‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ sets sights on ‘Black Panther’

John Boyega stars in “Pacific Rim: Uprising”. (AFP pic)

RESTON: Fresh from his confirmation as the crown prince of feel-good fantasy, Guillermo del Toro is cranking the volume up to 11 as producer of the sequel to blockbuster “Pacific Rim.”

“Pacific Rim: Uprising”, a brasher, more rambunctious sci-fi tentpole than the Mexican filmmaker’s Oscar-winning 2017 movie “The Shape of Water”, is tracking to top the domestic box office with upwards of US$22 million (RM86 million) this weekend.

Del Toro, who helmed the original, has handed directing duties to TV creative Steven S. DeKnight (“Spartacus,” “Smallville”) for the sequel, which is not expected to turn the kind of profit of the 2013 film.

Box office observers are wagering nevertheless that even a modest debut weekend could be enough to end the historic reign of Marvel’s “Black Panther,” which has begun to slow down after five weeks at the top.

“As ‘Black Panther’ has week after week dispatched a string of high profile newcomers, ‘Pacific Rim’ likely has the goods to unseat the undisputed king of the box office,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at comScore, told AFP.

“It’s a testament to the power of ‘Black Panther’ that at six weeks into its run it still has everyone wondering if it could lead the charge once again.”

Set 10 years later, the sequel follows a new generation of pilots of the first film’s giant Jaeger military mechanoids fending off the enormous Kaiju monsters aiming to end humanity.

It has had mixed early reviews, and the San Francisco Chronicle’s description of “a lot of pounding, smashing and driving, purely functional” a fair reflection of the more lukewarm write-ups.

The movie centers around “Star Wars” sensation John Boyega, whose starring parts since alien attack thriller “Attack the Block” in 2011 have helped amass an impressive US$3.4 billion (RM13.3 billion) worldwide.

Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba’s character Stacker, who gave up his life to save the world in the first film.

The 25-year-old son of a Nigerian-British Pentecostal minister, Boyega said in a recent interview in Sydney, where he spent more than four months filming, that his father had been his inspiration.

“My dad’s a big Bruce Willis fan. They lost their hair at the same time, that’s his thing,” the Londoner told Channel 7 breakfast show “Sunrise.”

“He’s a charismatic guy. Ministering and preaching, you have to draw the audience in. That’s something he’s always had and I’ve always drawn inspiration from that. But I don’t belong in a church, I belong in the films and on set.”

Boyega, one of the movie’s producers alongside del Toro, described the extra enjoyment he got from his dual role in the film.

“The producers, they’re basically the guardian angels of a set, and each producer is designated with their own creative input… It was fun to act and then go behind the camera and try and figure some stuff out.”

Starring Elba alongside Charlie Hunnam and Robert Kazinsky, “Pacific Rim” opened on US$37 million (RM145 million) and grossed US$411 million (RM1.608 billion) worldwide, buoyed by a huge Chinese box office that surpassed its domestic take.

When the movie’s main producer, Legendary, was sold to China’s Dalian Wanda Group for $3.5 billion (RM13.7 billion), commentators archly predicted that it would end up being saturated with actors, locations, and language from the world’s second-largest movie market.

The predictions came to pass, with large sections of dialogue in subtitled Mandarin and much of the action taking place in Shanghai, the eastern province of Shandong, and Hong Kong.

“This is meant as no ding whatsoever, but ‘Pacific Rim Uprising’ has to be the most China-bait blockbuster I’ve seen to date, and I have seen all of the ‘Transformers’ movies,” said Vulture writer Emily Yoshida.

The supporting cast, led by Clint Eastwood’s son Scott (“Snowden,” “Suicide Squad,”) features seven Chinese actors, including rising global star Jing Tian (“Kong: Skull Island”).

“It really felt natural to set a large part of the action in China, since it involves the Pan-Pacific defense cause and China is such a huge part of the Pacific Rim,” DeKnight told the Global Times in an interview.

Cynics may think that puts an artistic spin on a decision which must have been mainly about money but Eastwood reaffirmed the importance of expanding beyond the narrow horizons of US filmmaking.

“It’s great to be part of a global film,” he told the Times.

“Also, growing up, I was a fan of monster films and a fan of Godzilla in particular, I still remembered when I watched the film or the first time at 10, so it’s exciting to be a part of this monster universe.”