Review: Pacific Rim Uprising

Are we actually moving away from the Age of Grumpy Old Men now? Or at least, Grumpy Old Men that take the lead in every damn action movie and videogame? Maybe it’s finally happening. That’s what I thought when watching Pacific Rim Uprising last week. Coincidentally I had also been playing Gears of War 4, which in turn has been compared to the new Star Wars movies in some reviews. Or maybe not coincidentally, since I noticed the very same tendency in the new Tomb Raider games (and movies) and Watch Dogs 2, which I recently replayed.

Times are changing, also in the real world. Similar to the shifts in the 1970s and early 90s, we see a change in societal mentality. The often discussed Millennial generation is growing up to take the reigns, pushing the Generation X and their parents (the Baby Boomers) out of focus. At the same time, the even younger Generation Z is becoming old enough now to make themselves heard. Change is happening and the world of popular media is noticing it. Across media everywhere we see franchises being revitalised and sequels taking struggling series in fresh new directions. And it’s all thanks to the energy and optimism of a younger generation.  

This review contains minor spoilers

Young, Bold and Sassy

Was the first Pacific Rim a highly enjoyable movie, it suffered in places (especially the first hour or so) from the unironic militarism and a severe case of taking itself too serious. The second half of the 2013 movie takes a more playful and interesting tone, and luckily the sequel picked up on that.

I was disappointed to not see Ron Perlman’s character return, in my opinion one of the highlights of the first. But the wacky duo Geiszler and Gottlieb are still there to bring the delightful weirdness. Even better though is the inclusion of Star Wars-star John Boyega, who is so clearly enjoying himself as pilot-gone-rogue son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba in the first flick). He forms the catalyst between the out of touch veterans and the young generation spearheaded by spunky kid Amara Namani.

Amara, played by Cailee Spaeny, is Pacific Rim’s version of the sassy, streetsmart girl/young woman archetype that’s being made hugely popular right now by the likes of Daisy Ridley, Chloe Moretz, Maisie Williams and Sadie Sink. It’s great to see an increase of such characters that young female viewers can identify with, and not feel like instruments in the journey of a male character. Talking about Uprising specifically, Spaeny’s character is all a fully capable of standing next to John Boyega and not just be vulnerable element he needs to protect and make him realise his humanity. Her being a few years younger than Rey from Star Wars, it’s not the same dynamic as Boyega had with Daisy Ridley, but it’s clearly a result of the same trend.    

Amara Namani is part of a team of young cadets that carry a large part of the narrative and are integral to the fresher, younger approach of this movie. They effectively make themselves the stars of the story where the older generation fumbles to get a hold of the new situation; and through that plot development it’s really that more lighthearted side of the story that wins the day.

Monsters, Robots and Monster Robots

Back to the movie itself, which’ precursor was described by some critics as ‘a toddler mashing their toys togeter’ – something that still stands very firmly for the sequel. The action set-pieces, combat choreography and plot development are adorably straightforward and uncomplicated, without getting that Michael Bayesque tack of trying too hard to overwhelm the audience. It’s loud, brash and probably challenging the Marvel movies for racking up the most collateral damage in modern urban areas.

As for possible future movies in the franchise, it all depends on the background lore. The story of kaiju versus big giant robots is a little thin to base another two or three sequels on; the characters however definitely have potential to grow and develop through a continued timeline. If the producers want this franchise to turn into a long running success, they don’t have to do much work there. It’s all up to dig deeper into the history and universe of the kaiju origins and not be afraid to change up the formula a bit and take risks taking it in unexpected directions. Fortunately it already granted itself the liberty of creating fun and over the top nonsense; almost to a degree of “Robots versus Wrestlers” from How I Met Your Mother. There is no need to be afraid of making things too silly, we are way past that. And that’s not a bad thing, actually.

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