Kaiju and Jaegers tussle once again in the raucous and gorgeous PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING.
By Matt Cummings
In making a list of the most under-appreciated action films of the past two decades, one must place 2013’s PACIFIC RIM near or at the top. Filled with great CGI, a compelling story, and tons of fun bashing, it’s everything TRANSFORMERS could have been, and everything POWER RANGERS dreamed of. But the film left a markedly final stamp on things; so when trailers arrived for PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING, audiences’ first reaction was an understandable “Why?” Its arrival on 4K/Blu-ray does little to allay those fears, even though the video and audio in both formats is impressive.
Although it’s been 10 years since The Breach was sealed, the world struggles to rebuild while keeping an eye on looters of old Jaeger tech. For Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the death of his father who helped to end the Kaiju threat has left him drifting throughout life. While attempting to steal a Jaeger power source, he meets the orphan Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who’s arrested along with Jake. But with imprisonment comes an offer: re-join the Pan Pacific Defense Corps to train Amara and a team of young recruits, just as a new drone program threatens to replace them. Jake is wary of settling down, especially when he learns that his ex-Drifter Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) still holds old grudges that saw the team disbanded. But when the drones turn into Kaiju themselves, Jake and old fellow Drifters Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) join forces to face the biggest Kaiju yet: a Category 6 beast that threatens to destroy all life on the planet.
At just $101.8 domestically, the original PACIFIC RIM wasn’t exactly a Category 5 Kaiju, but has since become a genre favorite, right up there with 2014’s EDGE OF TOMORROW. This is why UPRISING was green-lit, but I wondered if there was another story left to be told. UPRISING doesn’t take the bold risks of the original – although a plot twist will leave you pleasantly surprised – but it does enough to continue the story into a third, should audiences embrace it. That’s going to be a challenge, given that the road here is pockmarked with a few problems. With the exception of Jake and Amara, most of the troupe are there for color, disposable pawns ready to be used instead of cherished as potential new heroes. A major character from the original is only mentioned but is assumed alive, while the first act is mostly set up; that’s not a bad thing as we get a lot more of the politics and backstory for Jake and Amara. I wish Michael Bay would have treated his characters with the same love, but some of the interaction in Writer/Director Steven S. DeKnight script borders on real cheese, something that he seems to have ignored in his landmark DAREDEVIL series on Netflix. That missing character and the flow of Act 1 makes things slow to get up to speed, but I still enjoyed the politics of a world struggling to move on. As a director, DeKnight fares far better, giving both machine and man their respect in some pretty good action scenes. CGI is solid, and it seems like its $150m budget was well spent. But there’s also a cheapness to the script that keeps bothering me, perhaps in the interaction between certain characters and situations, such as the renegade Amara, or in our ability to quickly who will live and die. My worry is definitely centered around the stiff Eastwood, whom I’ve never liked. He’s really a black hole here and every scene featuring him suffers mightily.
Even with these faults, there’s a lot to like about UPRISING. Boyega and Spaeny enjoy excellent chemistry, as Boyega really commands the screen. He’s a hero actor for sure, but he also bleeds a bit before our eyes once he begins to drift with Amara. Day and Gorman pick up where they left off in the original, and I actually wish they would have been more involved. And then there’s that plot surprise that keeps UPRISING from becoming a predictable flop. I’m not sure if it will be enough to launch a final film, but it’s a fun, enjoyable ride that fails less than it succeeds. I know that’s not a ringing endorsement, but perhaps a second viewing will change my mind. And that admission alone should tell you a lot.
Universal’s PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING arrives with a very good Blu-ray transfer, and an outstanding 4K print. Colors in the BD print as gorgeous and vivid, with cool lab blues looking just as good as fiery reds and oranges. Colors are dialed up in 4K, as is clarity. It’s remarkably beautiful and intense in both formats, with very sharp elements throughout. Clothing and human features get progressively better in 4K, but in the MPEG-4/AVC transfer they also look lifelike, with hair, sweat, blood, and clothing all showing off their best features. Jaeger tech looks impressive, with worn battle plates easily seen, while labs and the war room show off clean lines and bright holographic panels. Outdoor scenes impress, whether constructed or imagined in the digital space. Shadows also fair quite well, progressing into inky blacks as our team moves throughout the Shatterdome. Again, just add better detail to the 4K, and you can see that Universal has decided to treat both platforms with equal love. The results are pretty darn near close to reference quality.
