Note to future Movie Pilots with a Rebellious Streak:
You don’t have to keep talking about how you have a chance to save the world when you have a chance to save the world. We know. We see the big scary things threatening to destroy life as we know it.
Note to future Movie Support Team Players Back at Mission Control:
It doesn’t help for you to yell things like, “You’ve got to get out of there now!” when the Movie Pilots with Rebellious Streaks are racing against time. They KNOW they have to get out of there, now. All that badgering doesn’t help.
Whenever “Pacific Rim Uprising” gives itself the chance to do something fresh or unique or original, it passes up that opportunity to embrace the cliché. The sequel to the outlandishly entertaining 2013 sci-fi monster movie hit that was directed by Guillermo del Toro (this one is helmed by Steven S. DeKnight) is a clunky, loud, tedious and uninvolving paint-by-the-CGI-numbers actioner, filled with all-too-familiar archetypes saddled by a story so thin it’s almost translucent.
“Uprising” picks up some 10 years after the great war between the humans and the Kaiju, a pack of Godzilla-sized sea monsters that burst through a space-time portal on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and threatened to destroy the planet. The humans created gigantic rock-’em sock-’em robots called Jaegers, which were piloted by two-person teams who joined minds via a process known as “drifting,” and they took down those dreaded Kaiju. Yeah!
A decade later, peace is the rule of the day and most of the cities destroyed in battle have been rebuilt — with the exception of a few metropolitan areas that remain in disrepair, with the skeletal remains of a few Kaiju still lying around like futuristic-looking Stonehenge monuments.
John Boyega (“Star Wars”) is Jake, son of the late great Gen. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), fallen hero of the great war. Bounding about with a giant chip on his shoulder because Pops died before he ever had a chance to impress him, Jake is wasting his life partying and stealing things — which lands him in jail and facing a prison term.
Jake’s sister Make Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a high-ranking military official, intervenes and gives Jake the option of avoiding incarceration if he agrees to return to the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (that’s the PPDC to you and me), where he once washed out due to a serious attitude problem.
This is Jake’s shot at redemption! What are the odds someone at some point will say, “Your father would have been proud of you, Jake”?
Cailee Spaeny is the plucky street kid Amara, a genius hacker who built her own mini-Jaeger from leftover parts. She joins the PPDC as a cadet recruit. Scott Eastwood is the handsome, by-the-book pilot Lambert, who’s basically Ice Man to Jake’s Maverick. Charlie Day is back as Newt Geiszler, the brainy and wisecracking nerd who is now working for a powerful and hmmmm just maybe dangerous mega-conglomerate that wants to replace human-piloted Jaegers with drones.
(Sidebar: How is possible none of these pilots ever refers to himself as a “Jaegermeister”? Come on! It’s right there waiting to be invoked.)
“Pacific Rim Uprising” spins its wheels for long stretches, as we see the cadets training, and we learn the tragic (and utterly unsurprising) details of Amara’s past, and Jake banters with Lambert, and Charlie Day does his Charlie Day thing, which is to repeat unfunny one-liners twice and at a high volume in a strained and unsuccessful attempt to provide comedic relief.
Eventually we get a little plot wrinkle that leads to round two of the humans and their Jaegers vs. the seemingly unstoppable Kaiju.
The Jaegers’ movements, you’ll recall, are facilitated by the little human pilots strapped into a cockpit in the “head” of the Jaeger. When the pilots run, the Jaeger runs. When the pilots punch, the Jaeger punches. It’s like the coolest game ever at Dave & Buster’s, but these talented and likable actors can’t help but look ridiculous as they mind-meld with one another and run and jump and make kicking and stabbing and punching moves from inside the giant robot guys.
The climactic battle drags on forever and looks like a high-tech update of a monster movie clash of the titans from a half-century ago. Even the sight of the residents of Tokyo scrambling for their lives as a giant lizard monster stomps through the city serves only as a reminder we’re sitting through a glorified B-movie with nothing new to say.
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Steven S. DeKnight and written by Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight and T.S. Nowlin. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action and some language). Running time: 111 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.