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Review Roundup: Pacific Rim Uprising is a cartoonier rehash of the original

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Mar 20, 2018

After Guillermo del Toro’s Best Director win at the Oscars, fans of The Shape of Water may be tempted to revisit some of the filmmaker’s earlier work, like the Godzilla riff Pacific Rim. Some, tantalized by that film’s rock-’em-sock-’em action and wild-eyed glee at bringing huge monsters and robots to city-leveling life may want even more.

This is the target audience for Pacific Rim Uprising, the film’s sequel that may have lost del Toro as a director (the Daredevil TV show’s Steven S. DeKnight took the reins) but never lost his childish verve for the absurd and monstrous.

Now that the film’s review embargo has lifted, fans can find out how satisfying this kaiju- and jaeger-laden battle royale is. The general consensus: It's big, dumb, tedious fun (and star John Boyega gives it his all) — but fails to recapture the bizarre magic of the first film.

Here’s what the critics are saying:

The Hollywood Reporter’s Frank Scheck says that the film “brings nothing new to the franchise except repetition.” Compared to its predecessor, Uprising is “increasingly tiresome in its cliched plotting and characterizations, hackneyed dialogue and numbingly repetitive, visually incoherent action sequences,” which highlights the project’s multiple editors. Scheck was unimpressed with the film’s script or action, also noting that star John Boyega feels wasted in his role.

Nick Schager at Variety notes that the sequel enacts its biggest aesthetic difference from the original by “reconfiguring its style and attitude to more closely align with that of the Transformers films.” Schager, however, while noting the script’s cliched elements and relative breathlessness, is far more positive on Boyega, saying that “Boyega has a natural roguish charm that suits the silly material, and despite being surrounded by more computer-generated chaos than any one actor could hope to survive, his charisma prevents Jake from becoming a dull narrative focus.” That chaos feels weightless and cartoony compared to that of the original, which had a grinding, creaky realism built into the madness.

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That comparison seems inescapable for the follow-up, especially in The Playlist’s review. In it the film is called “tedious and mildly diverting” at best, “but at its worst it feels like an out-and-out treachery.” The visual cheapness compounds with the narrative wispiness, making the film betray all the weird threads set up by the first movie. “Those visual hallmarks of the first film, like the atmospherics, are totally gone,” says critic Drew Taylor. “Every action sequence takes place in broad daylight, with the sun beating down on the jaegers. There aren’t thematic concerns (much of the first film is about PTSD and coming back from that), as much as there are ideas that are momentarily toyed with and then discarded, like so much else.”

The New York Daily News was a bit more accepting of these shortcomings. “DeKnight shows he can pilot a CGI fight sequence as well as his predecessor,” the review hails, giving props to relative newcomer “Cailee Spaeny, who holds her own as a young scavenger enlisted into the high-stakes battle.” The critic also hails Boyega as miles better than predecessor Charlie Hunnam, citing a “Han Solo” attitude that sells the charm. In fact, what others may see as a flaw (lack of backstory or much plotting) is here seen as a positive. How much of an excuse do you need to smash robots and monsters together?

Finally, the film seems to have broken the Village Voice’s critic Bilge Ebiri, whose review comes as a piece of speculative fiction. He posits a world where Pacific Rim Uprising is all but forgotten, the only memory of it that remains being dusty toys and lingering questions.