Steven S DeKnight, 2018, USA
Bang!! Crash!!! Jaegers fighting Kaiju. It’s a crowd pleaser of the undemanding, empty-headed popcorn type and, for that, we do get plenty of giant robot action. Otherwise the characters are of the obvious kind and all the charm and liveliness rests with John Boyega. Boyega seems to know this sequel is pitched at the kids – but without the wannabe poignancy of ‘Star Wars’ (which you may argue makes ‘Star Wars’ easily superior) – and is playful and fun, even if he has the same rudimentary character-arc as others: learning to go from rebel to conformity. In fact, the narrative strikes a clear line from being a kid mashing your figurines together (which is the premise of ‘Pacific Rim’) to being a scrappy cadet to being a legendary soldier and all without losing your rebelliousness. As an advert aimed at youths for the military, it does a fair job: you too are the chosen one (“you may already have it”, as the commercial says) and for all those in charge that don’t understand you, for all your angsty noncompliance, you will show ‘em all when the shit hits the fan. Etc. To this end, it’s the cadets that get to face off the Kaiju.
Elsewhere, there’s the overacting to distract/annoy you, although whether Burn Gorman or Charlie Day is the worst offender may depend on your personal taste (for me, Gorman settles into his hamminess and makes his a cartoonish character whereas Day is repeatedly aggravating) and some anti-corporation (boo!) red herrings (hey, drones will never beat real soldierism!). The last act is just one giant CGI extravaganza where the city (“Everyone’s safe underground” we’re told) is just a playpen for crashing and bashing and total destruction. Skyscraper’s aren’t just for punching and ploughing through but for robots to roll across too. But it’s CGI with all the soullessness inherent in that, although it looks expensive enough.
The action admirably tries to keep things rooted in the characters and tactics, but there isn’t much to go round. It all has to be taken on that bashing-and-crashing level because that’s the whole aim. Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 original had, for all its shortcomings, a genuine love of its monsters and robots and a kind of individualism that this doesn’t. It’s the kind of thing where you wonder how it took four people to write and if they ever shared the same room. It does what it does. The whole thing is just for popcorn so criticism doesn’t matter much anyway.