Surprise sci-fi/adventure smash hit Pacific Rim told the story of Charlie Hunnam and his abs, as they join forces to pilot a giant robot and punch the holy bejeezus out of some giant aquatic monsters. As a summer blockbuster, it had everything you could hope for: robots, giant monsters, fights, explosions, and shot after shot of shirtless, sweaty Hunnam... flexing and such.
But it doesn't appear there will be any sweaty Hunnam shots in the upcoming sequel. He recently pulled out of the project.
When it was released, the film was lauded for being a bit of a unicorn: a major studio blockbuster that was not a remake, sequel, or adaptation. Written and directed by visionary genius Guillermo del Toro, the film won audiences over with its humor and enthusiastic action sequences, while serving as a breath of fresh air in an industry inundated with rehashed material. So, naturally, it demanded a sequel.
Early reports hinted at a story picking up where the first film left off, with Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his robot co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) serving as the main characters. However, Hunnam's dance card filled up quickly after Pacific Rim's success, and the British actor found himself unable to work the sequel's potential shooting schedule into his calendar. The film, which already has a February 2018 release date, announced a replacement male lead, tabbing Star Wars: The Force Awakens breakout John Boyega—you know him better as Finn—to play the newest pilot. It will be interesting to see how the film addresses Kikuchi.
Fans of the first film are familiar with her character as she contributed a lot to Pacific Rim's warmth and soul. And while conventional wisdom says the studio will put the focus on Boyega and go from there, new director Steven DeKnight has the opportunity to push Kikuchi to the front. This would turn Pacific Rim into one of the only female-fronted action adventure series not based on preexisting material.
In a time where even Wonder Woman had to fight for a standalone film, putting an original female character at the head of a billion dollar franchise would be huge.
That being said, it's still Hollywood, so don't hold your breath. As of press time, Kikuchi's name hasn't even been formally attached to the sequel, though the Oscar-nominated actor has said she'd love to be invited back.