Starring: John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Scott Eastwood
Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight (debut)
Written by: Steven S. DeKnight (TV’s “Spartacus: War of the Damned”), Emily Carmichael (TV’s “The Adventures of Ledo and Ix”), Kira Snyder (TV’s “The 100”) and T.S. Nowlin (“The Maze Runner”)
It may not be as obnoxious as the “Transformers” franchise – specifically the four sequels that bulldozed their way into theaters after the barely tolerable 2007 original – but “Pacific Rim: Uprising” follows the same conventions and delivers what ends up being a big, dumb, loud, computer-generated robot wrestling match. As fun as that probably sounds to any 10-year-old boy, it’s hard to find a good reason why this series should continue past these two movies, although this sequel seems to set itself up for an unnecessary trilogy.
A follow-up to director Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 original overseas blockbuster “Pacific Rim,” which, let’s be honest, falls in the lower rung of del Toro monster movies, “Uprising” picks up a mostly new cast, although actors like Rinko Kikuchi and Burn Gorman return in small roles. Charlie Day, too, makes a reappearance, but his character is reworked into something different, which we won’t spoil here. Sadly, Ron Perlman is nowhere to be found despite slicing his way out from the inside of a slimy Kaiju at the end of the first movie. We’re still not sure if he ever found his shoe.
Replacing Idris Elba’s character Stacker Pentecost, who sacrifices himself in battle in the original, is his son Jake (John Boyega). Jake is reluctantly following in his father’s footsteps after he is arrested for stealing scrap metal Jaeger parts and selling them on the black market. He is give an ultimatum: stay locked up or join the Defense Corps and train a new team of pilot recruits. One of those newbies is Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a young girl who illegally builds her own mini-Jaeger in case the Kaiju ever find their way back to the surface.
Of course, the Kaiju do make a return, but not before death and destruction happen at the tin can hands of a new kind of Jaeger – one that functions not with a pair of pilots, but, instead, with Kaiju flesh. It’s an interesting twist to the story, but one that ultimately does little for the mythology of these skyscraper-sized creatures. Sure, the idea of cyborg Kaiju-Jaeger monstrosities is kind of cool, but it would be the same movie if they were running on AA batteries or solar energy or, hell, a freaking Infinity Stone.
What works best in “Uprising” is the brother-sister banter Jake and Amara share in a few scenes in the movie, but any sign the four credited screenwriters were going to build on that realistic dynamic is quickly overshadowed by robots and monsters throwing uppercuts at each other.
Audiences that step into “Uprising” are probably looking for one thing: gigantic creatures fighting and smashing into buildings. You get that here and nothing more. If you do decide to skip out on “Uprising,” have no fear – “Rampage” and “Bumblebee: The Movie” will be here before you know it.