One of the things I loved the most about the first Pacific Rim movie was the fights between the giant robots and killer Kaiju. Not going to lie, never expected more from the film than that and it did not disappoint, having a decent story and lots of interesting characters added in. I’ve loved Voltron and Robotech as a kid and my husband is a Godzilla fan. We are absolutely the target audience. So with the sequel, I was hoping for more of the same. We, not only were not disappointed but actually felt that this movie added more story, more humor with tons of the same kick ass action and visuals of the first.
The film picks up ten years after the closing of the rift, with the son of Stacker Pentacost, Jake (John Boyega). Jake is a washed up cadet, who’s abandoned his training to be a thief, scrounging Jaeger parts and selling them. His latest find gets stolen out from under him by a cocky and smart street kid, Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) but the pair get arrested. Jake’s adoptive sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) recruits him back to the PPDC as an instructor with Amara as a cadet.
Jake starts training a group of recruits with his estranged former co-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) but soon learns that the program is threatened by Shao Corporations, drone program, created by Liwen Shao (Jing Tian) and Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) , which will mass produce remote controlled Jaegers that are believed to be able to more successfully fight any future threats. When Mako heads to the UN to make her final assessment of the viability of the drone program, there is an attack by a rogue Jaeger. Fatalities occur but the Jaeger slips away. As Nate and Jake track down the threat, new Kaiju emerge to threaten earth again. With the aid of the recruits and the help of scientist Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), the Jaegers go back to war with the only question being if Jake can live up to his father’s legacy and save the world.
One of the key parts to the new movie working is that, while they do use some elements of the first, they have an original story. While a shame that Guillermo Del Toro is not more involved, director Steven S. DeKnight in his debut does an excellent job of putting together a fun, action filled sequel. The introduction is integral, giving us the new characters and giving us time to get to know both Jake and Amara as well as the other key players. The story does develop slightly slower but this allows time for setup for the rest of the movie. One of the strengths is that every key plot point is important to the movie and is brought back in by the end of the film. There is just enough mystery to keep you engaged in the story with enough action spliced in with what we’re all there to see, the robots and monsters.
The humor is also surprisingly good. While I enjoyed Pacific Rim, it is quite a bit darker. This one has a hefty leavening of laughter to break up some of the sadder moments. John Boyega is especially critical to this success, his ability to be charismatic and mix drama with the laughs spot on. Whether he is irreverently poking fun at Nate or smack talking to Amara, the bits of comedy keep the pace of the film flowing.
I also liked the overall message told by the story, that connection and family is important, but it isn’t always about blood relations so much as the family you build. While the character of Jake is working to live up to his legacy, one of the lines resonated, “I’m not my father.” I thought that was important because it doesn’t matter where you come from or who your parents are, all of us can make a difference in the world. The movie makes the point that anyone can be a hero, no matter they’re origins. That is a great message to pass on to children and adults alike. It is critical in the story that everyone work together.
The visuals and designs are awesome. Guillermo Del Toro was not as involved but he did consult on the visual elements and it completely shows. Each of the Jaegers is distinctive, a bit different than the original and totally cool if you like giant robots. The scenes with the fight sequences work well, keeping the audience engaged and waiting to see if the Jaegers will win out over the rogue robots as well as the Kaiju. You know who has to win but the action still keeps you on the edge of your seat.
As I already said, John Boyega does a great job breathing life into his character. He is charismatic and compelling. Scott Eastwood is a great foil, adding a strong enough performance to match Boyega. Rinko Kikuchi brings back that beautiful grace that she portrayed in the first film, subtle yet determined. Cailee Spaeny plays her character as resourceful, smart and feisty. Along with the other cadets, it is a solid portrayal. Jing Tian as Liwen Shao is more interesting toward the end of the film. My favorites were again the scientists played by Burn Gorman and Charlie Day. Both were surprising, fun and had hidden depths.
What is lacking is surprises in the story. While there is an attempt to misdirect the audience on the mystery, it wasn’t difficult to figure out what was going to happen and who was responsible for the events taking place. Again, I didn’t go to this movie for the plot but it could have been stronger. The writers do graft on Jake’s character to the original movie as there is no mention of him in that film. While it is done in a believable fashion, it is still shoehorned into the universe. And I was disappointed at the lack of mention or inclusion to a couple key figures in the original movie.
Overall? I loved the movie. It was everything I expected and a bit more. If you loved the first movie, I think you will like this one as well. Go for the fun, the heart and most importantly, the visuals, the action, and the fights between the Jaegers and Kaiju. Really, isn’t that what we’re all there for?
Rating: 4 out of 5 Jaegers