On Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim was about as awful as Battleship in terms of storytelling.

To begin, Mako Mori serves both as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (see Feminist Frequency‘s #1), and a Smurfette (see Feminist Frequency‘s #3). Her “compatibility” with Raliegh as a Jaeger pilot makes her a functional Manic Pixie Dream Girl (to get our stories hero back into a Jaeger), even though in earlier scenes they are pitted against one another. According to Geek Girl Con‘s article, “Mako Mori, Empowerment, and the Search for Representation“:

Mako Mori is a rarity. She’s literally a strong female character—in one of the film’s most iconic scenes,  Mako (played brilliantly by Rinko Kikuchi) faces off against the male protagonist, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), in a martial arts duel. While there’s some trash talk by both parties, the fight is clearly a show of skill. Mako doesn’t have to prove her worth to Raleigh or win his approval. In fact, Raleigh is already aware of Mako’s reputation as a prodigy at the Jaeger Academy, and the scene ends when Mako comes out of their fight victorious.

But like Colonel Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1 (see Stargate SG-1 Season 1), or Lois Lane from Smallville (see Smallville Season 10), whom both are also characterized against the characters by which they will eventually fall in love with.

In this way, Mori is simply not as a “rarity,” as the article above suggests (both Stargate SG-1 and Smallville actually ran for 10 seasons each). Furthermore, what makes Mori a Smurfette is pretty clear, as according to Vulture‘s article, “There Isn’t Much Room for Women in the Future of Pacific Rim“:

There’s no denying that it’s been a brutal summer movie season for women. Only nine wide-release films out this summer feature an actress in a starring role (instead of a less-important co-starring role), and only two of those — two! — have thus far been released: The Heat and Pacific Rim. The former was quietly revolutionary in the way it reinvented a buddy-cop genre with two women, and I had high hopes that Pacific Rim would be just as progressive; after all, director Guillermo del Toro has given us strong female protagonists before in films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Mimic, and the premise of Pacific Rim — two pilots (Charlie Hunnam and Oscar-nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi) each control one half of a monster-fighting giant robot — seemed to inherently promise the sort of gender equality you don’t always get from a giant action movie. So why did I walk away from Pacific Rim feeling disappointed?

I started to feel a twinge when the first twenty minutes of the movie had unspooled, and though we’d met several characters — some important, some gone in the blink of an eye — we’d yet to even see a single woman. At that point in the film, Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori is introduced, and over the space of the next ten minutes, she delivers a mere three lines … which means that only three lines are spoken by a woman in the entire first half-hour of Pacific Rim. And this is one chatty movie — characters are constantly rattling off exposition to one another, and hundreds upon hundreds of sentences are spoken in those first 30 minutes — but still, we only see a woman delivering three of those more-than-plentiful lines.

It all felt a little odd, so I started to wonder: At what point would we get to see another woman besides Mako talking in this movie? So I waited another half-hour … and not one did. That’s right: An hour goes by inPacific Rim and only Mako gets to deliver lines onscreen, meanwhile, we’re meeting dozens of new male characters in almost every scene. In fact, Mako is the only female character who is even named in the first hour of this movie; we do catch a glimpse of a blonde female pilot at one point, but at least in the first half of the movie, she’s completely mute. If you flipped the script and asked a summer movie director to craft a film where dozens of women talk in the first hour but only one man is allowed to, and that man can’t even appear in the first twenty minutes of the movie, no one would bite: That’s a formula that’s too restrictive for even most chick flicks! And yet when it’s women who are marginalized in that way, audiences hardly notice because it’s become so sadly commonplace.

Don’t expect to see many more women after that first hour, either. The other female pilot finally speaks, but she’s out of the movie after a handful of lines. Later, a woman in a crowd scene briefly harangues Charlie Day. And that’s it. That is the full extent of female speaking roles we see over the 131 minutes of Pacific Rim: Rinko Kikuchi, and two women who get no more than five lines each. Once again, this is a movie where 56 actors appear in the end credits crawl. Only three of those are women we see talking onscreen.

Yancy_Becket_02

This, of course, supports gender roles /norms within the film, because really only one woman is allowed in a predominately male endeavor (see  Stargate: Atlantis Season 1).

