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Thursday, June 9, 2016

John Boyega Joining Pacific Rim 2 Changes Everything

Edited by Robert Beach 

John Boyega, a talented actor who finally broke into the mainstream in last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has finally landed his first major post-Star Wars gig with Pacific Rim 2. The shaky sequel to 2013’s international hit has cast Boyega as the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost from the first movie. This is a major announcement and a major stroke of good fortune for Pacific Rim 2. 

Since the announcement, the film's production has been on unstable footing after the Pacific Rim animated series dissolved on top of creator/director Guillermo Del Toro announced he wasn’t returning to direct the sequel, leading Legendary to drop any concrete premiere date for the film. Speaking of premiere dates, it was Godzilla 2 that slipped into Pacific Rim 2’s place on the schedule, forming an interesting rivalry. Additionally, Godzilla 2 is also facing down trouble as director Gareth Edwards won’t be returning for the sequel to his 2014 kaiju blockbuster. 

Throwing John Boyega into the Pacific Rim barbecue sauce is the best news imaginable for the sequel. It’s been 3 years now since Pacific Rim lit up our lives, and even though it didn’t do terribly well at the American box office, international markets loved it and were a big factor in getting a second film off the ground. However, the mercurial fluidity of those same overseas markets with a small fan base domestically have kept Pacific Rim 2 from really growing as a pop cultural hype train.   

While the die hard fans of Pacific Rim have kept a torch burning for the possibility of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, most general audiences seemed apathetic, especially in the wake of the film’s initial release. To be fair, that initial apathy makes a certain amount of sense to me. As much as I like Pacific Rim, I can’t deny that I enjoyed more from the low-stakes comfort of my couch surrounded by friends than I did in a theater environment. Some films are just better enjoyed that way. As such, Legendary and WB settled on a different Kaiju franchise to be their standard bearer going forward.

In the wake of 2014’s Godzilla remake making a ton of money, it became the Kaiju franchise that the folks at WB and Legendary started pushing.  It made sense at the time; Godzilla closes 2014 as the 13th spot on the highest-grossing films of the year, and Edwards seemed like less of a handful to work with than Guillermo Del Toro. In the intervening years, fortunes seem to have completely reversed. Godzilla’s monster box office didn’t translate into persistent interested, and Edwards’ recent role on Rogue One has complicated his schedule. 

The recent rumors surrounding the Rogue One re-shoots also make Edwards exit from Godzilla 2 seem infinitely sketchier. Now with the end of the decade slowly looming into sight, Legendary’s Kaiju-verse plan (Godzilla, Skull Island, Godzilla 2, and King Kong vs. Godzilla) is looking a lot less certain. It might be worthwhile for them to return to the previous Kaiju franchise with persistent fans AND a big box office (an international one). 

While it’s impossible to say why the moment for Godzilla 2 dried up, I’d like to think it was just people realizing Godzilla 1 wasn’t a very good movie. The acting ranged from passable to bad; the writing was amateurish; the characters were flaccid and dull; all of that could’ve been forgiven if the film was brimming with Kaiju action, but that’s not the movie we got. I’m sure Godzilla’s time on the prime channel TV circuits hasn’t helped it (this is not a movie you want to watch from a couch), for it seems more likely Godzilla just lacked the characters that fuel the cocktail of fan media and the cult of personality that informs modern fandom. 

That’s the honest to God secret of a lot of persistent fandoms nowadays. Their engagement springs pretty heavily from being able to craft their own stories and interactions from the characters on hand. That’s not a bad fact, just a fact. At the end of the day, the bombastic and verbose relationships of Pacific Rim proved a lot more engaging than the much more stripped down and basic father/family relationship of Godzilla. That’s part of why John Boyega’s casting is such a major win for Pacific Rim 2. He can come in and fill the Idris Elba-shaped hole in everyone’s heart, and the audience for Pacific Rim is already onboard with Boyega from his great role as Finn in The Force Awakens. 

As for how Boyega’s role in Pacific Rim 2 will impact the plot, well, your guess is as good as mine in that case. Pacific Rim 2’s plot could pretty much be anything, especially the completely open nature of the Pacific Rim universe. They could have a new rift open with the initial aliens returning ala Independence Day: Resurgence; they could explore other dimensions, go into space, basically all ideas are valid. The only thing that’s for sure about Boyega’s role is that he’ll probably have a very tense relationship with series lead Mako, played by the incredible Rinko Kikuchi. 

Mako was Pentecost's adopted daughter in the first film, which would make her Boyega’s sister for the upcoming sequel. That kind of “competing step-children” type of relationship, the kind you’d find in a soap opera, is a big part of why the first Pacific Rim was such a knockout film and why its fans are still ready to get geared up for a sequel even 3-4 years later. 

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