By Jim Slotek
Watching Pacific Rim Uprising, the sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s passably-fun, winky homage to Japanese monster movies, is at times like watching the world’s longest episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
It’s childish fun in small doses to watch humongous things blow up and high-rise buildings get destroyed. But eventually senses dull, to match the dialogue.
Minus its original director and creative guide (Steven S. DeKnight helms this wannabe-more-commercial follow-up), Pacific Rim Uprising is a big, noisy, empty vessel of obvious derivatives, from Transformers to Independence Day that lacks charm or fun.
It also all but lets go of its original premise with both hands – human-made, brain-operated robots called Jaegers (so huge, it takes two people to run them) versus extra-dimensional alien monsters called kaiju. Yes, that matchup that defined the original Pacific Rim eventually happens, tacked on illogically in the last act,seemingly by way of padding the script.
And then there’s that Hollywood playbook approach to make sequels better – add kids.
See, in the decade after Stacker Pentacost (Idris Elba) sacrificed himself after shouting the words, “We’re here to cancel the apocalypse!” scientists discovered that the mind-connection between human operators and Jaegers is stronger if you get them started young.
So there’s an elite squad of militarized, ethnically diverse teens and tweens – shades of Divergent! – who bunk together, snark and snarl at each other, and live for the day the kaiju return and they get to kick some monster butt.
The movie’s hero Jake Pentacost (the current Star Wars series’ John Boyega), reluctant heir to his martyred dad’s hero mantle, gets to “meet cute” with one of them. Having gone rogue himself, he’s turned to robbing Jaeger junkyards to supply parts for criminals who want to build their own Jaegers. One of his scavenger missions is thwarted by a kid named Amara (Cailee Spaeny) who, yes, has built her own Jaeger that is soon called upon as a getaway-robot when the two are discovered by the authorities.
That actually exhilarating bit of business in the movie’s opening scene, leads us to a training centre, where Jake is reinstated, and Amara is the new kid being put upon by a Russian mean-girl (Ivanna Sakhno).
That’s pretty much the extent of the human interaction, if you don’t count the return of the two bickering scientists (Burn Gorman and Charlie Day) who are less comic relief this time around and more earnest plot devices, and Boyega’s macho kibitzing with his hostile fellow officer and Jaeger co-pilot Nate (Scott Eastwood).
Yes, there is plenty of repetitive action, accompanied by so much excited technical jargon – “Phase cannons ready! Safety protocols deactivated! – it practically qualifies as a soundtrack.
But the action and mind-numbing destruction is mainly Jaeger-on-Jaeger – the result of a conspiracy and fifth-column subplot that seems to point to a giant Chinese mega-corp called the Shao Corporation, run by a stereotypical dragon-lady CEO named Liwen Shao (Tian Jing).
So much of the plot and action revolves around China (with some dialogue in Mandarin), it almost seems like pandering to a market that is now a bigger box-office cash cow than North America. That market, which is fed a steady diet of Hollywood action films, has already saved the bottom-line of many a big-budget dud.
Pacific Rim Uprising. Directed by Stephen S. DeKnight. Starring John Bodega, Cailee Spaeny and Scott Eastwood. Opens wide Friday, March 23.