Giant robots and deep-sea beasts pummel our planet…again
Pacific Rim Uprising
Starring John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Scott Eastwood, Tian Jing & Charlie Day
Directed by Steven S. DeKnight
Ah, spring—birds singing, flowers blooming, and gigantic robots beating the snot out of behemoths that crawl from the sea to destroy the planet.
If you want to wax nostalgic, you can think back on when the shark from Jaws was the scariest thing you could imagine popping up out of the brine to take a bite.
Pacific Rim Rising is the sequel to Pacific Rim, which in 2013 introduced the idea of humans in super-sized robot suits fighting invading creatures from interdimensional cracks, or breaches, at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. It mixed elements of classic creature-feature flicks like Godzilla with war-movie gung-ho, modern CGI marvels and bigger-is-better robotic wallop.
The original Pacific Rim was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who would go on to win the 2018 Oscar for another kind of creature feature, the moving, masterful Cold War-era fairy tale The Shape of Water. Del Toro remains attached to the sequel, but as a producer, turning over the director’s reins to Steven S. DeKnight, a former showrunner for the Netflix superhero series Daredevil and Starz’s racy Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
The plot picks up a decade after the previous movie ended, in which humanity was victorious in defeating the monsters (Kaiju) by towering robots (Jaegars) operated with pairs of psychically linked pilots. We meet Jake Pentecost (John Boyega, Finn from Star Wars), a roguish lad who’ll come to play a big part in the story, especially when he crosses paths with teenage robot-building orphan Amara (newcomer Cailee Spaeny) and reunites with Pan Pacific Defense Force pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son).
Familiar faces from the original flick include Charlie Day, Burn Gorman and Rinko Kikucki, who all return to their roles. Day provides some nuanced comedic touches as the now-head of research and development for a corporation—headed by Liwen Shao (Chinese actress Tian Jing, who appeared in Kong: Skull Island)—that has developed technology threatening to make human robot pilots obsolete. The ever-versatile Gorman is Dr. Hermann Gottleib, who makes a discovery (as scientists do in movies like this) in the “brain” of a rampaging rouge Jaegar that kicks the plot into overdrive.
Japanese actress Kikucki, who plays Mako Mori, Jake’s adopted sister, is part of an international cast obviously meant to enhance the resonance of the Pacific Rim franchise all around the real Pacific Rim, and everywhere else; the original movie was a respectable hit in the United States, but an even bigger, $309 million smash worldwide.
The movie is clearly angling also for ever-younger audiences with its subplot about youthful cadet pilots, anchored by Spaney’s character, the spunky Amara. Anyone who watched the Disney Channel’s series Jesse and its spinoff Burn’d will recognize Karan Brar as cadet Suresh, who muses about following his father’s cosmetic-surgery footsteps and becoming a “boob” doctor after completing his stint in the PPDF. Rising Ukrainian star Ivanna Sakhno gets a moment as sulky Russian pilot-in-training Viktoria; you’ll see more of her in August in the Kate McKinnon/Mila Kunis comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me.
Even the royal robot rumbles have a certain juvenile, Top Gun-ish ’tude, especially when the kids climb into the cockpits. The heavy-metal CGI smash-ups turn metropolitan streets into back-alley brawls. Robots as tall as skyscrapers fight with massive weapons that include laser whips, fiery chainsaws, buzzing switchblade-like sabers and “gravity slings.” One bot pauses to give the double “finger” to a vanquished foe. There are clash-of-the-titans face-offs in Siberia, Shanghai, Seattle and Tokyo, leading to Mt. Fuji, where an explosive battle is followed by…a playful snowball fight.
It’s impossible not to notice how much the pilots, operating the robots, look like virtual-reality gamers, shouting commands, jumping around, running in place, swatting and grabbing at holographic shapes and doing all sorts of things to make their bots “respond” on a mega scale. Maybe an audience that grew up on gaming can relate. But I couldn’t help but think how silly it must have felt for the actors—because it sure looks ridiculous, knowing there were no holograms, no robots, no battles, no nothing, during the filming.
That’s the magic of the movies, I suppose. But I harken to the words of Charlie Day’s character, watching one of the metal-mashing, city-crunching melees. “OK—giant robots again?,” he says. “I’m not impressed.” After seeing robots the size of rocketships in Pacific Rim, and then again in five (five!!!) Transformer movies, I have to agree. It’s not so new, or novel, anymore. I’m a bit weary of watching Hollywood make our planet a big ol’ punching bag.
All the clashing and bashing of colossus bots and leviathan beasts gave me a Pacific Rim-size headache. And the shark in Jaws scared me a whole lot more, and it only gnawed up a boat.
In theaters March 23, 2018