It may have taken a while to catch on with the wider public, especially inside of the United States, but Pacific Rim is, ultimately a hit. Especially in China, whose devotion to the film singlehandedly fueled the greenlighting of its eventual sequel, the forthcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising, the film found a devoted audience with its pan-Asian aesthetic and send-up of old kaiju movies.
It is important to note, however, that left to the mercies of the US box office, this movie would never have been made. Although a hit globally – and earning back more than just small potatoes stateside – the studio’s massive investment in the CG-heavy monster mash was hardly paid back satisfactorily by domestic audiences. And after seeing the trailer for the new film, it’s obvious that it’s not predominantly US dollars that they’re chasing with this second foray into the action-packed franchise.
The trailer opens on a world at war. The kaiju thought to have been destroyed following the events of the first movie have suddenly returned to plague humanity once again: only this time stronger, larger and more numerous than ever before.
With the old guard of Jaeger pilots dead – casualties of humanity’s last war against the kaiju and their extradimensional masters – it is up to a new generation of young pilots to rise up and hold off the monstrous tides of invasion and defend the people of Earth as their predecessors once did.
Despite the dramatically raised stakes of this second kaiju onslaught, the film’s tone (at least as it’s presented here) is a lot lighter than the nascent franchise’s first installment. Rather than the brooding, neon gothic aesthetic and cramped alleyways Pacific Rim, Uprising is brightly lit and cast against a piercing blue sky. Rather than the apocalyptic desperation of mankind’s final days, the action is set amidst a fresh host of threats opposing what appears to be bustling and fully recovered metropolises. Instead of the one-on-one – occasionally two-on-one – slugfests the first time around, we’re now treated to full teams of even more eccentrically crafted mechs, each with visually distinct and highly marketable gimmicks.
The joke that preceded the first movie was the whole thing looked far too much like Power Rangers for anybody to take the thing seriously. And while that didn’t prove to be the case by the time that the movie actually hit theaters, that impression is only amplified with the sequel. A coordinated team of ethnically diverse pilots in uniquely designed mechs facing down increasingly devastating kaiju – including one at the end of the trailer that appears to be especially massive and, presumably, will required a larger, stronger Jaeger to ultimately take it on (perhaps one built mid-battle out of the team of Jaegers facing it down) – can’t help but draw those kinds of comparisons, especially in the wake of a failed Power Rangers remake stateside and the enduring popularity of tokusatsu series abroad.
This isn’t a complaint so much as an observation. The first film, whose predecessor was acutely and unexpectedly popular in China, is being followed up by a sequel clearly designed from the ground up to capitalize on that popularity in the hopes of tapping even deeper in that particular cinematic market. Everything from the younger and more diverse-looking cast, the aesthetic shift, the increased emphasis on teamwork and even the perhaps more-than-superficial resemblance to Power Rangers all speaks to the fact that, for this franchise, Chinese Renminbi are more important than American Dollars.
It’s not something that I’m likely to complain too much about any time soon. Yeah, the aesthetic shift can’t help but feel like a downgrade to del Toro’s arresting vision and the team dynamic seems somehow cheaper than the more individualistic showdown from the first movie, but that’s ultimately the price of this sequel. If left to the American audiences, who spoke loudly with their so-so ticket sales in 2013, there wouldn’t have been anything left to follow it up with.
Pacific Rim: Uprising might not be the same sumptuous feast that the first movie was, but it appears to be a more than reasonable approximation of it: like your mom mostly getting it right when she tries to replicate Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits while cooking at home. And if it means revisiting this world again, I’ll happily take the version tailor-made for somebody who wasn’t intended to be me.