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Review: ‘Pacific Rim Uprising’ punches you in the face with its monstrous nonsense

Big, dumb and very loud action movies aren’t just for the Transformers franchise anymore.

While Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 Pacific Rim put a prestige shine on the giant-robots-punching-monsters sci-fi subgenre, the ridiculous sequel Pacific Rim Uprising (★★ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters nationwide Friday) veers perilously close to Sharknado territory with hammy dialogue, a bevy of B-movie clichés and flaming chainsaw swords for everybody. It’s an interesting beast: The first half is all plodding exposition and character introductions, then it switches to an off-the-rails, logic-be-damned adventure — including one move right out of the Wile E. Coyote playbook — that manages, almost despite itself, to be enjoyably goofy.

Del Toro is just a credited producer and visual consultant this time around, having handed over the directing reins of the human-piloted Jaeger mechs and snarling Kaiju creatures to TV veteran Steven S. DeKnight (Daredevil). Also gone are the first movie’s main cast members, Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba, although the latter’s character, Stacker Pentecost, looms large as the next generation steps up in his stead.

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John Boyega (Star Wars) plays Jake Pentecost, a party-hearty California dude and washout from the Pan Pacific Defense Corps who steals and sells old Jaeger parts a decade after his father sacrificed himself to fight off the Kaiju, seal an underwater interdimensional breach and foil the plans of nefarious aliens on the other side. Jake meets teen hacker Amara (newcomer Cailee Spaeny), a scrappy youngster who built her own mini-Jaeger after she steals a piece of tech he’s been eyeing; after a run-in with the law, both are whisked off to China instead of jail to fight the good fight.

Stacker famously told our heroes he was “canceling the apocalypse” but it’s back on here, as the extraterrestrial bad guys have a new and more underhanded way of taking down mankind. Jake is reunited with his old rival, square-jawed square Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), while Amara is stuck with a bunch of gung-ho young cadets. Having a teen-driven subplot is apparently a license for juvenile humor — your mileage may vary, depending on the appeal of a gigantic robot flipping a couple of mechanical birds.

Gipsy Avenger leads the super-mech Jaegers against
Gipsy Avenger leads the super-mech Jaegers against a monstrous foe in “Pacific Rim Uprising.” (Photo: LEGENDARY PICTURES/UNIVERSAL PICTURES)

There are a few supporting players back from the first Pacific Rim: Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori went from piloting Jaegers to now being a high-profile military leader, while Burn Gorman and Charlie Day reprise their roles as the resident oddball scientists — and Day has an increased role as the Uprising narrative grows more unhinged.

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Even as the film suffers groan-inducing plot turns, Boyega’s charisma keeps it watchable, whether making a sundae in the middle of an argument with his frenemy Nate or taking time for a one-liner in the middle of a fracas (a fun character quirk he carries over from Star Wars’ Finn). Eastwood, who spends much of Uprising squinting like his dad, Clint, plays buttoned-up straight man to Boyega, a dynamic that’s initially grating yet finds its legs in the monster-punching stuff later.

Naturally, Tokyo, a frequent locale for cinematic destruction, gets crunched yet again with a massive brawl between Kaiju and Jaegers, the robot code names are even worse this time around (Bracer Phoenix, for real?), and by the time a Mega Kaiju shows up, eyes will roll at the sheer absurdity.

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