Between the trailblazing sci-fi franchises of our parents’ generation and the “extended universes” of our own, what’s become clear over time is blockbuster films are no longer measured by the impact of a single release, but rather their ability to establish worlds wherein money can printed in perpetuity.
Reboots no one asked for, sequels arriving 20 years too late and superhero trilogies being mapped out before a single page of their origin stories have been written are all products of a new movie culture that somehow manages produce waste via recycled properties. Operating within that culture, Pacific Rim Uprising is set to hit theaters this weekend, starring John Boyega.
However obligatory this sequel to 2013’s Pacific Rim may have been, director Steven S. DeKnight managed to direct a far more entertaining movie than his predecessor Guillermo del Toro, defying most expectations of the followup.
With DeKnight and Boyega at the helm, respectively replacing del Toro and Charlie Hunnam as director and lead, Uprising surprisingly presents a thorough and organic continuation of the original story.
Trimming excess fat of the original two-hour and 12-minute mass of cliches and CGI, Uprising astutely avoids the missteps of most blockbuster sequels. The film is shorter, lighter, and opts out of needless complexities.
The three most consequential events of Pacific Rim retain their importance in Pacific Rim Uprising—it’s a new movie unpacking the same plot points, as opposed to old characters embarking on unfamiliar territory.
The film of course comes with new villains, bigger robots, higher stakes, but they all boil down to what we already know about the story: the Kaiju were sent through the Breach by Precursors, Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) “drifted” with a Kaiju brain in order to learn more about the Precursors’ plans, and General Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) gave his life fighting to foil those plans, leaving behind his adopted daughter Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi).
Ten years later, the Precursors’ scheme, Geiszler’s drift, and Pentecost’s legend continue to ripple through the story, shaping yet another battle for humanity.
From top to bottom, Uprising is beautifully conceived and filled with heart. The moment John Boyega appears on screen, what weighed Pacific Rim down the first time around becomes obvious.
Boyega’s portrayal as Jake Pentecost feels like a refreshing departure from Charlie Hunnam’s Raliegh Becket. Where Pentecost’s arc is dynamic and textured, Becket’s portrayal of a hot-headed, only entitled white man humbled by tragedy felt trite and tired in the original film.
As Boyega wears two hats for Uprising, star and co-producer (along with del Toro) this sequel deserves support equivalent to what’s been given Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time. Should these films become a trend, black faces in science fiction films might actually make the money we spend on obligatory sequels worth the purchase.