For a re­view of “Pa­cific Rim Ris­ing,”

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The “Pa­cific Rim” ac­tion fran­chise has a rel­a­tively sim­ple premise — gi­ant robots and alien mon­sters clob­ber each other to smithereens — but sur­pris­ingly, it’s driven by a supremely rad­i­cal em­brace of col­lec­tivism, team­work and em­pa­thy. This isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a sur­prise, be­cause it comes from the big, beat­ing heart of Guillermo del Toro, who has al­ways seen op­por­tu­ni­ties to fo­cus on love and con­nec­tion in mo­ments of hor­ror. Del Toro directed the first “Pa­cific Rim,” and pro­duced its se­quel, “Pa­cific Rim Upris­ing,” which he has left in the hands of di­rec­tor and cowriter Stephen S. DeKnight, who brings a sin­gu­larly fre­netic en­ergy to his fea­ture di­rec­to­rial de­but that man­ages to out­pace the first film.

John Boyega stars as Jake Pen­te­cost, the son of the le­gendary Stacker Pen­te­cost ( played by Idris Elba in the first film), who sac­ri­ficed him­self in the great war against the kaiju. If you’re un­fa­mil­iar with the “Pa­cific Rim” lore, all you need to know is gi­ant alien­mon­sters came out of the sea to de­stroy ev­ery­thing on earth, and hu­mans hit back with enor­mous fight­ing robots called jaegers. Pi­loted in pairs, the jaeger pi­lots have to sync up their brains, or “drift,” via a “neu­ral hand­shake,” that al­lows them to be in­side each other’s brains, swim­ming around in their mem­o­ries, emo­tions and thoughts. Em­pa­thetic con­nec­tion is re­quired to be a good ro­bot fighter pi­lot.

A decade af­ter the first war with the kaiju, the ocean breaches are sealed, and all seems at peace — for now. Jake, a for­mer Ranger pi­lot who flamed out and now spends his time par­ty­ing and bar­ter­ing on the black mar­ket, is pressed to re- en­list as a get- out- of- jail- free card, along with a scrappy young girl, Amara ( Cailee Spaeny), who’s been cob­bling her own home­made jaeger to­gether.

Like a kaiju, DeKnight has a re­lent­less, propul­sive and of­ten bonkers style. “Pa­cific Rim Upris­ing” moves at break­neck clip, so just try to keep up. You may catch snip­pets about “kaiju blood,” “pre­cur­sors,” “toxic gas” and the names of all the var­i­ous jaegers like “Gyp­syAvenger,” “Novem­ber Ajax,” “Saber Athena,” “Bracer Phoenix” and the like. The script by DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Sny­der and T. S. Nowlin strikes a tone that is at once self- aware and open­hearted, and it’s also sim­ply a tor­nado of di­a­logue. Boyega doesn’t let a scene go by with­out a side­bar, quip or joke.

Spaeny shines in her first film role, and cast­ing di­rec­tor Sarah Hal­ley Finn has stacked the cast with a ros­ter of in­ter­est­ing, mag­netic new­com­ers. Char­lie Day and Burn Gor­man do truly loopy char­ac­ter work as a pair of mad sci­en­tists. How­ever, “Pa­cific Rim Upris­ing” is pro­pelled by the pow­er­ful grav­i­ta­tional pull of John Boyega’s charisma. As Jake, there are dashes of the street smart Moses from “At­tack the Block,” and com­par­isons to the heroic Finn from “Star Wars,” but Boyega feels un­leashed, hav­ing fun with his nat­u­ral hu­mor and charm, de­liv­er­ing one- lin­ers aswell as he does mo­ti­va­tional speeches.

In terms of mon­sters and robots, “Pa­cific Rim Upris­ing” ups the ante — how about rogue jaegers? Drone jaegers? Kaiju jaegers? These pi­lots will fight them all. But de­spite all these ad­vance­ments, the clashes are rather generic and for­get­table, and a cou­ple of these char­ac­ters are too — Nate ( Scott East­wood) and Jules ( Adria Ar­jona) are only there to of­fer Jake some fric­tion.

Butwhen Jake and Amara get their mo­ment to try and save the world, it’s pro­foundly af­fect­ing, even if the con­text of an over- the- top mon­ster movie is also pro­foundly out­landish and silly. We know them, we care about them, and they want to save the world. That per­sonal el­e­ment is why, un­der­neath all that crash­ing chaos and ca­coph­ony, you can find some­thing rather soft and beau­ti­ful, if you care to look.

“Pa­cific Rim Upris­ing,” a Univer­sal Pi­cures re­lease, is rated PG- 13 for se­quences of sci- fi vi­o­lence and ac­tion, and some lan­guage. Run­ning time: 111min­utes.

“Isle of Dogs”

View­ers may be for­given for be­ing con­fused by Wes An­der­son’s movies. Con­structed with doll­house fas­tid­i­ous­ness, their hy­per- sym­met­ri­cal, squared- off tableaus dressed with gor­geous tex­tures and color pal­ettes - and their clipped di­a­logue de­liv­ered with dead­pan sin­cer­ity - they de­pict a uni­verse with only glanc­ing re­sem­blance to the re­al­world.

