Here’s the thing about movies where giant robots beat up on giant monsters: they should be fun. Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 Pacific Rim only sometimes delivered that, with its quasi-realistic focus on traumatised survivors teaming up to meet a monster invasion. Uprising, however, packs in more gonzo invention and giddy destruction than its progenitor and the director, Daredevil’s Steven S. DeKnight, manages to twist the franchise in some surprising new directions.
John Boyega, employing every ounce of his considerable charisma, is the roguish Jake Pentecost, son of Idris Elba’s heroic apocalypse-canceller Stacker. But Jake turned away from the Jaeger programme, and now skulks about scavenging tech to fund an extravagant snack-food habit. A chance encounter with a teen Jaeger builder, Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), and her Bumblebee-like creation Scrapper lands Jake in jail — until he agrees to go back and train a new generation of recruits.
The action delivers in ways that the Transformers franchise hasn’t managed in a decade.
It’s all an excuse to give Jake some outsider cool in the pilot programme, because soon everyone is preoccupied by bigger issues. Tech tycoon Shao Liwen (Jing Tian) is pushing a rival drone project to replace the Jaeger pilots, with Charlie Day’s Newt Geiszler now at her side. When a rogue Jaeger appears in Sydney just as Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) is about to vote on the drones, it becomes apparent that kaiju are not the only threat.
There are probably allegories here about the proliferation of nuclear weapons post-World War II, as well as the current rise of robot weaponry, but this is not a film meant to provoke deep thoughts: it’s a film where giant robots raze cities. The property damage is mind-boggling, and the action delivers in ways that the Transformers franchise hasn’t managed in a decade.
This rushes through its character beats, especially Adria Arjona’s embarrassingly underserved Jules and the identikit trainees, none of whom stick in the mind like del Toro’s misfits, but then, there’s a lot to do. It’s not a spoiler to say that the kaiju eventually reappear (though not as you might think) and the destruction ramps up to even more devastating heights. The result is frequently ludicrous, but it is bigger and cleverer than we had any right to expect.