TUCSON, Ariz. - "Pacific Rim Uprising" roars, beats its chest and stomps your senses into smithereens. It's loud. It's boisterous. It is beautiful in a mass-destruction, everything-is-'sploding sort of way.
It's nearly always overwhelming.
Halfway intelligent, it is not.
At least the movie has a sense of its viewers want: Gargantuan mechs slugging it out with interdimensional, building-wrecking beasts. There is more than plenty of that stuffed into the nearly two-hour running time, rendered with such convincing CGI that you would swear the movie was shot on location of a sugar-addled 14-year-old's daydreams.
The follow-up to Guillermo del Toro's absurd 2013 disasterpiece matches the original in bombast and energy, but falls fall short in the story department. Newbie director Steven S. DeKnight proves adept at orchestrating thrilling battle scenes but struggles to build the necessary pathos to make you care much about what happens to his flimsy characters.
You wish you could fast-forward through all the unnecessary talking stuff and get to the battles.
John Boyega takes a break from his "Star Wars" duties to play Jake, a former pilot of kaiju-battling Jaeger mechs who has resorted to a life of smuggling and partying to make ends meet. His character is introduced with a winking scene that echoes Han Solo's meeting with Greedo. Once he's tracked down by the law, he's takes advantage of a diversion program that sends him back into the Jaeger-piloting military force, grudgingly reteaming with his old frenemy, Nate (Scott Eastwood).
Jaeger piloting requires copilots to meld their minds and coordinate their movements to operate their mechs in a sort of three-legged race dynamic. The pilots bicker and encourage each other as their outer shells vie for guts and glory on the grand stage.
Charlie Day provides some comic relief as Newt, a geeky doctor from the first film who weighs political and personal needs against the large-scale needs of humanity to fend off yet another society-wrecking kaiju invasion.
The bulk of the good stuff comes in the latter half of the film, and once DeKnight flips the switch into full-on action mode, the movie truly hits its Saturday morning cartoon-like stride. Every bit is predictable in the explosion-by-numbers romp, which awes and thrills in the manner of a monster truck rally. Just because the crowd anticipates the appearance of Truckasaurus, it doesn't make his appearance any less exciting.
If memories of "Starship Troopers" and Godzilla movies summon stars to your eyes, this is a movie for you. If you shake your head and roll your eyes at thoughts of such dumb thrills, you should run from this with the speed of one of the frantic extras scampering away from crumbling skyscrapers. Either way, you are probably best off waiting for the Jaegers and kaijus to settle their B-movie differences on home video.