Look, when Pacific Rim came out a few years ago, I fell in love with it on the spot. A blend of the angsty, over-the-top mecha animes I adore (hello, fellow Neon Genesis Evangelion enthusiasts) and rampantly silly Saturday morning cartoon nonsense, Guillermo Del Toro’s love letter to the Kaiju genre just felt like it was for me. And so, when the sequel came around and the man of my movie dreams, John Boyega, was announced as the lead, I knew that I was in for a treat.
John Boyega is the biggest get for Pacific Rim: Uprising. As he’s shown in the Star Wars franchise, he’s one of those actors with charm so excessive it seems to leak over into the performers around him (for which his co-star, the eternally wooden jawline Scott Eastwood, should be grateful). As the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost, Boyega delivers on his impossible-to-resist charisma, a goofy Saturday morning cartoon character brought to life and reminding me what a leading man can and could be if so many modern blockbusters weren’t so focused on delivering groaning, boring angst. You take Boyega out of this film and it collapses in on itself, but he’s an intently enjoyable star and an earnest delight that keeps Uprising more or less afloat.
In fact, it’s that earnestness that stops the film completely folding in on itself as it tries to find a decent story and interesting characters in a post-Pacific Rim world; for all those fight scenes that go on a crumb too long, and the obvious plot machinations (farewell, Rinko Kikuchi – you were always doomed to die this way, at the start of the second act and as a motivator for someone else’s story), and the jinky emotional throughlines, it’s Uprising’s commitment to fun above all else that just about keeps it together at the seams.
Sure, Scott Eastwood can’t act, but his rectangular good looks and stilted delivery work when all he’s asked to do is puff his chest out and yell at people. Yeah, the plot and eventual villain reveal feels by-the-numbers, but when you have Charlie Day cackling on top of a building to make up for it, it’s hard to get mad. When the fight scenes fall into traditional CGI clusterfuckery, Uprising rolls out some chintzy synth music and a cheesy grin and it’s hard to get mad at it.
Look, between The Last Jedi and Justice League and Ready Player One, blockbusters these days often feel like they’re getting a little too serious. I’m all for some angst and a little darkness when it’s pulled off with panache (yes, I’m talking about Logan), but too often those movies end up feeling like a dirge and a trial instead of exploring the dark edges of their characters. So when something like Pacific Rim: Uprising comes along, something big and broad and silly and fronted by a leading man so likeable it’s actually (and this is true) against the law to criticise him (see also: Thor: Ragnarok), I’m totally here for it. Uprising is far from perfect, but it’s never boring, never takes itself too seriously, and never holds back on a full-bodied sense of fun.
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By Louise MacGregor
(header image courtesy of Variety)