You remember, of course, how a breach at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean produced a gateway through which extra-dimensional Godzillas entered our universe and wrecked our cities, and the only way to stop the destruction was to build giant Transformers to fight them. (It is by the same logic that some want Oprah to run against Trump.) Pacific Rim (2013) ended with brave heroes sacrificing themselves to seal the breach and kill the remaining monsters. Now, five years later, 10 years have passed. There have been no further incidents, but here’s a sequel called Pacific Rim Uprising, so…
The first movie was shallow but enthusiastic, buoyed by director Guillermo del Toro’s imagination and writer Travis Beacham’s no-frills script that delivered what viewers wanted: giant things fighting each other. In contrast, the sequel, from first-time director Stephen S. DeKnight, with a screenplay credited to him and three others (del Toro is onboard as producer), is weak, aimless, and noisy. The thrill of giant things fighting each other is still here, but it’s reduced by familiarity (we saw this already) and by the film’s lack of it. This movie about huge robots fighting monsters doesn’t have enough robots, fighting, or monsters in it.
Our hero is one Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of the Idris Elba character from the other movie but no chip off the old block. Jake is a thief and a rascal who fizzled out of pilot training, forced to either re-enlist or go to prison when he and a plucky teen girl, Amara (Cailee Spaeny), are caught operating an unlicensed Jaeger (that’s what the robots are called) that Amara built from scrap parts. Both are sent to Jaeger Academy, where Amara joins the cadets and Jake re-joins an old friendly rival, Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), as the pilots who instruct them.
We still have the Jaeger program, by the way, in case the Kaiju (monsters) come back, but in the meantime they mostly do police work. Jake and Nate are co-piloting a Jaeger — which involves mind-melding, you’ll recall — at a meeting of international importance in Sydney when a rogue Jaeger emerges from the sea and wreaks havoc. Who’s controlling it? And what does Liwen Shao (Tian Jing), head of possibly evil Shao Industries, have to gain by it? Shao has been developing drone Jaegers that can be operated remotely rather than having the pilots climb inside the robot’s head, and which could have averted tragedy in Sydney if they’d been in use, she’s just sayin’. Comic-relief manic scientists Newt (Charlie Day) and Hermann (Burn Gorham) are back, feverishly developing the new tech for Shao.
Despite everyone but Scott Eastwood’s charisma, none of the characters ever come to life except in brief bursts, and the human villain or villains never get a proper payoff. Everything else is strictly by the numbers. Jake must learn to be a hero. Nate must stop squinting and growling at him and forgive whatever it is that happened before (it was between the movies, we didn’t see it). Amara, a Jaeger fangirl who knows the names of the Jaegers and their pilots, has to overcome her junkyard background and prove herself to her haughty fellow cadets, an international mix of teens who seem like a desperate attempt to establish “the next generation” even though this is only the first sequel.
Most of the film has the Jaegers intermittently fighting the rogue Jaeger, pilot unknown, in some perfunctory robot-on-robot violence. That mystery is solved with a lot of time left, so then we spin our wheels until the finale that will surely have all the Jaeger pilots and cadets fighting the Kaiju that will have inevitably gotten loose. Said finale delivers the goods, but it’s 20 minutes of enjoyable CGI mayhem after 90 minutes of so-so horsin’ around. What they tease for part 3 sounds like we should have gone straight there and skipped this water-treading middle episode.