In a way, I suppose it was inevitable that this film was not going to be as good as the first one. The fact that the first Pacific Rim was that great was a bit of a miracle. I mean, this is a movie where the general concept is basically Transformers vs. Godzilla monsters. And while that sounds like a pretty fun concept... these kinds of popcorn action movies typically never get past the "good but not great" stage if they're lucky. Because while the action and visuals are typically pretty awesome, the story and characters just aren't there. While those elements didn't necessarily carry the first Pacific Rim, they were good enough that the movie itself was genuinely enjoyable--and not even as a guilty pleasure. One might compare it to Independence Day, only with a less strong cast, in terms of appeal. (Heck, both films had iconic pre-battle speeches--Pacific Rim's was courtesy of Idris Elba and included the gem "Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!")
Perhaps the first mistake here is Guillermo del Toro not directing again. While I'm not necessarily a fan of most of his work, it's undeniable (especially now that this sequel is out) that he was part of the reason the first one was that good. He actually made a quite coherent movie, and came up with some pretty excellent design and battle sequences. But unfortunately, I'm not certain that even del Toro's involvement would have elevated this one a whole lot. There are problems that go beyond handing the director position from del Toro to a random newbie.
One of the actual first mistakes is the fact that there's a way too large time skip in this sequel. There is a five year gap in between the release of the two movies, and yet this movie takes place *ten years* after the first one. And it took me a while to figure out what all was going on in this new world ten years later. Despite the war with the Kaiju monsters having ended ten doggone years ago, they've still been keeping the Jaeger robot bases running... for some reason, even though there's no reason to believe they'll come back other than the fact that this movie exists. And now the Jaeger defense forces have a competitor in the form of a manufacturer of drones that could replace the Jaegers... again, even though there's no reason to believe they'll even really need said drones for Kaiju purposes. And of course, the Kaiju do come back... in a few unexpected ways.
If it wasn't already clear, this movie is definitely not as good as the first. For one, it's less coherent. There seem to be more subplots going on this time, and it doesn't help that they tried cramming those subplots into a movie that's 20 minutes shorter than the first one. Oh and guess what? Much of the sound and fury here ends up being ended a bit abruptly so they can set up another sequel which will probably never happen. Much like Independence Day 2, really--but I actually liked that one more than I did this.
But the biggest issue is that we get introduced to a ton of new characters this time around and almost none of them are likable, nor do any of them have interesting backstories or even a backstory in the first place. The only returning characters are Mako (who gets very little to do) and the two scientists. John Boyega is the lead this time around. His character--Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba's character from the last one--does not do much to make you want to root for him. If anything, sometimes it's the opposite. And also, while Boyega has done well in Star Wars, his acting is stunningly wooden and emotionless most of the time.
And the other new characters? Not much dice there either. Amara's really the only one that's that interesting at all--she did manage to build a small Jaeger on her own, and her backstory is at least somewhat interesting. But I don't even remember any of the other cadet's names. Scott Eastwood's character? A jerk most of the time. Jing Tian's character is alright, but still manages to stand out if only because she's not annoying unlike almost everyone else in this movie. In general, most of the acting performances in this movie just aren't that good or memorable. Charlie Day is the only one who really stands out--and his character is oddly enough the only one (besides maybe Amara's) that has anything interesting going on with them.
What about the action, then? It's still generally pretty fun, I suppose. Oddly enough, there seems to be a bit less of it in this one, but it's pretty no-holds-barred when it does happen. Probably the best most memorable bits are the two scenes where a Jaeger fights a rogue Jaeger. The finale is fine enough; though it should be noted that it's so insanely destructive that even Michael Bay would probably raise an eyebrow. Take from that what you will.
For all of the story issues, the main plotline regarding the Kaiju's return is actually a bit of a clever one. I was concerned they wouldn't handle it well, but they surprised me there. They actually manage to pull the rug out from under us a couple of times with a plot twist or two. And while these moments are pretty good... it makes you wonder why the rest of the movie's writing and plotting is so mediocre.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is probably the kind of film the first Pacific Rim would have been if del Toro hadn't directed it. It's kind of depressing too, because the first film showed that this kind of movie can actually be well done and at least written well enough. Here, it just feels like not as much effort was put into this one. The result is a movie that has some traces of good material in it... but ultimately wastes them.