I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Connor Bynum // Film Critic
PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING
“Giant robots fighting alien monsters the size of skyscrapers.”
If the first word that comes to mind upon hearing such a premise is anything other than “awesome,” PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING is probably not for you. But for everyone who gave the correct answer, I’m pleased to inform you that, while the film suffers from some weak characters and awkward dialogue, it’s still a decent start to the blockbuster season.
Taking place 10 years after the events of the first film, the son of the legendary Jaeger pilot Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), Jake (John Boyega), has abandoned his father’s legacy in favor of a life of partying and selling abandoned Jaeger parts for… condiments? For real, he has a thing for Sriracha and sprinkles. I wish I were making that up. He eventually runs into a younger, more talented scrapper named Amara (Cailee Spaeny). They get caught in an unregistered Jaeger and are forced to either join the corp or go to prison. Naturally, they decide to join the corp.
For all the effort Guillermo del Toro put into making the Jaegers and Kaiju feel as believable as possible in his 2013 passion project, PACIFIC RIM, its supporting cast ended up being merely one-dimensional, forgettable characters who were given barely anything to do. Unfortunately, this is all the more apparent in UPRISING with secondary characters getting a single moment in the spotlight before dying in what I’m guessing was supposed to be an emotional scene.
STAR WARS alum John Boyega gives a committed performance as Jake, but sadly draws more attention to the underused supporting characters. Scott Eastwood plays Ranger Nate Lambert, a former co-pilot to Jake in a heavily referenced backstory, that now must train the group of young cadets who dream to one day be Jaeger pilots. He does just fine in the role, but outside of a completely underdeveloped and underused love triangle between Jake and Jules Reyes (Adria Arjona), he mostly stands at attention in the sidelines.
Cailee Spaeny is clearly given the most material out of the rest of the cadets as the hard headed, but emotionally scared Amara. While her character is introduced as a headstrong loner who plays by her own rules, she eventually grows to appreciate the importance of being a part of a team. It’s just too bad that her fellow cadets are confined to a single attribute at best.
Gripes about character development aside, TV producer turned director Steven S. DeKnight (SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED, MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL) shows he is more than up to the task of crafting intricate action sequences. When the Jaegers get into full gear, the movie is a popcorn-driven spectacle. Yet, DeKnight can’t seem to find the right balance between providing exposition and pandering to the audience by having his characters remind everyone of what happened in the previous film. Reprising their roles, Charlie Day (IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA) and Burn Gorman (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) are the most obvious offenders in this area, as their first scene is spent giving a full recap to each other about what they did last time.
If you didn’t care much for the first one, odds are that UPRISING will do little to change your tune. It’s bigger, it’s louder and it’s got more of what held its predecessor back in the first place.
PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING opens nationwide on Friday (3/23).