'Pacific Rim Uprising' review: Fun, diverse action movie defies expectations

WATCH: 'Pacific Rim Uprising' trailer

It’s easy to dismiss the Pacific Rim movies as just blockbuster fluff. Similar to the Transformers franchise, which also features huge robots taking on correspondingly massive adversaries, it’s understandable that the perception of one impacts the other.

Pacific Rim Uprising, the second film in the franchise, is a surprisingly fun and engaging movie. While the major questions of war, the safety of the Earth’s population and the destruction of Japanese cities are glazed over, it’s OK. This is, after all, an action movie featuring Jaegers (gigantic human-controlled robots) and Kaiju monsters (ancient undersea creatures) battling on a grand, urban scale, not a lesson in politics.

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If you’re in it for explosions, fights and action — replete with sassy one-liners — then you will not be disappointed.

You say “surprisingly.” Why?

The buzz around this followup hasn’t been the best. Automatically derided by critics for original director Guillermo del Toro‘s move to producer (Stephen S. DeKnight took over the director’s chair), Pacific Rim 2 was expected to be a typical sequel; that is, it was expected to flop.

Maybe low expectations are key? In any event, the movie is not a flop. It is wall-to-wall fun, and its two-hour runtime flew by. Pacific Rim purists may find more to pick at, but on the whole the film is very enjoyable for adults, kids and anyone who takes pleasure in robots fist-fighting amid towering skyscrapers.

How is John Boyega in the leading role?

You know, John Boyega should be given more leading roles. He is charming, attractive and commanding of every scene he’s in. Much maligned in The Last Jedi, here he shines and is fully given the spotlight as Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba‘s 2013 character, Stacker. In Uprising, Jake reunites with his sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and a new generation of Jaegar pilots against the new (uprising) Kaiju threat.

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Joined by Scott Eastwood (as Jake’s buddy/rival Nate Lambert), young newcomer Cailee Spaeny (as eager teenager Amara Namani) and a diverse crew of other cadets, the ragtag team works together to take down the new threat.

What else makes this movie so good?

The diversity of the cast is really something. Other films (which shall remain nameless) have paid lip service to upping diversity, and most of the time it feels shoehorned or forced. In the case of Uprising, there is a bounty of Asians, African-Americans, Latinos and Latinas and a smattering of white faces, and not once does it feel contrived. Straight-up, it feels like everyday life in a major city, and it is refreshing. The movie also doesn’t shy away from using the characters’ actual language(s). There are subtitles galore. (Charlie Day’s loud-mouthed Dr. Newton Geiszler is depicted as the stupid one for not working on his Mandarin.)

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Another element of Uprising that deserves praise is its casting of women in powerful, important roles. Again, this is not some casting to fit a quota; it feels organic and real. Not only does Amara kick some serious ass, but the woman in charge of Shao Industries (Tian Jing as Liwen Shao) is both the leader of a multinational corporation and a fearless warrior. There are women on the tech side of things and women on the battlefield — and even though the Jaegars are huge, muscular masculine robots, without women these things wouldn’t even leave the hangar.

So what’s the bottom line?

Fun from start to finish, Pacific Rim Uprising is a summer blockbuster that arrived early. Diehard fans of the franchise might not enjoy it as much as the casual observer, but the movie has laughs, action, drama, and you’ll find yourself invested in every character. Also, who would’ve thought a movie about supersized, warring robots and monsters could possibly set the bar for diversity? A pleasant surprise, through and through.

‘Pacific Rim Uprising’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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