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Pacific Rim Uprising
For those unfamiliar with the franchise, things began when an interdimensional portal opened in the ocean and allowed Kaiju - which are gigantic monsters - to invade our planet. To combat them, the human race created equally large humanoid mechas called Jaegers. For optimal performance, the Jaegers are controlled through a neural link which must be shared by no less than two pilots. Mankind had eventually won the war by closing the ‘breach', but as Pacific Rim Uprising proves, the Kaiju threat is far from over.
The film picks up ten years after the original and introduces us to Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), who happens to be the son of Marshal Stacker Pentecost (who was played by Idris Elba in the last flick) . He lives in an abandoned mansion and gets through life by selling Jaeger parts on the black market. His path eventually crosses with that of fifteen year-old Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a Jaeger fan that's managed to build her own mech suit. One thing leads to another and they're arrested by the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps. Jake and Amara are given an ultimatum: they can return to the PPDC in an official capacity - as instructor and recruit respectively - or go to prison.
Not exactly a choice, is it?
Shortly after Jake begins training young hopefuls, he learns the traditionally piloted Jaegers are in danger of being replaced by mass-produced drones… and that's when things begin to spiral down a rabbit hole of danger and deceit that leads to multiple breaches opening. The Kaiju that emerge are far more devastating than anything the world has ever seen, but it's up to Jake and his ragtag team of cadets to take them on.
The plot actually runs a bit deeper than that, but I'll refrain from specifics as to keep certain elements a surprise. I honestly expected the sequel's story would be cookie-cutter at best, especially since the original didn't have much depth, but I was pleasantly surprised with where the story went. It could have easily taken the tired route of, ‘oh, hey, that breach at the bottom of the ocean opened up again for some strange reason', but the script actually brings the Kaiju back with a solid premise… but that's pretty much where my praise for this film ends.
Pacific Rim Uprising sorely lacks what made its predecessor so fun in the first place: honest-to-goodness Jaeger on Kaiju action. We get some alright, but not until we begin to steer into the film's final act. It's an hour and twenty minutes before this happens, by the way. There's some robot on robot action here and there, and it sure is fun to watch, but that's not what we're here for. And look, I'm all for the ‘Jaws approach' to filmmaking - which is to withhold the monster(s) for as long as possible so their eventual reveal makes a bigger impact - but this franchise isn't about that kind of tension or shock. It's about appeasing inner-children across the world with mechas that fight monsters, and in the most grandiose of ways at that. It's about producing an earnest display of excess, but Uprising erroneously shows restraint. The previous film didn't have constant Jaeger on Kaiju action either, but del Toro at least knew how to space things out and keep us engaged.
And assuming they wanted to tell the best story possible and save the best stuff for last? That's all well and good, especially since I enjoyed the film's premise… but premise alone doesn't sell a movie, or at least, not this movie. Del Toro knew that and actually introduced some intriguing thematic elements back in 2013, but they're mostly absent here. His message at the time was told through the way Jaegers were operated: hope and salvation are always attainable once people learn to set their differences aside and work together, that sort of thing. But this time around, the focus is mainly on that whole ‘evil corporations do evil things' bit, and the best we get for the human element is a generic ‘hey kids, be yourself'.
Characterization also falls short. Because the protagonists are basically told to join the fight or go to prison, their entire journey feels… well, invalidated. In the real world, people are often pushed into doing things they'd rather not only to appreciate the nudge later on, but that doesn't make for good cinematic storytelling. Characters need to act on their own at some point, but Jake keeps reminding us how much he doesn't want to be there. As far as the acting itself is concerned, Boyega is clearly the best of the bunch. His young apprentice also does a pretty good job, but the rest of the supporting cast are awful. The young actors playing the cadets are tasked with producing stereotypes that, frankly, only imitate more memorable sidekicks from other films. One is so bad at producing their character's accent, I winced every time he delivered his lines.
I'd like to say the final act makes it all worth sitting through, but all I've got is ‘it does and it doesn't'. The action is absolutely incredible, and may even provide some of the best eye candy we're likely to see in all of 2018, but the drawback is that it's almost too much. Again, the previous film's director knew how to space things out, and when he presented gratuitous excess in all its glory, there was something earnest and genuine about it. Here, it all seems like excess for the sake of having it, so it overstays its welcome at some point.
I wouldn't say this movie is terrible as it most certainly could have been worse, but this is a sequel that one, didn't need to be made, and two, didn't justify its existence after the fact. The impressive CGI action make the film serviceable, but wait until you have a rainy day when there's nothing else to do.
Pacific Rim Uprising comes to UHD at a resolution of 2160p, an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, and was encoded via HEVC. It was finished at 2K, but the end result is very similar to how I felt about John Wick 2 on the format: numbers alone don't tell the entire story. Upscale or not, this film's video presentation is reference. The image is so clean, sharp, and loaded with detail that you could have told me this was a 4K DI and I would have believed it. Thanks to excellent black levels, contrast, and superb use of HDR, the image sports a great amount of depth at all times. Even the compression handles everything well, which is saying a lot because there's so much stuff happening on-screen at times. This is a pretty substantial upgrade from the Blu-ray in every perceivable way, which in and of itself isn't too shabby. If you're interested in seeing this film, the 4K release is the way to go!
Just to note, I don't have an Atmos setup. I do, however, have a 7.1 surround configuration in my man cave, and all I have to say is ‘wow'. Everything about this track is superb. Pacific Rim Uprising is a sonic powerhouse whenever the robot-on-robot or robot-on-monster action picks up. Steps from combatants feel weighty, the sound of metal clangs ring true, and explosions rightfully rock the house. The surround stage is also used to its full potential. When buildings collapse, you'll hear it at an appropriate distance with pinpoint precision. The same can be said for everything on-screen, and when certain parties are tossed through buildings and we go along for the ride, you hear metal, concrete, and glass break all around you. It's truly enveloping, which is precisely what a film like this needs. When the camera is on the ground and a person inside a Jaeger is using a sound system to speak to ‘us', it's alarmingly threatening. Inside the Jaeger control rooms, there's a bit of a metallic echo. Even the score tends to be loud and proud across the entirety of the sound stage. If you have a surround setup at home, you're in for a real treat.
It's worth noting that the supplements in this release are actually included on the UHD disc itself, which has proven to be a rare practice on the format. To not change discs for some supplements is a welcome surprise, indeed. None of the features are much longer than five minutes a clip though, so we've basically got a collection of promo material as opposed to true behind-the-scenes stuff. The audio commentary is worth listening too though, as it greatly expands on the stuff that's only touched upon in the other supplements.
-Hall of Heroes
-Bridge to Uprising
-The Underworld of Uprising
-Next Level Jaegers
-I Am Scrapper
-Secrets of Shao
Pacific Rim Uprising is the kind of film you sit down to watch if you're looking for an evening full of eye candy, but it ultimately fails in most other respects. The premise is solid but executed poorly, the characterization and even much of the acting from secondary characters is awful, and we don't get any solid Jaeger on Kaiju action until the final half hour. The film has plenty of cool moments, don't get me wrong, but it's not the stuff a Pacific Rim flick should be made of. The action on display is certainly impressive and worth checking out, though, which is why I recommended fans of the original at least rent it. That holds especially true for the 4K disc which has reference video and audio, even if the supplemental package could have been better.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!