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Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim was a surprisingly solid movie, considering it was a story that could be boiled down to the B-movie plot of "giant robots fight giant monsters." Steven S. DeKnight's sequel, subtitled Uprising, is tonally and stylistically a very different movie than the one del Toro brought us in 2013, in fact, the only things that are really the same in the sequel are the aforementioned giant robots and giants monsters. It's still a B-movie with a blockbuster budget, but does it really matter when you're having this much fun?
Pacific Rim Uprising picks up ten years after the events of the first movie. The Kaiju War is over with the rift to an alien dimension having been closed. Much of the world has moved on and most cities have been rebuilt, though the coastal areas hardest hit by the monster attacks have mostly gone to pot. It's here that we meet Jake Pentecost (John Boyega). He's the son of Marshal Stacker Pentecost, Idris Elba's character from the first movie, who rejected the life of a robot Jaeger pilot and has been scraping by scavenging useful material on the Southern California coast and then trading it for what he needs. In an attempt to salvage some valuable material from a decommissioned Jaeger, Jake gets busted by the cops along with a young girl named Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) who has successfully built her own, considerably smaller, Jaeger. Jake's adopted sister Mako Mori, a returning Rinko Kikuchi, gives him one out to avoid jail, return to train young Jaeger pilots, including the newly recruited Amara.
As one expects, things don't go smoothly. The Jaeger program is on the verge of being replaced by a new giant robot drone program, a move which becomes all the more justifiable when an attack in Sydney, Australia comes not from a kaiju monster, but an unknown Jaeger.
Where Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim took itself, and its over the top plot, pretty seriously, all things considered, Pacific Rim Uprising makes a hard turn in the other direction. If the premise is a bit on the silly side, why not take the license that gives you and run with it? If del Toro's movie was a modern take on the original Godzilla, then Steven S. DeKnight's movie is The X From Outer Space. You'll be hard-pressed to argue the movie is "good" but there's no denying it's fun.
John Boyega has shown us in the Star Wars movies that he's perfectly at home in a tentpole film franchise, but while he shares the stage there, he's the star here, and Boyega proves he's a movie star. He powers Pacific Rim Uprising almost entirely on his own charisma. Whether he's messing with his co-pilot (Scott Eastwood) over a bowl of ice cream or giving the requisite "inspirational speech," Boyega looks equally at home. He commands your attention when he's on screen. If Uprising is the start of a second film franchise for Boyega, there's really nothing wrong with that.
Newcomer Cailee Spaeny also deserves some of the credit. Her chemistry with Boyega is solid and while her character, (the kid from the streets who's smarter than the rest) had the potential of becoming tired quickly, she comes across as genuine and pulls her weight.
Having said that Spaeny's character is the only trainee that gets to be a character in her own right. The rest of the young squad is a diverse group that we get to know just well enough to wish we got to know them better. The same is mostly true of the other supporting characters. The returning Burn Gorham and Charlie Day as scientists Gottlieb and Newt are given moments to shine, but I can't tell you the names of most of the new characters we meet.
Pacific Rim Uprising is so predictable that it basically decides to tell you where it's going up front rather than pretend to be something it's not. Having said that, there is a plot, and it works slightly better than it needs to in order to get the job done. Uprising also does some pretty significant retconning of the first film in order to justify where this one is going, but if you're a serious devotee of Pacific Rim canon, you're in the wrong movie.
But let's be honest, we're here to watch giant robots punch giant monsters in the face. In that regard, Pacific Rim Uprising certainly delivers. The action sequences are enjoyable and satisfying. The climactic battle runs the risk of proving that bigger isn't always better early on, but it eventually calms down (relatively speaking) into something that gets the job done and will leave most audiences with a smile.
In the end, Pacific Rim Uprising delivers everything it promises on the poster, an over the top spectacle of robots vs monsters that is as exciting a ride in March as anything ever released during the summer movie season.