Pacific Rim: Uprising Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is a promising Jaeger pilot whose legendary father gave his life to secure humanity's victory against the monstrous Kaiju. Now, an even more fearsome alien threat has been unleashed on the world and Jake is called back into action by his former co-pilot, Lambert (Scott Eastwood), and a 15-year-old Jaeger hacker, Amara (Cailee Spaeny). Rising up to become the most powerful defense force to ever walk the earth, they will set course for a spectacular all-new adventure on a towering scale. (From Universal’s official synopsis)
A few years ago, I started a gentleman’s bet/pointless rivalry with my friend Tyler Foster (@tylergilfoster). We had each enjoyed a pair of dumb, but ambitious blockbusters that hadn’t quite made enough money to justify sequels. Tyler’s choices were Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) and Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys (2015), and my picks were Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) and Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013). Given that Spider-Man was sent back to Marvel (2019 update: it almost went back to Sony, but it didn’t, Tyler, ah hahaha!) and The Terminator is on track to be rebooted for the third time, I guess I won our little competition. While I actually quite enjoyed Scott’s Prometheus follow-up, Alien Covenant (2017), I was loath to admit that I wasn’t actually that interested in a second Pacific Rim. Del Toro’s film didn’t completely live up to its promise or entirely explore its live-action anime premise, but it did have definitive ending that satisfied the story. I was even less interested when del Toro left as creative lead. Television producer Steven S. DeKnight, whose Spartacus series/franchise was fantastic, was an interesting choice of replacement, but without del Toro’s distinctive visual flair and affection for monsters, I didn’t personally see much point. There are plenty of Japanese cartoons on the market that fill that kaiju vs. mech void.
Don’t tell Tyler, but, even though my gentlemanhood was on the line, I didn’t even support Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) in theaters. Personal stories and low expectations aside, I’ve now seen DeKnight’s movie and can finally verify that it’s fine. Almost good. The screenplay – credited to DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, and T.S. Nowlin – has a distinctive feel, while also accounting for almost everything previously established by del Toro and original screenwriter Travis Beacham. In fact, some of the key plot points seem to have been taken from del Toro’s treatment or, at least they read/heard the same interviews I did where he discussed ideas for a sequel (the villain and origin of the new monster threat were specifically being discussed in at least one interview). Uprising (at least initially) aims itself at a younger audience than Pacific Rim did and this kid-friendly approach appears to be a shameless ploy to steal some sweet Transformers franchise bucks. This fits the established concept and very nearly fills the void left by the Transformers movies, which are too long, boring, and cruel to be kid-friendly (despite being based on toys). Unfortunately, its ample charms don’t quite overcome the boilerplate, Ender’s Game-esque plot handed to the child characters. Moreover, halfway through, the kids are shuffled into a B-story.
Given the wild, esoteric places that some of the franchises anime/manga inspirations have gone and the fact that del Toro got the broad stroke world-building out of the way the first time around, I was hoping for (thought not necessarily expecting) some Neon Genesis Evangelion existentialism. Hideaki Anno’s series inspired the sequel on some level, specifically in the ‘drone pilot’ plot points, the Chinese Jaeger’s base of operations, and other, more spoilery elements, but the filmmakers ultimately play it safe and stick to well-tread sci-fi concepts. That said, when it sticks to established characters, their growth, and the changes to the planet since the apocalypse was averted, Uprising is pretty satisfying. Taking at face value, the biggest problems are tied to the tonal incompatibility of its A & B-plots (the filmmakers never really commit to their “kids learning to be pilots” idea and maybe should’ve saved it for a second sequel) and Scott Eastwood’s dreadful performances. The compatibility issues are corrected about halfway through as the plot begins its drive to the climax, but Eastwood is so bland and anti-charismatic that he makes the original film’s lead, Charlie Hunnam, look like Idris Elba in comparison. In fact, it’s even worse than that, because, unlike his simply boring The Fate of the Furious (2017) performance, Eastwood actively makes terrible acting choices and drags the rest of the cast down with him. The scenes where he’s supposedly ‘sparring’ with John Boyega are downright painful.
