“Pacific Rim: Uprising” opens on a group of four men ransacking the abandoned corpse of a Jaeger for spare parts. There is a metaphor here, for those who care to look for it.
Assembled by four screenwriters and directed by Whedon acolyte Stephen S. DeKnight, the second installment in the burgeoning franchise reiterates the stakes of the first, to lesser impact: Jaegers (skyscraper-sized robots) are once again called into service, this time to fight other Jaegers imbued with the muscle tissue, and antisocial tendencies, of the Kaiju (heavily reinforced sea monsters) they apparently only kinda triumphed over at the end of the last movie. In lieu of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba’s character, killed at the end of the first installment), we now have his son, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega, being worn by a skimpy mustache), who has been drafted, against his will, into service against the new-ish Kaiju. “I’m not my father,” Jake mentions a time or six. Unfortunately, the screenwriters don’t seem to know how to show that, so they have him mention it another few times. Maybe that will make for a compelling journey!
Jake is joined by Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a short and scrappy scavenger who is haunted, conveniently, by flashbacks of her own family’s deaths-by-Kaiju. Both Jake and Amara are bullied, then befriended, then bullied a bit again, then sort of befriended, then flirted with, then ejected, then welcomed back by the other Jaeger pilots, who include a tall one, a short one, multiple interchangeably athletic-looking ones, a kinda scrawny nerdy-looking one, a Russian one, and one who is Clint Eastwood’s kid (you’ll know him because he looks exactly like Clint Eastwood). No further characterization is forthcoming, because personality simply doesn’t matter in “Pacific Rim: Uprising”—the movie has effectively abandoned the concept of “drift compatibility”, which forced the first movie’s Jaeger pilots to get to know each other on an uncomfortably therapeutic level before they could move the big robots in balletic unison. Now, the “neural handshake” which links Jaeger pilots together reads as nothing more than a formality—Jake is called away to discuss something more important during his and Amara’s first drift, and the idea is never referred to again. Jaeger teams are assigned at random, and clunky exhortations like “Let’s move some ass!” and “Now let’s save the world!” stand in for any sense of personal motivation or stakes. In a new low of laziness, the screenwriters recycle the climactic speech from “Pacific Rim” for the final battle: Jake once again reminds us that he is not his father, but that we “probably remember his big speech about canceling the apocalypse”. Who knew screenwriting was so easy? One shudders to think of the cinematic possibilities: perhaps in the next installment of “Star Wars”, the Force-Ghost of Darth Vader can ask if we remember how awesome it was when he told Luke he was his father.