“Pacific Rim Uprising”: less than oceanic in originality

“Pacific Rim Uprising”
directed by Steven S. DeKnight
written by Emily Carmichael & Kira Snyder and Steven S. DeKnight and T.S. Nowlin; story by DeKnight and Nowlin
acted by John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona
presented by Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures
MPAA-rated PG-13 “for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language”
running time: 111 minutes


by Bill Stamets

“Pacific Rim Uprising” offers inanely iterated bouts of CGI combat between Kaiju, mega-dino-like creatures from another dimension, and Jaegers, 25-story-high mecha-robots whose embedded human co-pilots neurally bridge right and left hemispheres to muster the requisite brain power for interfacing with their mechanical limbs and weapons.

Dazzling pixels and numbing decibels overserve the senses. All this entertained many of my neurons, if not my plot receptors. An amazement in the design: an underdetailed narrative built on thin, short threads of dialogue between one-note characters. It’s almost bold to insert such slight pauses between the outsized action sequences.

Guillermo del Toro directed “Pacific Rim” in 2013. The credits for “Pacific Rim Uprising” list him among 14 producers in the 2018 sequel directed by Steven S. DeKnight. Screenwriters Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and DeKnight bring back many characters and tropes created by screenwriter Travis Beacham in 2013. When is a sequel more like a reboot?

Not returning is Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the Pan Pacific Defense Corps commander who cloaked his Jaeger in Kaiju corpse DNA to fake out the Kaiju guarding an inter-dimensional “Breach” on the floor of the Pacific Ocean though which the “alien race” of Precursors dispatch Kaiju to defeat humankind and terraform Earth as a new habitat for Precursors. “Today we are canceling the apocalypse,” proclaimed Pentecost upon launching his suicide mission to breach the Breach and detonate his onboard nuclear reactors.

Ten years afterwards, in 2035, the son of this world-famous world-saver has quit as a Jaeger pilot. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) works as a Jaeger tech scavenger with a famous father issue.

From the start, the screenplay of “Pacific Rim Uprising” repurposes “Pacific Rim” elements. The first film also had a father and son who were both Jaeger pilots. The son had similar “daddy issues,” as another pilot put it. Both films have black markets: in the first dealers peddled Kaiju debris; in the second Jake and Amara (Cailee Spaeny), a plucky 15-year-old scrapper, deal in Jaeger parts. Both films feature hotshot protocol-overriding pilots who quit and find dangerous work elsewhere. They’re induced to return to the Pan Pacific Defense Corps where they piss off officers and bond with other pilots.

“Pacific Rim Uprising” repeats a major plot point in “Pacific Rim.” Jaegers and their pilots face replacement by new anti-Kaiju technology: massive coastal walls were erected to protect Pacific coastal cities from further attacks in the first film; in the second, remotely controlled drones are scheduled to make Jaegers obsolete. Neither measure succeeds. Jaegers must save the day.

The most appealing carry-over is the spat between scientists Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Herman Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). Know-your-enemy inquiry results in dire blowback. This twist is the most original reveal in “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” in which there is no uprising, above or below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, by the way.

As in “Transformer” and other sci-fi action franchises, there is no permanent plug in the inter-dimensional portal in “Pacific Rim Uprising.” More invaders are inevitable. So too is the collateral damage when we keep battling aliens in high-density population centers. This over-indulgence in CGI urbicidal fantasy is nearly obscene.

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