It seems like critics and audiences were genuinely surprised when 2013’s Pacific Rim was as good as it wound up being. But really, what did we expect from a movie about giant machines fighting giant monsters that was directed by Guillermo del Toro? It’s on us that we didn’t see a movie that combined large-scale action with lots of heart and impressive character development. At a time when “visionary” is tossed around all-too-often, del Toro deserves it more than most others.
That the first movie was a financial success made it inevitable a sequel would happen. After a few false starts and commitments to other projects, del Toro bowed out of directing but stays on as a producer for this week’s Pacific Rim Uprising. Set 10 years after the events of the first movie, John Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Alba’s Stacker Pentecost in the original. Jake is reluctant to follow in his father’s military footsteps but when a new threat arises he, along with Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and a batch of new recruits to the Jaeger program have to once more fight to cancel the apocalypse.
First out of the gate was a series of posters featuring schematic-esque looks at the various jaegers we’ll presumably be seeing in the movie. Each one points out key technical details of the machine and shows its callsign.
A few posters came out a bit later. One features a pilot walking toward a fist that looks like it’s being raised triumphantly with “Rise Up” at the top, almost like it’s a propaganda poster. The other two just show the pilots played by Boyega and Eastwood standing in front of their jaegers.
The next official poster was all about the jaegers, with four of them standing defiantly and with weapons at the ready in front of a city, a parking lot and empty, damaged store in front of them, as if that’s that space where they’re going to make a stand against the invading monsters.
A few IMAX promotional posters came out that were bright and popped off the page, looking like the kind of thing you’d definitely put up on your dorm room wall. Each one showed one of the Jaegers in some kind of action.
As the first trailer opens it’s clear battles are still raging all over the world involving kaiju and jaegers. Jake narrates the backstory about a world at war, explaining that the end is still far away. He echoes the sentiment of his father in how this is the time humanity will stand up before Geiszler explains the monsters they fight against have evolved. That’s made clear when a massive creature emerges that requires an attack by a handful of Jaeger.
There are a number of nods to the first movie here, including the implied connection between Boyega’s character here and Elba’s from the earlier installment. And there are plenty of amazing visuals on display to show that things really are bigger and better here in the sequel. Overall this takes more of an action movie tone than the trailer for the first movie, with less of an emphasis on the characters and more on the special effects.
The second trailer opens on a more emotional note, with Jake being told his father always wanted him to be a pilot. He’s not ready to embrace that destiny, but 15-year old Amara is, building her own Jaeger because she’s not going to be caught defenseless when the kaiju return. That happens soon thereafter, with a new generation of pilots being called into service. Someone – a human – has let them back into this world and is commanding a jaeger of their own. From there on out it’s a series of battles, with Jake eventually becoming not just a pilot but a leader to the young recruits.
There are fewer evocations of the first movie in this one, which is good, as is the more personal stakes in play. That helps it create a sense of being more than just a “mechs versus monsters” movie (which it very much still is) and a drama involving that fight for survival.
An IMAX-exclusive trailer was filled with even more spectacle and ironic understatement than the previous two spots. Gone is any attempt to sell a story outside of a few mentions by Jake of his father. Instead it’s filled with kaiju-versus-jaeger action. There are a few shots here too of two jaegers battling each other but why that might be remains unexplained.
Online and Social
There’s precious little information about the movie on its official website. If you open the hamburger menu in the upper left you’ll find sections like “Videos,” “About” and “Gallery,” but the main page of the site, though, was more concerned with encouraging you to engage in one form of activity or another.
That list includes a prompt to Join the Jaeger Academy, where you can find a Drift-compatible partner, register for the Fitness Uprising Challenge, which is sponsored by Under Armour and which encourages you get active, play the Real Escape Game and buy a high-end collectible.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
An expanded TV spot seems to have been the first salvo of the paid campaign and focused on sharing the technical specifications of the “Gypsy Avenger” jaeger that’s piloted by Jake. So in the middle of various action sequences things slow down to show the schematics of the suit’s weaponry and other capabilities. It’s indicative of the overall focus of the campaign, which is on the cool tech and not the story of the film.
Social media ads used some of the trailers and TV spots while outdoor ads used big dramatic shots of the Jaegers in battle against the backdrop of the city.
There was a web-comic that introduced some of the new characters, serving as a prequel story to the movie.
Media and Publicity
While Del Toro had been talking about the movie for quite a while, much of the first press for the movie was the result of the cast releasing occasional photos of their characters.
The first bit of official marketing came as Comic-Con was kicking off, with a video explaining what a Jaeger is and what they’d been built for. It basically sells the advantages of the machines and shows off what they can do. It plays like a recruitment commercial.
While out promoting Detroit Boyega also talked about this movie occasionally, promising a huge, fun movie that will defy fans’ expectations. Boyega would share more story details in an interview that included a batch of new stills as well. Around that same time DeKnight talked about taking on the responsibilities of helming the project and how he hopes the universe expands even more. DeKnight also teased a potential future crossover with the King Kong and Godzilla franchises, which doesn’t inspire confidence in how this movie is expected to perform.
Boyega announced the launch of a contest looking for two franchise super fans who would be included in the “Hall of Heroes “featured in the film. A profile of Eastwood allowed him to talk about stepping into the story and what it was like making the movie.
Other than that there wasn’t a whole lot in the weeks leading up immediately to release. A few sites ran backgrounds on the new Jaegers and there were other stunts along those lines, but nothing all that major or notable. The biggest pop seems to be this interview with DeKnight where he talks about the sometimes tortured path the movie took to production.
I want to be on board with this campaign, I really do. The first movie was so good and felt so different from everything else that was coming out at the time, particularly in the science-fiction genre where the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominates and before Star Wars came back into our lives. It was warm and emotional while also containing more thrilling “giant creatures fighting each other” action than all the Transformers movies put together and then multiplied by 10.
That’s why this feels a bit disappointing. If the movie has more of an emotional, character-based core than what’s shown here (which is possible with DeKnight) I’ll be glad. The campaign mounted by Universal and Legendary, though, is as generic and bloated as the first one wasn’t. Aside from the moments where it overtly evokes the characters and events of the original there’s no emotional hook to grasp here. The entire tone of the movie seems to have changed. Again, maybe that’s explained and makes sense in the context of the movie, but this seems to be targeted as fans of big dumb spectacle, not complex and more interesting sci-fi.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.