BY BROOKE CORSO
“I am not my father,” the son of a war hero proclaims in the opening seconds of “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” a sequel that, like an errant child, strays from the course set by the original and in its rebellion, foregoes a good measure of the thrill and fun Guillermo del Toro’s robots-versus-monsters epic in favor of a new threat: corporate machinations and bureaucratic red tape.
If anything could sync with your brain and lull it into a stupor, it is a 75-minute seminar on business ethics and war profiteering.
In the 10 cinematic years since winning the war against the Kaiju, the world has largely moved on, its ruined cities a bevy of either demolished party palaces or scrap yards for opportunists to plunder at will. While some prepare for the Kaiju to inevitably return, others “live better in a broken world” and profit from its pieces. Petty thief Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost who died fighting Kaiju in the original, is facing prison time after his latest arrest when he is offered a deal by Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to return to Jaeger school not as an angry dropout but a teacher. Unfortunately, returning means facing his old partner, Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood). If only they could put aside their differences and work together …
After the war, an international council was established to unify and protect all countries under threat of giant monsters from another dimension busting through the ocean floor, but with mass catastrophe comes big profits for those who wish to capitalize on prevention and security, and the Pan Pacific Defense Corps has developed advanced Jaegers who can be operated remotely, eliminating the need for human pilots. Rather unclear is the advantage of drones over human-operated machines, as they never appear more efficient or reliable and are rather clunky and drab in design. A possible explanation for this is the developer, Dr. Geiszler (Charlie Day on full throttle) who obviously has crossed the border into Crazytown but because he has holographic charts and figures is regarded as just a nutty professor by everyone but his old colleague, Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) who suspects that the new designs don’t quite measure up. He, however, is not eccentric enough, so everyone ignores him for much of the film.
Under the direction of Steven S. DeKnight, the excitement of the scant battle scenes in the first half is quickly vaporized by extended sequences of inefficiency: in the laboratory, in the training room, in the testing facilities. No one is working together or communicating well, the mission statements are unclear, and the long-range projections are sloppy at best. This is just bad business.
While Jake and Nate bump chests over who is the more macho Jaeger instructor, their students have less actual practice time inside their simulators. The main quarrel throughout their interactions is over the pretty female instructor, Jules (Adria Arjona), whose main tasks in this film is to look pretty, wave her arms, and land on top of one of the guys in order to further prolong their conflict. It is a glaring, cringeworthy mistreatment of what could have been a strong leadership role in a new age, and devalues the longstanding tension between the two men.
Another female character who receives better treatment is Amara (Cailee Spaeny), an orphaned hacker whose family died in the war and who has built her own Jaeger, Scrapper, from salvaged parts in junkyards. Mori assigns her to Jaeger school as Jake’s protege and she is every bit the incorrigible younger sister, poking into everything and refusing to stay quiet. What could have been an annoying character becomes precociously insightful when compared to the pettiness of her superiors.
At least half the film concentrates on the business side of Jaeger innovation and military-industrial politics. The
threat is faulty research and bureaucratic red tape; the villains are greedy war profiteers. Many of the characters in this half of the film are underwritten and easily forgotten, as repeated opportunities to showcase fighting between machine and monster are squandered in favor of humans arguing, debating, misunderstanding, and arguing again.
When the humans create their own potential destruction through hubris and fuzzy science, the action gets going and we see the collapse of their own precarious order as the monsters literally emerge from all sides. Once the Kaiju reappear (no spoilers here as of course they were going to come back), Jake and Nate are forced to abandon their bro-flict for a little while to actually help the world with their team of young Jaeger pilots who are woefully underprepared because their teachers were busy fighting over a female. The different weapons employed by each Jaeger, including a massive pointed flail and retractable swords, brought back the fun to the tag-team scenes with the leviathans from the deep.
For the last act, the audience could actually enjoy the spectacle of a city destroyed in minutes and one Kaiju cut in half Stargate-style. It was a refreshing end to what felt like an endless committee meeting.
‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ (2018)
STARRING John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Tian Jing, Adria Arjona, Rinko Kikuchi
DIRECTOR Steven S. DeKnight
MPAA RATING PG-13