March 23, 2018

Pacific Rim Uprising

Lethal Weapon 2049

Grade: C
Director: Steven S. DeKnight
Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Jing Tuan
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.

Pacific Rim Uprising is a sequel of Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 robots-versus-creatures feature. Del Toro is gone, making way for debut feature-film director Steven S. DeKnight. Still, there’s plenty of room left for additional homage. There’s a platonic pairing between John Boyega and a young girl who subsists by scavenging robotic relics that I’m sure in no way is meant to evoke Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A group of kung-ho recruits are thrust into battle, the most caricatured cadets this side of Starship Troopers. Clint Eastwood’s son squints and grouses a lot. If you’re going to cast Jing Tian as a monster-battling scientist, at least tie it into her similar role in last year’s Kong: Skull Island and the once-rumored MonsterVerse crossover. Charlie Day’s character has cognitive coitus with a beast in a jar, the first instance of that since del Toro’s The Shape of Water won an Oscar.

But the most accurate and damning allegory is that Pacific Rim Uprising is a big, loud Transformers derivative, a mechanical, assembly-line product that envelopes—literally and figuratively—the personalities of both (wo)men and monsters.

Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, the wayward son of Idris Elba’s sacrificial hero from Pacific Rim. It’s been ten years since Jake’s dad helped seal the subterranean breach to keep out the colossal Kaiju. That hasn’t stopped development of the Jaeger program, including trainer Nate Lambert (Clint Eastwood) and his fresh crop of cadets training to pilot the latest models of giant robots whenever the Kaiju may return. That crew eventually includes Amara (Cailee Spaeny), a crafty orphan and delinquent who is a whiz at Jaeger lore and schematics. Meanwhile, a scientific weapons industrialist (Jing Tian) is developing a fleet of drone Jaegers, threatening to render Lambert and his corps obsolete.

The fault with Pacific Rim Uprising does not lie with its tableau. The remnants of the old war with the Kaiju litter the landscape—the ruins of Santa Monica, California have become a Jaeger repurposing plant. A black market has arisen around derelict Jaeger parts, which civilians cobble together to build their own makeshift Jaegers. Day and Burn Gorman reprise their Pacific Rim roles, each figuring largely into the Kaiju’s imaginative plan of counterattack.

Unfortunately, the characters aren’t even as interesting as the monikers assigned to the oddly anatomical Jaegers, given names like Saber Athena, Obsidian Fury, Guardian Bravo, and Gipsy Avenger. The movements of the Jaegers in del Toro’s original, with an emphasis on their weight and scale, are replaced by video-game choreography. The lead human roles aren’t deeper than their surface personas: Pentecost is a wiseacre, Lambert is ramrod with a heart, and Amara is a moody prodigy.

What’s especially lost in translation is the original’s blend of steampunk quirkiness and cinematic scope. Pacific Rise Uprising is like a faulty new machine: all the parts of there, but they aren’t properly assembled. That said, Pacific Rim was ultimately heady, high-glass kitsch, which begs this thought experiment: if you took this same sequel, made as-is, and inserted del Toro’s name as director instead of DeKnight, would it receive a warmer reception? After all, it does include amore with a creature in a tank.

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