The appeal of the "Pacific Rim" films is right there in their gloriously dopey premise: giant robots fighting giant monsters. If reading that sentence doesn't immediately fill you with a sense of, "Yes, that sounds like a splendid way to spend two hours in a dark movie theater," you're probably wise not to waste your time. If, however, the thought of enormous metal humanoids smashing alien monsters over the head with buildings puts even a hint of a smile on your face, by all means, please proceed.
Guillermo del Toro was able to inject his usual offbeat sensibility into the first film, bringing an attention to detail and world building that we don't often get from film of its type. With del Toro off winning an Oscar, directing duties fell to Steven S. DeKnight for the sequel. "Pacific Rim Uprising" definitely benefits from the groundwork laid by del Toro, and with the heavy lifting already accomplished, the film is able to get on with the important business of monster clobbering.
The sequel picks up ten years after the events of the first film, when the human race used Jaegers -- large mechs piloted by two humans linked by a psychic connection -- to defeat the Kaiju -- enormous alien monsters who came to Earth through a portal from another dimension that opened up beneath the ocean. It's all very complicated.
John Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, son of the legendary Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba's character from the original movie), who sacrificed himself to save the world at the end of that film. A washout Jaeger pilot, Jake spends his days partying and selling old tech on the black market. But when the law catches up with him, he's pressured to re-enlist in the program to avoid jail time. Naturally, Jake is called upon to lead the forces when a new Kaiju threat emerges.
In addition to Jake, there's a host of new characters, including Amara (the appealing Cailee Spaeny), a scrappy young girl who's been able to cobble together her own little Jaeger from spare junk. There's also Nate, Jake's former partner (played by Scott Eastwood, with all of his father's square-jawed, squinty-eyed handsomeness, but none of the presence), and Chinese star Jing Tian plays Liwen Shao, a tech CEO who plans to revolutionize the monster fighting business by introducing drone Jaegers.
First film standout Rinko Kikuchi returns as Mako Mori, albeit in a reduced -- but crucial -- role, and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are also back to provide comedic support as oddball scientists Geiszler and Gottlieb.
"Uprising" is undeniably dumb, but in a knowing, gleefully goofy way that's hard not to like. It knows where its chief pleasures lie, and if it sometimes feels more like a "Transformers" movie, it's infinitely more entertaining and fleet-footed than anything that Michael Bay-directed franchise has been able to deliver.
And there's at least one area where the sequel has a definite leg up on its predecessor, and that's the presence of John Boyega (Charlie Hunnam was fine enough in the first film, but there's just no comparison). Boyega is his usual insanely charismatic self, which is helpful in selling the preposterous things he's required to do and say throughout the film.
"Pacific Rim Uprising" may not have the sheer personality Guillermo del Toro was able to bring to the first film, but once it gets on with the robot on monster smashy-smashy action, it's a stupidly good time.