'Pacific Rim Uprising': Film Review

Strictly for those who left the original wanting more.
3/23/2018

Giant robots battle other giant robots and giant lizards in this sequel to the 2013 hit directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Designed to appeal to adolescents of all ages, Pacific Rim Uprising is a film for anyone whose mental development peaked when they were playing Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. This sequel to the 2013 hit directed by Guillermo del Toro brings nothing new to the franchise except repetition. Considering that the mania for the similar Transformer films seems to be thankfully abating, it's hard to imagine that audiences are clamoring for yet more clashes between giant CGI robots. Even if the Pacific Rim movies throw in giant lizards to boot.

There's something inherently silly about watching grown men and women running in place, leaping into the air and miming throwing punches while wearing form-fitting spandex suits. But that's exactly what comprises much of the action in this series, in which pilots dubbed "Cadets" control their robot avatars, or "Jaegars," to combat giant lizards, known as "Kaiju."

The vocabulary proves far more interesting than the storyline, which takes place 10 years after the events of the first film. John Boyega (who apparently isn't satisfied with starring in just one sci-fi franchise) plays Jake, the son of the first film's hero, played by Idris Elba. Having abandoned his military service to pursue a more lucrative career scavenging Jaegar parts, Jake is summoned back into action by his sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Rejoining the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, or PPDC (I hope you're taking notes; there'll be a quiz later), Jake is soon fighting alongside Lambert (Scott Eastwood), his friend and rival pilot; Jules (Adria Arjona), whose romantic affections both men vie for; and Amara (Cailee Spaeny), a spunky teenage hacker who's built her own Jaeger from parts left over from the last cataclysmic battle.

A major plot element involves a Chinese company developing a new breed of unmanned Jaegar corps (Trump must have gotten an advance copy of the script before instituting his tariffs) — a business plan that, needless to say, doesn't sit well with the pilots. The Cadets are soon forced into apocalyptic combat with both the rogue Jaegars and the newly returned Kaiju. Anyone planning on visiting Sydney, Australia, one of several locales devastated in the carnage, should rethink their travel plans.

Among the characters returning for this installment are scientists Dr. Hermann Gottlieb and Dr. Newt Geiszler, played by Burn Gorman and Charlie Day, respectively, as a pair of tag-team vaudevillians.

Lacking the stylistic flair provided by del Toro in the original, this sequel, directed by Steven S. DeKnight (TV's Daredevil and Spartacus), becomes increasingly tiresome in its cliched plotting and characterizations, hackneyed dialogue and numbingly repetitive, visually incoherent action sequences. There were no less than three editors on the project, and you get the feeling that they weren't on speaking terms. The sequel is an improvement on its predecessor in at least one respect: Its running time is 20 minutes shorter. Not that you feel it.

It's disappointing to see Boyega, so impressive in Detroit, not taking advantage of his recently acquired star power to look for more challenging material. Eastwood certainly fulfills the physical demands of his heroic role effectively, but he now looks so much like his father that it's as if we're watching the computer-generated version of a young Clint Eastwood that will soon be starring in new Dirty Harry movies. The film's best performance comes from Spaeny, making her feature debut with an entertainingly feisty turn.

The screenplay, written by DeKnight and three others (it takes a committee to craft a script this generic), does feature one winking, self-knowing line. It's delivered by Day, who it's easy to believe might have improvised it if a behemoth production like this one allowed for such things. "We're going with giant robots again?" his scientist character asks in an aggrieved tone. "Real original! I am not impressed!"

Not that I want to talk my way out of a job, but who needs critics when a movie is gracious enough to review itself?

Production companies: Legendary Pictures, DDY
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Adriana Arjona, Max Zhang, Charlie Day
Director: Steven S. DeKnight
Screenwriters: Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, T.S. Nowlin
Producers: Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Guillermo del Toro, John Boyega, Femi Oguns, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni
Executive producer: Eric McLeod
Director of photography: Dan Mindel
Production designer: Stefan Dechant
Editors: Zach Staenberg, Dylan Highsmith, Josh Schaeffer
Composer: Lorne Balfe
Costume designer: Lizz Wolf
Casting: Sarah Finn, Kirsty McGregor

Rated PG-13, 111 minutes

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