“Pacific Rim,” Guillermo del Toro’s giant monsters-vs.-robots movie from 2013, kicked off a small but steady stream of movies about kaiju — giant creatures who stomp puny humans — including “Kong: Skull Island,” a remake of the classic “Godzilla” and the upcoming “Rampage.” What’s the appeal? Is something making us feel small and powerless? What monsters are we afraid of? And are we, like the Japanese in the original “Godzilla,” responsible for creating them in the first place?
Then again, maybe we just like to watch explosions and stuff.
“Pacific Rim Uprising,” a sequel to the 2013 film, aspires to be mindless entertainment and mostly succeeds, thanks to vigorous direction from first-timer Steven S. DeKnight (also a co-writer) and a reasonably charismatic star, John Boyega. Loosening up slightly after his tightly wound turns in the new “Star Wars” films, Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, a young ne’er-do-well rebelling against the memory of his father (Idris Elba in the first film), who helped save humanity from a kaiju attack. Turns out another wave is coming, and Jake must step into his father’s shoes by piloting a giant robot known as a Jaeger.
Jaegers are the main selling point of the “Pacific Rim” movies: They require two pilots (Scott Eastwood plays the other one, Lambert) who must think and move in perfect unison. This mind-meld ballet will strike some as awesome action-hero choreography, while the rest of us will be reminded of line dancing. At any rate, the city-wrecking battles — executed with state-of-the-art CGI and old-fashioned smash-zoom camerawork — can be fun to watch.
The characters are generally only semi-compelling. Amara, a smart-mouth urchin played by Cailee Spaeny in her feature-film debut, seems a generic addition; Boyega’s supposed love interest, Jules (Adria Arjona), barely shows her face; and Charlie Day greatly expands his role as Dr. Newt Geiszler. Thank goodness for Burn Gorman (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), who provides some of the film’s best moments as the highly excitable Dr. Hermann Gottlieb.
Symbolically, the “Pacific Rim” franchise is important for casting black leads in both of its films, and Boyega clearly made a prescient move by signing on as a producer (even before “Black Panther” became a billion-dollar success). Thematically, though, these movies feel a lot like their giant robots: big, cool-looking and empty.