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Four years ago, visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro unleashed a wild world of Kaiju and Jaegers with Pacific Rim. Despite mixed reviews , this ambitious science-fiction epic spawned a fervent fandom that has begged for a sequel. Now, Pacific Rim Uprising strives to deliver.

Set 10 years after the events of Pacific Rim, this turbo-charged sequel picks up with the Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the prodigal son of Jaeger war hero Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Ravaged by the ocean-based battles, the coasts of Americas have been largely abandoned, and now lie as ruins full of scrap. There, Jake is looking for Jaeger parts to sell on the black market, when he meets a scrappy 15-year-old inventor Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). Against all odds, these two outcasts join the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. to ensure the apocalypse is cancelled once more.

Last January, Nerdist traveled to Sydney, Australia, to visit the set of Pacific Rim Uprising. There, we discovered how its creators are working hard to do right by the franchise’s fans.

Bolder, Better Jaeger Battles

After the first film, Legendary Entertainment looked over what audiences responded to, and where they felt the things faltered. While many loved the designs of these skyscraper-tall battle bots, a common complaint was that their battles with towering monsters felt jarringly disconnected from the rift-compatible pilots pitched about inside. Legendary Entertainment EVP, Cale Boyter was quick to address this matter with us, promising the new Jaegers have been designed outside and in with an eye at keeping things more clearly connected, and more visually thrilling.

As teased in Pacific Rim Uprising‘s first trailer, the pilots are no longer confined to clunky pseudo stepping machines, which allows for more dynamic fight scenes. Within the Conn-pod, the drift compatible co-pilots’ fight a hologram rendering of the beastie they’re battling, creating a greater visual connection between the pilots and the Kaiju. To achieve some of the more gravity defying stunts this change has inspired, assistants in blue-screen suits were employed to lift and sort of puppet the cadets. Before its CG makeover, it makes for some pretty weird raw footage!

“You get to really see the pilots mesh with the robot,” said Boyega, He also serves as producer on the film, and noted how this revised design helps ground and emphasize the emotional stakes of each Jaeger battle. Boyter added that this new design is, “something that you’d go to bed at night and dream about when you were a kid.”

Searching For The Y Button

For Boyter, that something special moment came in Pacific Rim when Gypsy Danger hefted a massive ocean liner like a bat, clocking a rampaging Kaiju upside its snarling face. “We have fifty of those moments (in Pacific Rim Uprising),” he promised.

Asked about this new class of Jaegers, Boyega beamed, “They’re slicker. They’re faster. New weapons. New moves. And what’s great about Jaegers, they all have like a Y button, a special move that makes them significant and cool.”

The Y button references video games, where it can unlock special fighting moves. “I feel like Pacific Rim fans will be like, ‘That’s the changes we would have made,'” Boyega said, “And then also, new fans will be like, ‘That’s dope.'”

Leaning Into The Audience

One thing that caught Pacific Rim‘s team off-guard was how popular the film became among two particular demographics. “We realized the first movie really resonated with women, and with people who skewed younger,” Boyter said, “Which is great. So we wanted to lean into that.

With the first film, women rallied around Mako Mori, a complex heroine whose role was not solely defined by the men around her. Mako will return to the sequel in a supporting role, but she’s paved the way for Pacific Rim Uprising‘s new heroine Amara, a teen girl whose deep love of Jaegers inspired her to build one of her very own. Called “Scrapper,” this battle bot is smaller than his brethren, but notably can be operated by one pilot, making Amara a child prodigy sure to impress–and maybe inspire–fans.

“She’s figured out how to pilot it herself,” Spaeny said of her character. “I don’t think she fully understands how groundbreaking that is.”

Boyter hopes Amara will connect to kids, who are apart of “a maker generation, they like to build and do things,” citing the popularity of Minecraft and all things LEGO. “Building these f*cking things is really cool,” he added “And so we took all those instincts and plugged it into this character.”

Del Toro’s Fingerprints

While Pacific Rim Uprising is bringing in new characters, new Jaegars, new Kaijus (whose secrets we promised not to spoil), the producers were keen to keep true to del Toro’s original vision. “He’s been involved from the different ideas, weighing in, the different drafts,” Boyter said of del Toro, who co-wrote and directed Pacific Rim. “We send him all the visuals and everything…Obviously all the stuff he looked at he’s touched and noted.”

Like the first film, Pacific Rim Uprising’s story will travel around the globe, and will effortlessly involve a diverse cast of characters. “It was the international civilization coming together to fight a common threat in that grand sci-fi theme,” director Steven S. DeKnight said of the first film, “So it was all easily baked in (for the sequel).” That also means bringing back Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). And of course  we still have the = expectation for larger than life spectacle that del Toro set is being taken seriously.

Asked if the production is following the bible del Toro wrote for the creation of this franchise, Boyter said, “Of course. We expanded on it, which is insane. We were all over that.”

Pacific Rim Uprising opens March 23, 2018.

Images: Legendary

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