At New York Comic-Con last week, Pacific Rim: Uprising announced itself as a giant-sized 2018 blockbuster after premiering an all-new trailer that brought the crowd to its feet by spotlighting plenty of Jaeger vs. Kaiju action. Chatting with Yahoo Entertainment backstage after the NYCC panel, Uprising star and producer John Boyega revealed that several drafts of the trailer were required before arriving at the one that got the audience so pumped. “We had so many versions,” he explains. “It was always about deciding, ‘What is the appeal?’ ‘What do the fans want to see?’ It was a long way to get to what we ended up doing.”
It’s worth noting that Boyega’s “producer” credit on Pacific Rim: Uprising — which is set 10 years after the original 2013 film, directed by Guillermo del Toro — is no mere vanity label. The British actor is playing an active role in every step of the creative process, up to and including the sequel’s marketing roll-out. Fortunately, he’s had plenty of schooling in that department thanks to his role in the relaunched Star Wars franchise. From The Force Awakens to Rogue One to The Last Jedi, the current keepers of George Lucas’s space saga — including Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams — have proven remarkably adept at selling fresh episodes to the public. It’s no accident, for example, that the new trailer for The Last Jedi has topped 120 million views and inspired countless dissections since premiering Oct. 9.
Boyega confirms without hesitation that he consciously used Star Wars as a reference point in building the best possible trailer for Pacific Rim. “Oh, 100 percent. The strategy in marking has always been important for me, because I find that in the age of social media where people can respond and react [immediately], you have to make sure you describe as much of the experience as possible in the trailer. That’s why people pay for a ticket.”
With that goal in mind, Boyega and the Universal marketing team cut a variety of trailers that chased a variety of tones. The actor says that some of those earlier versions were more character-centric, with one them emphasizing the role of Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), the breakout fan favorite of the first film who serves as the generational bridge to this one. Ultimately, the decision was made to keep that character in reserve for subsequent teasers, which explains why she’s only glimpsed in two shots of the finished trailer. “We wanted to keep her involvement secret,” says Boyega. “But we knew she had to come back. We felt we owed it to the fans to explain what is to come, emphasize that this movie is fun, and give them details how the two movies connect.”
It took an early screening of film to set the trailer on the path to becoming the one shown at NYCC. Uprising helmer Steve S. DeKnight remembers showing his unfinished director’s cut to the Universal marketing team, trying to keep his nerves under control as they watched the action play out without completed effects. “They came out of that screening with a lightbulb moment,” he says, breathing a sigh of relief. “Three or four weeks later, they showed me a new pass that for all intents and purposes was this trailer. It really reflects what the movie is, which is fun and exciting. I remember going, ‘Yes, I think that will do quite well!‘”
Yahoo Entertainment was present for the trailer’s NYCC premiere, and can confirm that it did indeed go over quite well. One moment that proved particularly popular was a shot of Boyega’s character, Jake Pentecost — the son of Idris Elba’s apocalypse-canceling General Pentecost from the previous film — busting out his Jaeger’s signature weapon: a plasma sword. Asked which energy-based blade is more fun to yield, a plasma sword or a lightsaber, the actor lets loose a hearty laugh. “I can’t believe that I’ve done both! The plasma sword is big; when you swing that, it’s not just your strength coming out, it’s also the robot’s. And if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll notice we’ve got two of those babies. When I saw the first film, I was like, ‘Why don’t they put in another one?'” Behold the power that comes with being a producer.