Mind-numbing nonsense from fade-in to fadeout, “Pacific Rim Uprising” (** OUT OF ****) lacks the stellar cast and the suspenseful Armageddon melodrama of its outlandish but entertaining predecessor. Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost and Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket made “Pacific Rim” more than just a juvenile diversion in collateral damage and urban renewal. Comparatively, neither John Boyega nor Scott Eastwood muster enough magnetism in “Pacific Rim Uprising” to overshadow our heroic memories of Stacker and Raleigh. Everybody knows Stacker died in the original, so he was never coming back. Becket’s absence is never adequately explained, though he might reappear in a later sequel. Meantime, “Pacific Rim Uprising” violates the first rule of all good sequels. Never should a heretofore untold character related to a franchise hero be invented to replace him. Meantime, everybody should recognize Boyega from his two recent “Star Wars” spectacles, while Clint Eastwood’s son Scott has acquitted himself more than satisfactorily with supporting roles in “Fury” and “Suicide Squad.” Boyega and Eastwood represent Hollywood’s new blood. Sadly, they are hamstrung playing superficial characters with scarcely any complexity or charisma. The same shortcoming applies to the new breed of Jaeger pilots who comprise a politically-correct, multi-cultural coalition. Unknown actors and actresses all, they constitute a bland bunch with their petty rivalries. Boyega and Eastwood must whip these recruits into shape, so they can maneuver skyscraper-sized Jaegers on a dime. “Pacific Rim” came out in 2013, and five years would slip away before “Pacific Rim Uprising” emerged. Despite the gap in time between the original’s release and its uninspired sequel, you’d think the filmmakers could have conjured up something with more imagination than a lame imitation of “Ender’s Game” (2013). Basically, all director Steven S. DeKnight of Netflix’s “Daredevil,” freshman scenarists Emily Carmichael and Kira Snyder, and “Maze Runner” writer T.S. Nowlin do is grant the Kaiju a rematch. Along the way, they disperse the returning original characters, and the last-minute showdown never attains the impressive proportions of “Pacific Rim.”
This formulaic follow-up takes place in 2030, ten years after the Kaiju defeat at the Battle of the Breach. Not only has peace and prosperity been restored during the intervening decade, but scientists have also converted the rock ’em, sock ’em Jaegers so they can be deployed like drones. DeKnight and his writers introduce Stacker Pentecost’s insubordinate son, Jake (John Boyega of “Attack the Block”), but the son is nothing like his sire. Since the end of the Kaiju wars, dismantled Jaegers have been rusting away in scrap heaps. Some skeptics insist on being prepared for the return of the Kaiju. Thieves have catered to their paranoia by stealing Jaeger parts and selling them to these superstitious souls. Jake acquires his cash from pilfering these parts. Little does he know his principal competitor is an audacious, 15-year old orphan, Amara Namani (newcomer Cailee Spaeny), and she is beating him to those parts. Amara is assembling her own micro-sized Jaeger when Jake catches up with her. No sooner have they met than a real Jaeger thwarts her plans. Cutting a deal, Jake winds up back where he started before the Kaiju wars instead of behind bars. Former Jaeger copilot and old friend Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood of “Diablo”) needs Jake to help train the new Jaegar pilots. Instead of calling it “Pacific Rim Uprising,” producer Guillermo del Toro and DeKnight should have named it “Pacific Rim: The Next Generation.” Since she proved herself a decent pilot, Namani lands in the new cadet class, but not everyone likes her. According to Lambert, teens make better Jaeger pilots. Their youth, it seems, enables them ‘to drift’ better as co-pilots. If you haven’t seen “Pacific Rim,” the mind-melding ability to drift is indispensable for pilots to operate these gigantic robots in combat against the supernatural “Godzilla” lizards from another dimension. Drifting might also apply to the audiences’ willing suspension of disbelief in matters of such caprice.
Meantime, Dr. Hermann Gottieb (Burn Gorman) and Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), who enlivened the original with their feverish comic relief antics, are no longer friendly. Newt now works for the domineering Liwen Shao (Jing Tian of “The Great Wall”) of the Shao Corporation where he serves as her co-chief of the drone development program. The change in the relationship between Hermann and Newt provides the sole surprise in this mediocre sequel. Remember, these two nerds saved the day for Stacker and Raleigh in “Pacific Rim” because they drifted with a hideous Kaiju’s mind. Hermann still suffers nightmares from the ordeal, while nitwit Newt has discovered the love of his life. Yes, he keeps a Kaiju brain preserved in a glass tank at his apartment, refers to her as Alice, and maintains what might be described as a Platonic relationship with it! Preposterous as this all seems, it might have been less bizarre if the filmmakers had brought back Ron Perlman’s sinister Kaiju collector Hannibal Chau from the first film whose presence is sorely missed. Newt’s infatuation with Alice, and the profit-motive resolve of Liwen Shao to implement drones over drift pilots makes her seem shady when a rogue Jaeger storms out of the ocean and annihilates Sidney, Australia. Apart from Hermann and Newt, the only other returning “Pacific Rim” character is Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori. Sadly, Mako has been demoted from piloting Jaegers and is sidelined to the status of a pencil-pushing administrator. Mako must approve Shao’s drone pilot proposal before the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) will institute it. Meaning, Mori doesn’t survive long enough to make a difference.
Predictably, the fearsome alien Kaiju monsters arrive in the second hour to challenge the green Jaeger recruits. DeKnight orchestrates this last minute apocalyptic battle in Tokyo, with the usual collateral damage, while “Terminator Genisys” composer Lorne Balfe’s bombastic score does more to heighten this slam-bang smackdown than its staging. Not even an intriguing cliffhanger ending is enough to make “Pacific Rim Uprising” seem more than a ‘downsizing’ of its far superior predecessor.