Pacific Rim: Uprising film review: is the apocalypse cancelled?

Can the sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to mechs and kaiju live up to its predecessor?

Accusing Pacific Rim: Uprising of missing that Guillermo del Toro magic feels like an obvious criticism but that doesn’t make it any less true. Because while this slightly belated sequel gets the job done, pitting Jagers against kaiju and offering a decent amount of heart and humour, it’s undeniably lacking that special something that won Pacific Rim such a passionate, if niche, audience in the first place.

About 10 years have passed since the breach was closed and the kaiju were defeated. The Jaeger programme is still operational, but drone pilots from a private corporation threaten to replace the men and women inside the machines. When Jake Pentecost (Boyega), the ne’er-do-well son of deceased war hero Stacker, chooses returning to the Shatterdome over going to prison, he arrives just in time to face a new threat and become the man he was always meant to be.

In a lot of ways, Uprising follows the same playbook as the first film. The relationship between reluctant hero Jake and plucky scrapper-turned-cadet Amara (Cailee Spaeny) has many echoes of Raleigh (the absent Charlie Hunnam) and Mako (the returning but brutally underused Rinko Kikuchi), and there’s epic daddy issues, corny dialogue and gleefully silly action moments. But as much as director Steven S DeKnight is clearly giddy at the sheer size of it all (the shots playing with scale are a lot of fun), he’s also playing it safe.

So, we get a plodding, predictable plot and an array of anonymous new characters who are as interchangeable as the new Jaegers. Boyega and Spaeny are the only rookies to make an impact, although the hard work of the former is occasionally undermined by noticing just how much the film relies on him. The action sequences are solid and occasionally exciting (a fight in Siberia is particularly good), but there’s never a moment to rival the air-punching ridiculousness of Mako unveiling Gipsy Danger’s sword or the use of a giant boat as a club, and while it’s nice to see that there are still a couple of gross things in jars and the delightful Charlie Day is given even more scenery to chew, there just isn’t the obsessive level of loving detail or the sense of a whole world of weirdness beyond. Simply put, if the first film made your heart sing, this probably won’t.

As a big dumb action movie Uprising is acceptable and if it were a standalone film it would get that third star, but as a Pacific Rim sequel it’s disappointing.