A tonal mash- up of ironic dis­tance and emo­tional ma­nip­u­la­tion, they in­vite the au­di­ence to laugh know­ingly one minute, and to coo with em­pa­thy the next. They’re moviedom’s fussi­est, most ar­cane in­side joke.

All of these gifts, con­tra­dic­tions and ir­ri­ta­tions abound in “Isle of Dogs,” An­der­son’s ninth movie and his sec­ond stop- an­i­ma­tion fea­ture. Like his first one, “Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox,” this is both a cel­e­bra­tion and sendup of car­toon an­thro­po­mor­phism.

Tak­ing his cues from Akira Kuro­sawa, Rankin/ Bass hol­i­day spe­cials, “The Lit­tle Prince,” “Lady and the Tramp” and Ja­panese kaiju movies, An­der­son has adapted his usual jewel- box aes­thetic into bento- box pro­por­tions: “Isle of Dogs” bursts with color ( in­clud­ing ex­trav­a­gant swaths of crim­son) and pre­cious de­tail, and is shot through with the film­maker’s re­li­ably un­der­stated hu­mor.

The de­gree to which any of this will ap­peal to film­go­ers be­yond An­der­son’s core con­stituency is de­bat­able. True to its ti­tle, “Isle of Dogs” is a cir­cuitous col­lec­tion of false starts, flash­backs and— sorry, there’s no other word for it — doglegs that are far less cap­ti­vat­ing than the for­mal beauty on dis­play.

Put most briefly: The story takes place 20 years into the fu­ture, when the Stali­nesque, cat- lov­ing mayor of a Ja­panese city has ban­ished dogs to a place calledTrash Is­land, hav­ing spread the vi­cious lie that they carry an in­cur­able dis­ease. When his 12- year- old ward Atari ( Koyu Rankin) trav­els to the is­land to res­cue his faith­ful guard dog, Spots, he falls in with a plucky band of for­mer pets and their leader, a street- tough­ened stray named Chief.

Voiced by Bryan Cranston, Chief is the Bog­a­rt­like an­ti­hero of “Isle of Dogs,” which fea­tures the voices of such fre­quent An­der­son col­lab­o­ra­tors as Bill Mur­ray, Ed­ward Nor­ton, Bob Bal­a­ban and Frances McDor­mand. Although it can be fun to try to match the voice with the char­ac­ter— Nor­ton, Mur­ray, Bal­a­ban and Jeff Gold­blum are par­tic­u­larly amus­ing as Chief ’ s rag­tag posse - the chief at­trac­tions here are the vi­su­als, fromthe gen­tly blow­ing al­paca wool of the dogs’ fur and the va­grant beauty of the de­tri­tus they live in to the waxy translu­cence of Atari’s skin and the retro­fu­tur­is­tic look of the fic­tional me­trop­o­lis he calls home.

Not ev­ery­thing is too- too adorable in “Isle of Dogs,” which pos­sesses more than its share of grim­ness, suf­fer­ing and death. ( The film in­cludes a par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful and bru­tal sushi- mak­ing scene.) Even if it be­longs to a pup­pet, the sight of a dog’s ear that’s been bit­ten off sends a dis­com­fit­ing jolt.

And the specter of cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion haunts a pro­duc­tion that clearly rev­els in the de­sign el­e­ments and mood- board inspirations of Ja­panese tech­nol­ogy and art, but also com­mits a few pa­tron­iz­ing mis­steps. One sub­plot fea­tures Greta Ger­wig as Tracy, a spir­ited Amer­i­can ex­change stu­dent who ral­lies her meekly obe­di­ent Ja­panese co­horts to save the dogs, at one point lit­er­ally throt­tling a sci­en­tist named Yoko Ono — who is voiced byYoko Ono. Ha ... ha?

With its solemn chil­dren es­cap­ing the long ar­mof self­ish, un­feel­ing adult con­trollers, “Isle of Dogs” shares the cardinal themes of An­der­son’s oeu­vre, most re­cently “Moonrise King­dom.” Does this vari­a­tion of­fer any­thing gen­uinely new? In its own messy, slightly un­govern­able way, this di­gres­sive bagatelle feels looser than some of An­der­son’s most tightly con­trolled mis- en- scenes.

But the story, for all its busy­ness, is neg­li­gi­ble. The script feels less like an or­ganic whole than an ef­fort to keep build­ing up a scrawny cen­tral premise un­til it felt like a movie. “Isle of Dogs” pos­sesses mo­ments of mem­o­rable beauty, but even at its most ob­ser­vant and ob­ses­sively painstak­ing, it’s still lit­tle more than a shaggy- dog story.

“Isle of Dogs,” a Fox Searchlight re­lease, is rat­edPG- 13. Con­tains ma­ture the­matic el­e­ments and some vi­o­lent images. Run­ning time: 94 min­utes. ½

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jeff Gold­blum pro­vides the voice of Duke in the new film “Isle of Dogs.”

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