Pacific Rim: Uprising

Following the events of “Pacific Rim,” Guillermo Del Toro’s charmless, bloated 2013 film, the world has been ridden of the gigantic Kaiju monsters and the massive Jaeger robots are no longer needed. At least, that’s how it is for a few minutes of “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” in which John Boyega stars as the son of Idris Elba’s character from the original; Boyega’s Jake Pentecost leads a team of new Jaeger operators to battle competing Jaegers and take on even more Kaiju.

Boyega’s enthusiasm and charisma is the best thing about this movie. He has yet to truly shine in the new “Star Wars” trilogy, was badly misused in “The Circle” and was the sole standout in Kathryn Bigelow’s botched “Detroit.” As this film’s star and co-producer, Boyega clearly intended to shape this as a proper vehicle to showcase his talents. He hasn’t been this lively and commanding since his breakthrough turn in “Attack the Block.” Unfortunately, in a situation similar to Alicia Vikander in “Tomb Raider,” Boyega gives his all to a movie that doesn’t deserve him at all.

“Pacific Rim” is Del Toro’s worst movie but it at least it earnestly paid tribute to classic TOHO monster movies. The sequel feels like the worst parts of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” series have been saved from the scrap pile and welded together. While Del Toro co-produced, the sequel marks the unfortunate directorial debut of Stephen S. DeKnight, who will hopefully survive this experience and make better movies in the future.

Both this and the original rely on the concept of “drift compatibility,” in which the operator (or puppeteer) of the giant Jaeger robot must meld their consciousness with both their co-pilot and the machine itself. It was an asinine concept in the first movie and comes across even more so this time. At one point, the exterior of a Jaeger is scraped and Jake cries out in pain. Can you imagine the Millennium Falcon yelling “Ouch!” every time it gets dinged by a meteorite? What if your co-pilot has been downing Redbull and listening to Radiohead for more than an hour? Wouldn’t that (and hundreds of other factors)hinder their performance ability? Then there’s the manner of operating the Jaegers, which resembles a Zumba workout performed on a Dance Dance Revolution stage. Look to “Voltron,” “Robotech” or even the cheap B-movie “Robot Jox” for examples of how to do the giant robot concept right.

Boyega is, in every way, a major improvement over Charlie Hunnam, the star of the original, whose comatose performances in every movie he appears in make me wonder just how good he really was on “Sons of Anarchy.” If only Boyege weren’t dealing with reheated narrative leftovers from far better movies. In every way, the severely underrated “Ender’s Game” (which also depicted children in a sci-fi military setting)  and “Battleship” (a self parody that managed to be wow-inducing and all-too-aware of how silly it was) did this better.

Although Boyega is up to the task of taking over Elba’s considerable absence, “Pacific Rim: Uprising” unwisely brought back the mad scientists from the original, played Charlie Dey and Burn Gorman, who give hideously annoying performances. Scott Eastwood once again looks silly offering his talents to a franchise that doesn’t need him (ditto Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi).

A Japan-set finale will put smiles on TOHO fans with its familiar imagery, though it only demonstrates how Gareth Edwards’ 2014, looking-better-all-the-time “Godzilla” is a superior throwback. This pointlessly colorful, over-plotted and soulless sequel is has the size of the original, and is an equally big crock. If Del Toro’s film tried to entice the kid in all of us, then DeKnight’s follow-up is kid’s stuff and in the worst way. Amazingly, last year’s “Power Rangers” reboot was actually more insightful, character-driven and impressive than this (to quote The Wizard of Oz) ”clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk.”

The dialog is not only terrible but self loathing: At one point, someone onscreen whines, “Giant Robots, again? ” My favorite quotable comes from Boyega himself who, late in the film, says “That was supposed to be epic, and it wasn’t.” I couldn’t agree more.

One Star

originally published in Maui Time Weekly