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PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING is fun, but it ain't GDT (Spoiler-Light)

Hi folks... it's been a few hours since I saw PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING at my local cineplex. I had a busy weekend and figured someone else would nab it first, but it looks like I am the first to see and review the film at AICN 
This sequel takes place ten years after the events in PACIFIC RIM. Stacker Pentecost's son, Jake (John Boyega), is a Jaeger pilot dropout who makes a living scavenging Jaeger parts from various wrecks. On the hunt for a valuable power source to pay off a criminal debt, he stumbles across Amara (Cailee Spaeny) and a secret garage where she is re-building a small single-driver Jaeger, and inadvertently draws the police to her. Both are arrested and, through the intervention of Jake's adopted sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), given a choice of either enlisting in the Jaeger Corps or going to prison. At the Jaeger base, Jake is teamed with his old drifting partner Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) to train the newest bunch of Jaeger pilots, including Amara. When the Shou Corporation comes to prototype their new drone Jaeger units that will possibly replace the drifting Jaegers altogether, they are attacked by a mysterious never-before-seen Jaeger.

The rest of the film is the mystery of where that Jaeger came from, and exactly who is out to disrupt the peace. For me, it came nowhere near to succeeding the Guillermo Del Toro original film, but I found it to be a fun sequel and something I enjoyed. By now, most of the people really hyped to see PR:U have already done so. And I'm certainly not gonna have any sway with the folks who hate it unseen and won't bother to see it. But for the folks on the fence, here's my spoiler-free look at the good and bad in it. 
The Good: 
It's fun. This will pretty much be my go-to film when describing a 'popcorn movie' from this day forward. It isn't CITIZEN KANE... it isn't NETWORK... it's giant robots versus giant monsters, part two. But if you like giant robots versus monsters, this is good entertainment. To paraphrase a popular TWILIGHT meme: "still a better giant robot story than the TRANSFORMER films."*
The action. The robot fights are cool; the scale of the battle is cool. I remember people reacting pretty badly to seeing Jaegers trashing a city with little regard for it; that's an understandable error based on the cut of the footage of a Jaeger attacking a city inter-spliced with scenes of a Jaeger with an inexperienced pilot late in the film. So put those fears to rest. 
The villain twist. It's good. I'm that guy who'll admit he didn't see the ending of THE SIXTH SENSE until about the time Cole was walking away from Kyra's house. I appreciate a good plot twist. I did not see it coming with the clues right in front of me, and I don't feel cheated at all. I'm sure others saw right through it; I liked it.
The call-backs. The film seems taken from a blueprint of the ALIEN to ALIENS sequel-ization process, in terms of systematically identifying canon threads in the first film and taking them to interesting, inventive new places. There is a natural reset to the plot and a sense of progression. Things you remember from the original film pay off beautifully here, and make you glad you turned up to see it on the big screen.
Amara's Jaeger partner. This is actually a large call-back to the canon of the first film, but we get a great logical sense as to why it is that Amara is eventually partnered with someone. The dynamic there is earned through story, and it feels satisfying to see it come together.
Geiszler/Gottlieb: these two are great, and when they're on screen together it really conjures up good memories of the original. There is no Hannibal Chau type in this one, so it was up to Charlie Day and Burn Gorman to deliver the lighthearted stuff, and I think they accomplished that well.
The pre-credits end scene. I'm about to drop a list of reasons why this movie might not be something you want to invest in, but I am already signed on for PACIFIC RIM 3 from the strength of what is inferred in this under-30-seconds scene... I just hope the production learns from some of the mistakes in 2.
The Bad: 
The direction/acting. I hesitate to say all of this, but I have to be honest: sometimes, an actor isn't up to expressing complex emotions believably for the big screen. Or a director just lets them get away with giving... well, not enough to pass muster. Cailee Spaeny showed spunk and made a great protagonist; I cared about Amara. But there were times when Amara was not believably in frame. I put some of these moments on Steven DeKnight, whom I look up to as a director. It was his duty to coax Amara out of Ms. Spaeny or keep trying, and he just wasn't able to pull it off in two key places. 
Actor chemistry. Eastwood is fine in my book, and Boyega is fine, but I had a hard time watching them together on screen as Jake and Nate. Partly the writing, partly the delivery; I just didn't buy these two piloting a Jaeger together. I didn't feel the respect between the two that the dialogue sometimes indicated. At the conclusion, there's a similar forced feel to Amara and Jake. Their last onscreen moment should have been less scripted and more improvised. 
Some of the writing. Specifically, the very telegraphed foreshadowing of deaths. I won't spoil, again, but don't worry-- when you hear the dialogue, you know who dies. The first one is infuriatingly unnecessary to story; the second one is just inevitable and lacks the investment to be tragic. I also felt that John Boyega was occasionally a bit too Finn in this role-- a bit too cuddly, if you will. I would have preferred a little of the swagger and menace Charlie Hunnam showed as Becket.
That's my take on PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING. Ultimately, it will not change your world and I do not believe it lives up to the original, but it might just be something you like. I didn't love it, but I sure liked it, and it definitely pitched a sequel I want to see.
--Precious Roy
* (But not as good as THE IRON GIANT, obviously.)
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