MOVIE BUFF-ET: Boyega’s everyman quality buoys schlocky ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’

Universal Studios

If you are looking for some big, boisterous, and thoughtless sci-fi fun during the spring break weekend, then director Steven De Knight has a movie for you with his latest effort “Pacific Rim: Uprising.”

DeNight is best know as a writer and executive producer of genre TV, creating “Spartacus” for Starz and being a key cog in the writing rooms of such sci-fi/fantasy/horror favorites as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Smallville,” and Netflix’s “Daredevil.”

Now, we get to see what he could do with the B-movie subject of giant robots (Jaegers) fighting giant monsters (Kaiju) with an A-list budget.

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While many critics came out of the movie holding their noses, I actually had fun watching the movie. That’s a step or two up from 2013 original, which I found too angsty and frankly boring.

When I go to see big robots fight big monsters, I’m not really looking for doom and gloom. I’m looking more for boom and ka-boom, and for me, DeKnight delivered it.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is no masterpiece by any stroke of the imagination. It’s an average movie with with some top-notch CGI and destruction.

It provided me the type of fun I had as a kid going to see Godzilla movies in the 1970s, but with outstanding special effects and a rising star in the form of John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Detroit,” and “Attack the Block”).

Boyega, who plays Jake Pentecost, has a likability quotient that is through the roof. His performance isn’t going to win him any awards. The script’s attempts at humor fail him most of the time, and the role of the reluctant soldier living in the shadow of his hero father’s achievements have been written and performed better, but Boyega is just fun to watch. He’s got a Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks-like everyman quality that is going to serve him well in his career.

The film takes place a decade after the first movie in which gigantic monsters from another dimension breached Earth’s dimensional plane in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. A world-wide effort of scientists and military led by Jake’s father Stacker Pentecost drove the monsters back and sealed the breach, but it cost Stacker his life.

Jake bombed out of the ranks of being a Yeager co-pilot — it takes two human pilots, who form a mental bond, to operate the gigantic robots. Since the end of the war, he has been living a party lifestyle as a scavenger, but he is drawn back into the military by his step-sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) when the Shao Corporation seeks to replace human Yeager pilots with drones.

In tow with Jake is 15-year-old scavenger Amara (Cailee Spaeny) who has successfully but illegally built her own operating Yeager from scraps left over from the war. She joins the Jaeger program as a cadet. Her commanding officer is Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), who just happens to be Jake’s old co-pilot. They of course play estranged friends who act like that hate each other but who would actually die for one another.

Spaeny, in her first major role, gives the best performance in the film. She is a young actress whose career bares watching.

The script does Eastwood no favors. He’s asked to deliver some horrible lines and is pretty flat throughout the movie. He does have charisma. However, his resemblance to his iconic father Clint is kind of jarring. I’m not sure if that works in his favor or not, but he has the looks and build to be an action star. I’m just not sure if he has developed the chops, yet, but I am interested in seeing what he does next.

From there, the plot twists in a fun direction reminiscent of Robert Heinlein sci-fi novels of the 1950s that I got a kick out of. If you are familiar with his novel “The Puppet Masters,” you’ll instantly get it. If not, the twist might even be more fun.

The film is schlocky fun, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone who isn’t a fan of robots, monsters, and B-level sci-fi fare.

If you are looking for thought-provoking science fiction, check out “Annihilation.”

But if you just want to see things go crash and boom, then you might have some fun with “Pacific Rim: Uprising.”

(PG-13) 1 hr. 51 min.
Grade: C