So, there’s a trailer for the new Pacific Rim sequel. It’s got those giant robot mechs—aka “jaegers”—and even a few crazy-ass kaiju. Star Wars: The Force Awakens star John Boyega toplines this time around, and Rinko Kikuchi and Charlie Day have returned to reprise their roles. Gone, though, are the original’s director Guillermo del Toro (he’s listed as a producer and story writer), stars Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam, and screenwriter Travis Beacham. In Pacific Rim terms: the movie might have a new pilot, but the mech’s got the same wiring.
However, Uprising, which takes place 10 years after the events of the first Pacific Rim, has a strange legacy to uphold. The original film found a mixed critical reception: its 71 percent Rotten Tomatoes score was too high to be a splat, too low for Certified Freshness. But fans, particularly those who heartily appreciate robots and big monsters, took a shine to it; over the past four years the movie has attained something close to cult status. And overseas, particularly in China, the damn thing was a juggernaut, making more than three-quarters of its $411 million worldwide gross outside the US.
So the question is: Will Uprising be able to replicate Pacific Rim’s unorthodox brand of success?
Judging by this trailer, the film could very well have the juice necessary to tick off the “fan favorite” box in that checklist. It got a standing ovation when it premiered today at New York Comic Con, with fans screaming for every new jaeger and kaiju that appeared on screen. And in today’s global film marketplace, whether it’s good or not has little bearing on whether or not it will make a lot of money (cough Warcraft cough); an international crowd-pleaser of a franchise that works in China is almost guaranteed to stomp its way into the black.
Whether or not it will do any of this with any blood in its veins, though, remains a mystery. Part of what made Pacific Rim so beloved, and so lovingly crafted, was that it was del Toro’s passion project, the kind of “giant fucking robots versus giant fucking monsters” movie that he’d always wanted to make. The kind that, in his words, saved his life. The bottom line on Pacific Rim has always been that it was big, dumb fun—the kind of city-destroying good time that sells popcorn—but underneath that was always a movie you could tell the director enjoyed making. People felt special about it because they felt del Toro’s love for it; whether or not they’ll feel the same way about Steven S. DeKnight’s passion for the sequel is hard to decipher.
DeKnight, and his cast, seem hyper-aware of this. Every member of the cast on stage at NYCC—Boyega, Burn Gorman (returning from the first film as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb), and Cailee Spaeny and Scott Eastwood, both of whom play new jaeger pilots—all referenced del Toro’s legacy. “Guillermo set the table and it was a fantastic visual feast,” DeKnight said. “We wanted to make sure we honored what he created.” Boyega, who also serves as a producer on the film, went so far as to call del Toro’s world “sacred science fiction ground” and promised the sequel is “everything you want Pacific Rim to be.” So clearly, there’s passion.
Another passion play DeKnight’s film has is the return of Kikuchi as Mako Mori, the jaeger pilot and undeniable hero of Pacific Rim. The original movie was released at the height of the “Where are the heroines in Hollywood?” debate and provided an antidote to the stereotypical female characters that typically show up in action films. Her role proved such a breakthrough moment that it inspired a Bechdel Test alternative—the Mako Mori Test—that used as a benchmark a female lead with a storyline that had nothing to do with supporting a man. Mori has been touted in early synopses of the movie as the leader of the new generation of jaeger pilots, but Kikuchi was noticeably absent at the NYCC panel and her character’s presence in the trailer amounted to a quick glimpse. Presumably the first trailer was intended to introduce the new cast (and jaegers and kaiju) instead of touting returning players, its success as a continuation of the franchise will depend on how its returning heroine. Fans won’t know how prominently she figures until the film hits theaters next March, or at least until more trailers come out, but her presence bodes well.
Of course, boding well and doing well are two totally different things. The overall performance—commercially, critically—of Uprising remains to be seen. Based on the trailer, it will be a lot of the same stupid good time that made the first one a hit. And judging by the response of the crowd at NYCC, fans are ready to go once more into the Breach. No need to cancel the apocalypse just yet.