Booming and thundering during the good parts – of which there are many – Universal’s PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING features a Dolby Atmos soundtrack on the 4K and a DTS-HD Master Audio track on the BD. Both do quite well in the loud parts, strutting their stuff early on. Janky and well-maintained machinery echo through the forwards, while the score by Composer Lorne Balfe – who is starting to make his name known in Hollywood – reverberates through the surrounds along with other smaller sounds. We don’t get a wall of noise coming from either version, but there is a bit of softness that permeates things, especially in those rears. There, we don’t get a lot of noise until it’s time for something big to happen. One would think we’d get Shatterdome talk, the sound of water hitting the Jaegers, or workplace chatter, but you really have to turn it up to hear those. The center channel merely dials up the dialogue – which is very clear throughout – with the music and effects clearly heard. But we’re not here for talk, and so when action shows up, the platform responds, pushing the LFE around like a baby. There’s never a time when the subwoofer gives up, but Universal does push the envelope quite a lot here. I will also say that movement between speakers – such as in certain scenes where missiles are used – is very well done. Prioritization pleases immensely, drowning the listener in Kaiju goodness throughout, especially when the beasts open their mouths. So it’s a slightly mixed bag, but one that delivers on a lot of levels.
There’s a surprising diversity of supplements offered here, each telling another angle to the story without feeling like the standard EPK. Everything here is in HD, so enjoy learning about the film from the following:
- Audio Commentary by Director Steven S. DeKnight: The first-time movie director brings us an insightful discussion about every element of the film, including its origins, story, pre-and post-production, and the characters. He also addresses why certain characters are either gone or perish.
- Deleted Scenes (6:56 ): Alt. Party James Gunn, Amara Arrives at Shatterdome Part 1, Amara Arrives at Shatterdome Part 2, Amara Meets the Cadets, Jake & Nate Discuss Jake’s Return, Amara Meets Liwen, Newt and Alice, and Kaiju Brain from Fury. You can select an optional commentary from Director Steven S. DeKnight.
- Hall of Heroes (3:25): John Boyega takes some time to introduce us to all the Jaegers featured in the film.
- Bridge to Uprising (4:39): The cast and crew discuss various elements of the film.
- The Underworld of Uprising (3:47): This is a character overview.
- Becoming Cadets (5:58): We take a moment to learn about some of the secondary characters from the film.
- Unexpected Villain (5:48): Don’t watch this one until you’ve see the movie.
- Next Level Jaegers (5:08): A second piece on the new Jaegers. We get some pretty sweet concept art as well.
- I Am Scrapper (2:42): We learn a little more about the tiny Jaeger called Scrapper.
- Going Mega (3:21): We learn about the various Kaiju which appear in the film.
- Secrets of Shao (3:14): This is a nice piece about an important new character.
- Mako Returns (2:08): We learn about the return of one of original characters.
- Trailers: None for the film, but you;ll see ads for other Universal films like JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, TREMORS: A COLD DAY IN HELL, and SKYSCRAPER.
Our evaluation copy arrived as a 4K/Blu-ray/Movies Anywhere digital copy. The 4K slipcase is embossed. As of this posting, there were two special versions abailable, including a great steelbook from Target and Ultimate Combo pack from Best Buy which includes all platforms including 3D There’s no interior artwork on our copy, but the Target version features an exquisite cover and interior. It’s one of the nicest we’ve seen this year, so congrats on Target for stepping up. .
THE BOTTOM LINE:
While the sequel does its best to allay any fears, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING is clearly not as fun as the first, nor do a few plot holes help to make its case for franchise status. It’s remarkably not bad, featuring a rather goofy but somewhat interestingly transitional tale. If you loved the smash-up of the original, you’ll love the final act but could be bored by cheesiness of the set up. However, its paltry worldwide haul of $290m isn’t going to make a final film any easier to sell. Frankly, we were lucky to get this one, so enjoy it. I can’t remember a movie that knew its was as dumb as this one but doubles-down on the mayhem and mostly succeeds. Technical merits are outstanding, as is the deep selection of supplements.
PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language and has runtime of 111 minutes.