'PA­CIFIC RIM UP­RIS­ING' IS CHEER-AT-THE-SCREEN FUN

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Film -

At the end of the mon­stersver­sus-ro­bots flick "Pa­cific Rim," a breach at the bot­tom of the Pa­cific Ocean is closed, plug­ging a hole that al­lowed hellish crea­tures to emerge and ter­ror­ize the globe. But af­ter the movie earned $400 mil­lion world­wide, was that por­tal re­ally go­ing to stay closed?

No, of course not. And, with sin­cere apolo­gies to the front-line cities on the Pa­cific Rim fac­ing a maul­ing, we say thank good­ness, be­cause the new se­quel "Pa­cific Rim Up­ris­ing" is a vis­ually-stun­ning, ex­pertly crafted dose of cheer-at-the-screen fun. It's the def­i­ni­tion of what a block­buster se­quel should be.

"Pa­cific Rim Up­ris­ing " uses a lighter pal­ette and is geared to­ward a younger au­di­ence than its 2013 pre­de­ces­sor, but it keeps all the key el­e­ments, up­ping the spe­cial ef­fects and find­ing hon­est mo­ments and hu­mor in the midst of world-de­stroy­ing car­nage. It sat­is­fies on every front.

Suc­cess wasn't fore­or­dained for the se­quel. Orig­i­nal writer Travis Beacham and di­rec­tor-writer Guillermo del Toro haven't re­turned (though del Toro is still a pro­ducer), nor have its orig­i­nal stars, Char­lie Hun­nam and Idris Elba. (Elba had a very good rea­son for not show­ing up: He blew him­self up in the fi­nal mo­ments of the orig­i­nal to keep the Pa­cific por­tal closed).

Steven S. DeKnight, who cre­ated and ran the TV se­ries "Spar­ta­cus" on Starz, was tapped to di­rect while del Toro fo­cused on the smaller mon­ster movie "Shape of Wa­ter." DeKnight also teamed up with Emily Carmichael, Kira Sny­der and T.S. Nowlin to craft the new story, which cham­pi­ons outsiders and mis­fits as well as celebrates makeshift fam­i­lies and team­work. Plus, some

stuff gets pum­meled.

First, a step back for any­one not fa­mil­iar with this hor­rific near-fu­ture: Aliens have sent gi­ant mon­sters called Kaiju to soften us hu­mans up ahead of world dom­i­na­tion. But we've cre­ated 270-foot tall ro­bots called Jaegers to fight back. They're so big they need to be manned by pairs of op­er­a­tors who build a neu­ral bridge be­tween their minds so they can work to­gether.

The new film opens in 2035, 10 years af­ter the last Kaiju was de­feated and the breach closed. It's the calm be­fore the storm. Our heroes now are Jake ( John Boyega), the re­bel­lious son of Elba's char­ac­ter, and the teen or­phan Amara (Cailee Spaeny), who builds her own Jaeger out of spare parts. They join to­gether to help the mil­i­tary fight a new op­po­nent — a rogue Jaeger that comes out of the sea and stomps around men­ac­ingly. It is soon clear there's a con­spir­acy afoot.

Boyega, fresh off his "Star Wars" gig, is great here, is a dash­ing rogue who strug­gles un­der his fa­ther's shadow but soon earns the re­spect of his peers. "We are a fam­ily now and we are Earth's last de­fense," he says. He and Spaeny have an easy rap­port and some mo­ments be­tween them seem gen­uinely charm­ing and goofy.

Char­lie Day and Burn Gor­man reprise their roles as squab­bling sci­en­tists, and Rinko Kikuchi is back as the adopted daugh­ter of Elba's char­ac­ter. The rest of the cast is mul­ti­eth­nic, com­pe­tent and very sweaty. The ro­bots now have holo­gram in­te­ri­ors and the mon­sters seem less homages to past movie Kai­jus and more de­signed to per­ma­nently up­set our dreams.

If the first movie's fight se­quences were of­ten set in the rainy dark, "Pa­cific Rim Up­ris­ing" em­braces the light. Cities are flat­tened dur­ing the day as mon­sters and ro­bots slug it out. Sky­scrapers get punched, de­bris cas­cades down and cars get swiped around. The con­nec­tion be­tween spe­cial ef­fects and hu­man ac­tors is seam­less and as­ton­ish­ing. The level of de­tail — from com­plex ci­tyscapes like Shang­hai and Tokyo to the icescapes of Siberia — is bril­liant.

The film­mak­ers have aban­doned del Toro's po­lit­i­cal touches — pol­lu­tion as a fac­tor in the crea­ture at­tacks and build­ing a wall to stop them, for ex­am­ple — but wisely adopted his sly hu­mor. In one loud fight se­quence, mas­sive mon­sters and ro­bots trade punches and one buck­les, pan­cakes on the street and skids to a thud­ding, thun­der­ing stop, only slightly nudg­ing a parked cherry red sub­com­pact in the process. The lit­tle car's alarm soon wails in­dig­nantly. Those lit­tle touches — Muzak played in a tense el­e­va­tor dur­ing an in­va­sion or a bat­tle be­side a mu­seum's di­nosaur ex­hibit — leaven the vi­o­lence.

Part of the suc­cess of the "Pa­cific Rim" films is that they have cob­bled to­gether enough el­e­ments of other films to make them fa­mil­iar yet newish. They owe "Blade Run­ner," ''In­de­pen­dence Day," ''Mi­nor­ity Re­port," ''Star Wars" and, of course, "Trans­form­ers" — not to men­tion every Godzilla movie ever made — some resid­u­als. But they also have de­fined and in­tro­duced their own world and lan­guage.

It may not be nu­anced, but it taps into some­thing myth­i­cal — fe­ro­cious mon­sters ris­ing from nowhere to be bat­tled by 21st cen­tury sword­fight­ers. And it's ex­hil­a­rat­ing, like when one tri­umphant Jaeger gazes down at a downed op­po­nent af­ter a cli­mac­tic fight and in­sou­ciantly lifts its mid­dle fin­gers. "Pa­cific Rim Up­ris­ing" is so con­fi­dent in it­self that it ba­si­cally prom­ises a third film as the end cred­its roll. We can't wait.

A scene from "Pa­cific Rim Up­ris­ing."

Fore­ground from left: Cailee Spaeny, John Boyega and Scott East­wood.

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