better at $122.5 million, with the tale of robots fighting monsters seeming to capture the imagination of Chinese moviegoers in particular (it scored $65 million in China).

So what is it that international audiences are seeing in Uprising that U.S. moviegoers are ignoring? Heat Vision editor Aaron Couch welcomes indie filmmaker (and Pacific Rim apologist) Theo Brown to unpack Uprising and its opening weekend.

Aaron Couch: Theo, this is a movie that has been received with muted enthusiasm in the U.S., even though it seems like prime blockbuster material. It's a follow-up to a movie directed by newly minted Oscar winner (and geek god) Guillermo del Toro and that is toplined by Star Wars leading man John Boyega. Still, a lot of people have asked if this is a sequel we need. As one of the faithful who has not only insisted Pacific Rim needs a sequel, and that Pacific Rim needs many sequels, how did Uprising hit you?

Theo Brown: Pacific Rim Uprising plays something along the lines of the '90s classic film The Indian in the Cupboard. (Yes, bear with me.) That film centers on the idea that once a toy is placed inside the enchanted cabinet, it comes to life. Put a Luke Skywalker figure in there holding a light saber? The weapon would also come to life. A simple premise, yes, but one that delivered 100 percent on that promise. Much like that film, Uprising delivers on its premise. We signed up to see robots fighting monsters, and it gave us robots fighting monsters. Nothing more, nothing less.

Couch: There's something to be said about a movie that knows exactly what it is and then delivers on that. Transformers, perhaps Pacific Rim's closest analogue in recent years, falls flat when it tries to be something deeper. This installment was an improvement on the original in the sense that John Boyega's Jake Pentecost is an much more compelling lead than Charlie Hunnam's Raleigh Becket (I keep having to Google what Hunnam's character's was named, and I'm willing to bet that's the case for many who saw the original film). It's also smart that the film is under two hours — for some reason the Transformers movies are always so, so long — and Uprising avoids fatiguing the audience. But I'm not sure the battles gave me anything I didn't get from the first film. Were the effects any better? Were the stakes any higher? Was the world-building more inventive? Not really. But it sounds like the action achieved what it needed to, in your opinion.

Brown: That’s a really good point — Pacific Rim Uprising never wears out its welcome with the run time. It keeps things fairly fast paced, which is a nice move for a fun popcorn flick. Uprising dumps us right into the fun, with a great chase sequence pitting Namani's homemade Jaeger against the local government's own version. This is one thing that Uprising delivers over and over — the battle scenes are such fun that I was immediately ready for a third film after the first 15 minutes. Namani's Jaeger has not only been assembled by her alone, we assume, but also has never even been tested. But moments after first turning it on, we see that it not only operates, but has the ability to transform into a Metroid-esqe ball to roll around. Nonsensical? Absolutely. Fun? Definitely. After being picked up by the government, the pair have their own reasons for deciding to join the military, who have also been working on their own precautions in case of an attack. Spoiler Alert: The monsters attack. And it's glorious. What would you have liked to have seen in the sequel that you felt was missing?

Couch: Even though I enjoyed this movie more, the real draw of the last one was the world-building. Stuff like the opening sections of the 2013 film where it showed how Jaeger pilots were celebrities, going on late-night talk shows. And the idea of the world pooling its resources and all of that. With this one, it was cool to realize that in the aftermath of the war, there were underground economies based on trading Jaegar parts, etc., and I would have liked to get even more of a sense of how society was dong. How was society processing the trauma after the war was won 10 years ago? We got glimpses, but I could have used a lot more. Still, the funny thing about this movie is while I don't see myself ever watching it again ... I was surprised to want more when it was over. That final line setting up a third movie that would go to the alien planet did have me thinking, "OK, I'd go see what happens when this comes out in two or three years." Uprising felt almost like to much of a rehash of the original, but the promise of doing something new — going to the Precursor world — does intrigue me. What do you think about the future of the franchise? I suspect that should these go on indefinitely, we could see it branch out into space and other things we've wanted (but only gotten a bits of) the Transformers series to do.

Brown: See, that's how Pacific Rim gets you! It knows that you're not going to just pass up a chance to see more Jaeger/Kaiju fights, especially on the Precursor's home turf. It's just too much fun to stop now. They keep storylines simple and straightforward, so we as the audience never feel like it betrays the rules of their universe (something the Transformers franchise occasionally suffers from). But in keeping it light and loose, I think that there's a 1,000 percent chance you'll be watching Pacific Rim 7: Andromeda with me.

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