Dir: Steven S DeKnight; Starring: John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Scott Eastwood, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Jing Tian, Zhang Jin. 12A cert, 111 mins
Pacific Rim is not a film you ever sensed was aching for a sequel. In the summer of 2013, Guillermo del Toro’s Brobdingnagian smorgasbord of monsters and machines was a complete gourmet meal of retro wonderment, rustled up from old rubber creature features and Japanese mecha anime with Michelin-level expertise.
But it was only the film’s sizeable box-office haul in China that took it into profit – so you could choose to read this China-centric follow-up, with its crossover casting and entire scenes in Mandarin, as either a cold-blooded business manoeuvre or just a generous way of saying thanks.
Either way, it’s pretty atrocious, and tramples both the premise and detail of del Toro’s original in order to make its own barely coherent ideas stick. Ten years have passed since the nightmarish kaiju last came clambering through the dimensional rift on the ocean floor, and the Jaegers – the towering robotic rigs that did battle with the creatures eyeball-to-cockpit – are either rusting in hangars or being broken up for scrap.
The black market for giant robot parts is how Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) earns his keep. The wayward son of Idris Elba’s dearly departed military commander Stacker Pentecost, Jake is eking out a life in his father’s substantial shadow, but he re-enlists as a pilot along with fellow street tyke Amara (Cailee Spaeny) just as a new generation of Chinese-built Jaegers, masterminded by Jing Tian’s icy industrialist, are being deployed around the globe. A mysterious rogue Jaeger attacks, a conspiracy emerges, then eventually so do some kaiju.
It took four people to write Pacific Rim Uprising, one of whom was its director, Steven S DeKnight, and it feels like the work of a committee who heard about the original third-hand. (Del Toro’s involvement this time is limited to a producer credit.) For one thing, the mesmerising backdrops that lent Pacific Rim's action sequences the visual texture of hallucinations – the churning seascapes, the neon-drenched port town – are nowhere to be seen.
Instead, Uprising’s battles largely take place in flat grey daylight, after someone presumably concluded that fewer atmospherics means a clearer view of what’s going on, never mind the corresponding loss in mood. The resulting pixelly starkness looks less like Pacific Rim than Transformers on the cheap: less eye candy than optical gruel.
Even the Jaegers’ names feel a bit off: the first film's “Gipsy Danger” evoked the meaner big brother of a gleaming vintage biplane, but “Obsidian Fury” and “Titan Redeemer” sound like Robot Wars substitutes that never made it off the bench.
As such, Boyega has his work cut out for him, and while the Star Wars actor is never less than watchable, the muddled plotting denies him the space a star turn requires. Meanwhile, there’s no discernible flicker behind the narrowed eyes of Scott (son of Clint) Eastwood’s drill sergeant, Rinko Kikuchi’s return as fan favourite Mako Mori amounts to an inert cameo, and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman’s mad professor double act is markedly less fun second time around.
Watching del Toro’s film felt like playing with toys as big as skyscrapers, but everything about this successor feels trinket-sized.