"PACIFIC RIM UPRISING" — 3 stars — John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Tian Jing, Cailee Spaeny, Burn Gorman; PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language ); in general release
Steven S. DeKnight's "Pacific Rim Uprising" is the kind of movie I would have loved when I was 10 years old. That's the best rationalization for a fun film that starts to fall apart once you peek behind the curtain.
"Uprising" is the follow-up to 2013's original "Pacific Rim," which first pitted the human-piloted robot Jaegers against the alien invader Kaiju. If you didn't see the first film, just picture Godzilla fighting one of Michael Bay's Transformers for two hours.
This time around, they've put a little more thought into the plot. It's been 10 years since the Kaiju first invaded through a volcanic portal beneath the Pacific Ocean, and though the Jaegers won the war, the aftermath left the Earth in a postapocalyptic state.
This is where we meet Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the exiled son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), who was the martyr, hero and inspirational "today we are canceling the apocalypse!" speech-giver from the first film. Jake has been eking out a living in the black market, but when he gets arrested with a gifted teen named Amara (Cailee Spaeny) who is trying to build her own Jaeger from spare parts, the pair are given a choice: go to prison or enlist in the Pan Pacific Defense Corps.
They enlist, and Jake is reunited with his former partner Nate (Scott Eastwood) in time to learn about a new development from a company called Shao Industries: remote-piloted Jaeger drones. But before Shao's CEO (Tian Jing) can enjoy her moment in the sun, a rogue Jaeger shows up at an event in Sydney and spoils the party Godzilla-style.
Since the Kaiju are supposedly long gone, this kicks off a mystery that drives "Uprising" toward its inevitable over-the-top city-smashing finale, which, in true classic monster movie tribute fashion, takes place in the streets of Tokyo. Not to worry, though, humanitarians: Just as the skyscraper smashing starts, we are assured that all the people have been safely relocated to underground bunkers.
That particular qualifier, perhaps inspired by other more humanity-conscious themes in recent DC and Marvel films such as 2016's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "Captain America: Civil War," is just one eye-rolling moment in a film that spreads a heavy layer of action over some pretty obvious plot holes. Audiences in the 21st century are pretty savvy, but I doubt anyone who signs up to see "Uprising" will be too concerned with the collateral damage of a CGI smashfest.
"Uprising" really is one of those "turn off your brain" movies, which sounds like an excuse because it is. It's a clear step up from Guillermo del Toro's original film, though it's still packed with cliched dialogue, cornball gravitas and transparent efforts to target demographics both overseas and among young viewers.
At the same time, it makes a lot more sense than one of Bay's "Transformers" movies, and fans will enjoy seeing a lot of the same concepts back from the first film, including the Vulcan mindmeld technique called "drifting" that pilots use to operate the Jaegers. Familiar faces such as Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) also make appearances, as well as Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), who has taken a job in Shao Industries.
Overall, "Pacific Rim Uprising" should give fans of the original more of what they loved the first time around and more of what people who didn't like the original wish it would have had. It's still a big, dumb and brainless CGI actionfest, but it's having a good time and that counts for a lot.
"Pacific Rim Uprising" is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language ; running time: 111 minutes.