The (surprisingly brief) action scenes have trouble managing the same sense of sheer scale and weight seen in the first movie, but, even bereft of the larger-than-life spectacle, the battles are exciting and well-executed in terms of geography and movement. DeKnight also opts to shoot the biggest battles in broad daylight, giving his sequel a mild advantage over del Toro’s film, which was so compulsively dark that it was often difficult to parse the destruction. Del Toro retakes the advantage with better special effects, though, so I guess it’s an even trade-off. From a creative standpoint, the Jaeger weaponry is an innovative upgrade over the first movie’s already pretty cool missiles, laser beams, and sword things. I’m especially fond of Gypsy Avenger’s (the updated version of Gypsy Danger) magnetic arm attachment and the way the pilots use it to throw cars and buildings at its enemies. Pacific Rim: Uprising is a messy, forgetful, but also ultimately entertaining follow-up to a messy, memorable, and ultimately more entertaining original film.
Pacific Rim: Uprising was shot using various Arri Alexa branded digital cameras and was post-converted to 3D for some theatrical screenings. It was shown in IMAX theaters, but I don’t think the aspect ratio was changed at all. This Blu-ray is presented in 1080p video and 2.40:1 widescreen (bucking del Toro’s choice of 1.85:1). DeKnight and cinematographer Dan Mindel’s photography embraces the softer qualities of of the format, as well as its ability to squeeze detail out of darkness. However, as I mentioned in the review above, they don’t shoot nearly as much of the movie in deep darkness as del Toro had. This is a stylistic advantage, but doesn’t always jibe with the lens choices, which aim for a ‘frosted,’ old-fashioned anamorphic look. This creates some hotspots and blurry qualities that are likely completely unavoidable, but appear kind of like compression noise. Generally speaking, the darker sequences look better with more dynamic range and cleaner gradations. Color quality is varied and vibrant, ranging from the original film’s neon purples and greens, to the more eclectic yellows, reds, and blues of the daylight battles.
This film was reportedly designed with Dolby Atmos in mind, so it’s nice that Universal saw fit to include an Atmos-compatible soundtrack. This review, however, will pertain to the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track, which is still pretty darn impressive. The Jaeger and Kaiju-heavy scenes are the highlights with all of their bombast and explosions, but there’s quite a bit going on throughout the less action-packed sequences, too. In any case, it is the more extraordinary science fiction sounds that stand out. The Kaiju calls/roars are better and more unique than their sort of indiscernible counterparts in the first film.The surround arena features plenty of circular, full room movement alongside subtle directional shifts and the LFE is given a thorough workout every time a giant beast takes a step. Composer Lorne Balfe’s score enjoys the full brunt of the Atmos/TrueHD track, sometimes becoming the central aural element. I honestly can’t remember most of Ramin Djawadi’s original [i]Pacific Rim[/i] cues, aside from that key guitar melody, but the two scores do share tonally similarities, even if they don’t share a lot of themes.
Commentary with director Steven S. DeKnight – DeKnight, who in interviews has expressed dissatisfaction with how the film turned out, is very amiable about the experience in this ‘official’ discussion of the production. He opts to stick to technical aspects and similarly objective stuff, like casting, locations, and story structure. The final result is relatively informative, but there’s a lot of pausing and it definitely feels like DeKnight is holding something back.
Eight deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary from DeKnight (6:56, HD)
Hall of Heroes (3:23, HD) – A fluffy little glance at the new Jaegers hosted by John Boyega.
Bridge to Uprising (4:39, HD) – EPK style cast & crew interviews, including brief behind-the-scenes clips and concept art.
The Underworld of Uprising (3:47, HD) – Boyega and DeKnight offer a tour of the film’s coastal Relief Zones, their conceptualization, and place in the Pacific Rim world.
Becoming Cadets (5:58, HD) – A profile of the pilots in training and the young actors who portray them.
Unexpected Villain (5:48, HD) – An interview with the actor who plays the surprise villain, redacted here for spoilers sake.
Next Level Jaegers (5:08, HD) – A further look at the upgrades to the Jaeger program in the 10 years since the first movie.
I Am Scrapper (2:42, HD) – Actress Cailee Spaeny shares the backstory of her character, the co-lead Amara and her self-built Jaeger, Scrapper.
Going Mega (3:21, HD) – DeKnight and the creative/technical staff explore the film’s three new Kaiju monsters. Secrets of Shao (3:14, HD) – Actress Jing Tian and DeKnight profile her character, tech tycoon Liwen Shao, and her drone-building company, Shao Industries.
Mako Returns – Actress Rinko Kikuchi and DeKnight explain the significance of the original film’s central hero, Mako Mori, and her return for the sequel.
Note: I haven’t kept all of the discs I’ve reviewed over the years, so some, like this one, will not include screen-caps. The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.