It’s a rare and beautiful thing for a piece of news, especially genre fiction or casting news, to be undeniably, unequivocally good. But this week we got just that, as confirmation came in that not only was John Boyega starring in Pacific Rim 2 but that the film would start shooting very soon.
Or, to put it another way, Poe’s boyfriend is getting a Jaeger to play with.
This really is a good thing all the way down. So much so, in fact it’s worth taking a look at why a sequel to what Honest Trailers good-naturedly called “the dumbest awesome movie ever made” is something to celebrate. Not to mention why the Resistance’s very own Big Deal is such a perfect fit for this world.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, Pacific Rim is Guillermo Del Toro’s love letter to kaiju movies and mecha. It’s set in an alternate near-future, where, in 2013, the Trespasser incident took place. Trespasser, the first kaiju, came through a dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific and rampaged across the Bay Area for six days. It was finally killed…and then another came through.
Something or someone was sending biological siege engines to conquer the Earth. And, this being a movie, the best response humanity could muster was to create a global defence force who would use immense robots known as Jaegers to punch these monsters in the FACE. The Pan Pacific Defense Corps were born, and were able to operate their skyscraper-sized battle suits via a neural link called The Drift. The only problem was that pilots couldn’t handle the massive sensory load alone—not only did each pilot need a partner, but they needed that partner to be drift compatible with them. When drift compatible individuals were successfully paired up, the two minds would link and create a terrifyingly effective monster-punching super tank. If they weren’t, the Jaeger would remain a very expensive, extremely well-armed statue. And if a pilot was lost in battle, their partner would suffer horrible, long-term damage.
As the movie opens it’s been five years since a disastrous engagement left Raleigh Becket, pilot of Gipsy Danger, alone in the Jaeger’s cockpit. Losing his brother to a Category 3 Kaiju, Raleigh makes a living working on the Wall of Life. A colossal wall designed to effectively fence in the entire Pacific, it’s the last resort of a world that has decided it doesn’t need the Jaegers anymore.
But the Kaiju are still coming, the wall isn’t holding, and Marshal Stacker Pentecost, the last Ranger officer left standing, has a plan…
There’s a point late in the movie where Stacker, in one of the several star-making turns Idris Elba has given us en route to the Dark Tower, tells a fellow pilot that he carries nothing with him into the Drift. It’s best to do the same with the movie, because whatever preconceptions you have will likely be borne out by what you see. Go in expecting a big loud stupid film with colossal monsters being punched in the face by colossal robots? That’s what you’ll get. Go in expecting a surprisingly nuanced world with emotional depth that the movie really doesn’t seem likely to possess at first glance? You’ll get that instead.
I’m very much in the second camp. I love Pacific Rim. Part of that is because, like the Honest Trailer link up above suggests, it’s full of things my inner nine-year-old will love. The rest of it is because of how well-realized and open to interpretation the world is: from the faded logo of his first Jaeger still visible on Herc Hansen’s uniform to Raleigh’s quiet, sad politeness, it’s a film crammed full of nuance and character. This is a world stained in the blood of the immense monsters that are trying to destroy it, and all the design work speaks to that. Mako Mori’s bobbed hair—the tips died Kaiju Blue (the color of the Kaiju’s highly toxic, phosphorescent blood), a symbol of the devastation wreaked on her life—is an especially strong example. That design work is backed up by uniformly strong performances from a great cast. Elba gets a lot of the praise, and it’s deserved, but this isn’t a one man show. Rinko Kikuchi’s sweet, furious, driven Mako is fantastic, as is the always underrated Rob Kazinksy as Chuck Hansen. In a kinder world Chuck would be the hero. Here, he gets to watch a battered, broken down old gunslinger, who’s barely older than he is, take the glory. It’s subtle, smart work and Kazinsky’s scenes with Max Martini as his father and with his co-pilot Herc are especially great. As is the equilibrium of a sort that he finds with Charlie Hunnam’s quiet, mournful Raleigh. None of these people are whole, or happy. None of them are at the top of their game but they’re all we’ve got, and you can’t help but root for a group of heroes this battered.
While the human cast power the movie, the heavyweights at its center don’t disappoint, either. The Kaiju are knife-headed biological nightmares who continually play ever larger aces as the movie goes on. The Jaeger are far less uniform in nature, and far more scrappy and human. Thoroughbred high-end model Striker Eureka looks like the star of an anime series, as does its three-armed compatriot Crimson Typhoon. The Russian-made bucket-headed Kaiju-stomper Cherno Alpha looks suspiciously like it has the Chernobyl nuclear reactor for a head, and everyone’s too scared of its pilots to ask. And then there’s Gipsy Danger, all Dracula collar and John Wayne swagger. Each Jaeger has personality and character and when they fall—and fall they do—you feel it viscerally. This is a war movie—one where we were outnumbered from the start and still refuse to give up.
Ultimately, that’s why it’s great. Pacific Rim is a movie perfectly summed up in Stacker’s Henry V-style speech towards the end. Humanity is done: small, outnumbered, in denial. The only people standing between it and total destruction are a dying man, a dysfunctional egomaniac, a burnt-out pilot, and a rookie.
And they’re enough.
Everything about the movie embodies that scrappy, bloody-nosed triumphalism. It’s as though the entire world was Steve Rogers, pre-serum, bloodied and hunched over his fists, gasping, “I can do this all day.” It’s a film about not giving up—on the people next to you, the people behind you, or the struggle you’re in. That’s helped me, more than once, get through some difficult stuff. It will do again, and I’m not alone in that.
Plus? Giant robots punching giant monsters in the FACE.
So why is John Boyega a perfect fit for this? All sorts of reasons, but the most obvious is his work in The Force Awakens. Finn is one of the most instantly likeable, and gloriously flawed, characters in blockbuster history and that humanity is something Boyega’s work always has. His performance in 24: Live Another Day hits many of the same beats, and there’s a battered, natural decency to both roles that promises much for Pacific Rim 2.
He also displays much of the same natural authority as Idris Elba and if, as rumoured, he’s playing Stacker Pentecost’s son that’s a good sign. Boyega’s work in the desperately underrated Attack the Block speaks directly to that same presence and authority—he can command your attention without having to move or speak.
Then there’s the cold economic truth. Boyega is an incredibly bankable star right now, part of one of the biggest movies of all time. His presence in Pacific Rim 2 is going to bring eyes to the movie that wouldn’t otherwise have bothered. That in turn bodes well for the franchise’s future and in turn the longterm success of SF movies in general.
Lastly Boyega’s presence suggests one of the keys to Pacific Rim’s success is remaining in place: the cast. The original’s multinational ragtag group of Rangers is one of its greatest strengths and with Boyega tagging in for Elba, it’s a good sign the excellent casting is going to carry over into the sequel. Plus, the nature of the Drift means that there’s every possibility dad could be dropping in for a crowd-pleasing cameo to help out Pentecost, Jr…
So, John Boyega joining Pacific Rim 2 is a really good thing. Especially as it means Pacific Rim 2 will actually happen, soon. And that means we get another version of one of the best themes ever: play us out, Ramin Djawaidi!
Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer, RPG writer and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, who publish the short fiction podcasts Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Cast of Wonders, and the magazine Mothership Zeta. He blogs enthusiastically about pop culture, cooking and exercise at Alasdairstuart.com, and tweets @AlasdairStuart.