Pacific Rim Uprising

 

            This is a sequel that's long on action scenes and short on character development.  In the original, two-time Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro was the Director, and Golden Globe winner Idris Elba the star.  Their participation is sorely missed.

            In the sequel, it's been ten years since the alien invasion was successfully repulsed by the brave little band of pilots who directed giant robots (raising their arms would raise the robot's arms, etc.)  The country remembers the great panic that ensued, but things have settled down to normal now, even at the Academy where new cadets are learning robot manipulation.  The big robots are now just used as drone police.

            Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of the war hero, leads a life of just getting by.  He scavenges mechanical parts, and in so doing runs into a resourceful teenager, Amara (Cailee Spaeny), who's even constructed her own “jaeger,” or mini-robot, out of spare parts.  She's obviously got some talent, as does Jake, and their penance, when they get caught,  is that they have to enroll in the Academy, he as an intructor and she as a cadet.  Neither seems very well-suited.  They've both got too much rebel in them, and both chafe at the heavy-handed authoritarianism of the pseudo-military facility.

            But the crisis comes when one of the “jaegers” appears to go rogue, and attacks.  Hapless citizens fleeing in a frenzy.  Whole buildings demolished with a powerful swipe of a robotic arm.  And when our non-heroes finally jump into the fray the odds are against them.  Of course, that's the way they like it.

            Scott Eastwood (yes, Clint's son), plays a role that's unnecessary to the plot.  They had an opportunity to develop some character interaction among Amara's class of recruits, but don't follow up sufficiently.  They imply a possible love triangle, but don't pursue that, either.  The bad guy turns out to be a traitor from within (surprise).  But by the time we find out, there are giant robots engaged in knock-down, drag-out boxing matches all over the earth.

            Yes, there's a little bit of “Ender's Game” screenplay, in that the most talented pilot is not necessarily on anyone's radar.  And there's also a bit of “Star Wars” type morality, where the focal point is in individual decision whether to utilize personal talents for the greater good.  Sound effects are notable.  Battle scenes are spectacular.  But we need a little more human connection than a petulant adult and a precocious teenager.  Saving the world has seldom felt less triumphant.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association