If you enjoyed 2013’s Pacific Rim but secretly wished it was more like a vapid Transformers sequel, then you’ll love Pacific Rim Uprising. Everyone else can give this heavy-metal howler a hard pass. Thanks to the freaky vision of Guillermo del Toro, the first installment in the giant robots-vs.-giant sea monsters battle royal at least had a blast of old-school Godzilla-on-Monster Island nostalgia. Now, under the limp reins of director Steven S. DeKnight (TV’s Daredevil), the follow-up feels like a flat cocktail of tedious mayhem, amateur-hour Starship Troopers-level acting (minus the tongue-in-cheek irony), and plot holes so gaping that a 20-story radioactive iguana could rampage right through them.
Picking up several years after the humans won round one and sealed the breach at the bottom of the sea that let loose a marauding menagerie of supersized calamari and skyscraper-stomping Komodo dragons, the sequel introduces us to Jake Pentecost (Star Wars’ John Boyega). If that Holy Spirit surname rings a bell that’s because Jake is the estranged son of the first film’s military hero Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, too shrewd to return here via flashback). Speaking in his native London accent, Boyega is the sole bright spot in this otherwise gloomy slog. But his character is never more than a collection of clichés – he’s a reluctant hero, both haunted and burdened by his famous father’s reputation. In other words, take a wild guess whose shoulders the fate of the world will rest on when the gargantuan, radioactive kaiju return for seconds?
He’s not alone. Before the monsters return, Jake takes a scrappy young gearhead named Amara (Cailee Spaeny) under his wing. She’s obsessed with the giant robot jaegers that mankind has created to defeat the monsters. And she knows all of the giant robots names and stats. In fact, she rattles them off like she’s the shill in a commercial for Pacific Rim tie-in action figures, which I’m still not sure she’s not. She’s also in the movie because Jake will need something to care about beyond his own self-interest by the time the credits roll. There’s also a few returning characters like Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as the brainiac Mutt-and-Jeff comic-relief scientists who have only grown more annoying since the last film. Scott Eastwood also turns up as Boyega’s jaeger pilot rival Nate who’s essentially the cocky Iceman to Boyega’s Maverick. Eastwood gets in Boyega’s face and barks squishy lines like: “You can front all you want, but you and I both know you could’ve been great!” Trust me, I wish I was joking.
When the kaiju unexpectedly return for payback against Earth, this unmemorable group of heroes (plus a bunch of others too bland to mention) band together to save the planet — except for Day, he’s gone over to the dark side. But don’t worry, he’s just as gratingly high-pitched and unfunny as he was when he was one of the good guys. And, well, that’s pretty much it, folks. The movie throws around some plot points that ever-so-slightly expand the PacRim universe (Did you know, for instance, that kaiju blood could fuel flying jaegers?). But really this is just a numbingly endless orgy of smackdowns between giant phony-looking toys minus the gee-whiz grandeur that del Toro brought to it the first time around. Cities like Sydney are reduced to rubble without a shred of shock or awe.
The only half-memorable moment in the film comes during the final climax atop a snow-covered Mt. Fuji. I couldn’t explain to you the whys and wherefores of how man and beast ultimately wound up there to square off (it had something to do with rare Earth metals, I think), but it’s the lone sequence that felt fittingly epic considering the stakes. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that Pacific Rim Uprising is drastically worse than the last two Transformers sequels. But the fact that it’s even a contest certainly isn’t a recommendation. To be honest, the best way to see this one is probably a year from now on late-night cable. C-