The sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising is, like the 2013 Pacific Rim, something of a chimera: a cheesy Japanese monster movie for people who love Transformers for its gigantic, battling robots and thunderous soundtrack, and Power Rangers for its cast of teeny-bopper heroes and kinetic, overeager display of martial arts action.
What do you mean no one loves those things? Oh.
Set 10 years after the action of the first film, Uprising is, once again, all about skyscraper-size battle-bots, controlled by teams of two pilots synced up to each other via a kind of mind-meld.
Once called upon to defend the world from an invasion of Godzillaesque monsters, or kaiju, who have escaped through holes in the Earth’s crust from another dimension, the oversize Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots, known as Jaegers, now operate as giant, metallic beat cops.
Working for the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps, Jaegers seem mostly tasked with impounding unregistered cyborgs that have been jerry-built from scavenged Jaeger parts. Until, that is, there’s another kaiju breach.
Gone from this outing is Idris Elba as hero Stacker Pentecost, the gruff but warmhearted Jaeger pilot from the first film. In the wake of his death saving the universe, which we’re told took place in the gap between films, his son Jake (Boyega) has been left to wrestle with Dad’s legacy.
Jake, a jaded former pilot himself, now scrapes together a living selling stolen engine components from decommissioned Jaegers and black-market Sriracha sauce. (There’s a lot of cheeky, post-apocalyptic humour here but it mostly falls flat.)
When things start to get hairy Jake must team up with a teen girl (Spaeny) - like Jake, an orphan - who shows an aptitude for mechanics and scrappy derring-do.
There is a mild plot twist involving a character from the previous film, but much of the new cast play adolescent members of a Jaeger pilot academy, which makes the pandering to the youth audience and the market for Jaeger action figures even more obvious.
But the departure of Elba, who brought a grown-up world-weariness to the first film’s shenanigans, and his replacement with the more kid-friendly Boyega, of the Star Wars franchise, aren’t the only concessions to adolescent taste in this outing.
Director Steven S DeKnight, a TV producer and director known for Netflix’s Daredevil and other series, has taken the reins from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.
Uprising is loud, packed with impressive effects and propulsive, but it lacks the heart of Del Toro’s original.
The screenplay by DeKnight and three co-writers is long on things that sound awesome but mean nothing. Like the names of this film’s Jaegers - Gipsy Avenger, Saber Athena, Bracer Phoenix, Obsidian Fury and Guardian Bravo - the film appears to have been cobbled together from the likes and dislikes mined from player profiles in a focus group of 13-year-old gamers.
The emphasis on surface and spectacle over substance betrays the film’s video game aesthetic and a corresponding lack of emotional engagement.