Additionally, the scene in which Mori first gets into Gipsey Danger’s Conn-Pod, in order to pilot the Jaeger, she is told not to latch onto a memory during the drift, which she does after it is initiated, and thus makes her during this scene a Damsel in Distress (see Feminist Frequency‘s Damsel in Distress series) through which Raleigh has to save her, and people at the base (despite the fact we were told earlier that she was a “prodigy”).

But this is not to say the film is all bad, as according to The Daily Dot‘s article, “The Mako Mori Test: ‘Pacific Rim’ inspires a Bechdel Test alternative“:

[Tumblr user] Chaila also pointed out that Pacific Rim also passes one major variant of the Bechdel Test, the Bechdel Test for People of Color, with flying colors: it contains two non-white people who talk to each other about something other than a white person—something that’seven rarer to find in Hollywood than successful applications of the Bechdel Test:

Again, I’m not arguing that this should supplant women interacting, or that the fact that people of color interact means we should be quiet about the movie’s other flaws. Not at all! But the Bechdel test is NOT the be-all, end-all test for feminism.

At least the film features the attractive Charlie Hunnam.

Ryan-and-Kelly-playing-dance-dance-revolution-the-office-14794864-500-220

The film is clearly inspired by Hakaiju, Gundam, and Dance Dance Revolution. Burn Gorman (Torchwood, Bleak House) also appears in the film.

According to the ScreenRant review:

In Pacific Rim we are greeted by an imminent future in which humanity has been besieged by giant monsters known as “Kaiju,” which emerge from a dimensional rift deep beneath the Pacific Ocean in order to wreak havoc on humanity. To combat this threat, humanity comes together to create “Jaegers,” giant robots controlled by two mind-linked pilots.

At first, the Jaegers seem like the perfect deterrent for the Kaiju menace; but when the monsters start getting smarter and deadlier – and Jaegers begin falling quicker than they can be rebuilt – mankind finds itself on the brink of extinction. Our last hope lies with the desperate plan of Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and his handful of remaining Jaeger pilots, including war-worn veteran  Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), an unlikely pair who may prove to be the best pilot team the world has ever seen.

We can make this short and easy: If the spectacle of big robots battling it out with big monsters is all you’re interested in, then Pacific Rim is going to be a five-star experience that you should wholly enjoy in the biggest IMAX 3D theater you can find (earplugs recommended). However, if you require a deeper story and mythos to sell you on all the spectacle? Youwill get plenty of mythos, but despite a parade of “cool moments,” a mishandled central storyline ultimately makes the experience a hollow one.

Director Guillermo del Toro is known for his wonderful imagination and abilities as a filmmaker – demonstrated in  signature works like Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies – and Pacific Rim is alive and crackling with some of his best work. From the robot and monster designs, to the well-staged battle sequences and overall concept, Pacific Rim is something uniquely its own within the crowded genre of summer blockbusters (this is no Transformers – and I mean that in the best way), while still (borrowing?)(Paying homage to?)(Stealing from?) a laundry list of other American and Japanese movies and TV series. (Read about a few of those possible inspirations HERE.)

Best of all, there’s a pervading sense of fun and  joy that the director has infused his passion project with; the goal is to entertain and entertain it does, for the most part (it does get cartoony, but that cartoon is still pretty fun). On the downside, there are plenty of moments that will indeed seem less like homages and more derivative copy of other films not necessarily even related to the “Kaiju/Mecha” sub-genre. See if you can catch those Independence Day and/or Deep Blue Sea moments and you’ll know the sort of “borrowing” I’m referring to.

The script – co-written by del Toro and Clash of the Titans scribe Travis Beacham – is not impressive. The story is straightforward enough, but an abundance of sub-plots often makes it feel scattered-brained. The emotional core and character development are even more unfocused: this is supposedly Raleigh and Mako’s story we are being told – and Hunnam and Kikuchi are both solid leads with solid chemistry – but beyond a couple of superficial dramatic moments, there is no real conflict between our central characters, and no real arc for them to complete as individual characters. In short: our protagonists are often the least interesting parts of the film, which inevitably means a sort of detached viewing experience.

Oddly enough it is Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost who is the most dynamic character in Pacific Rim, and seems to get the most complete and engaging character arc of the whole ensemble. Elba (by now well established for his talent to stand out even in bit roles – see: Prometheus or Thor) walks away owning every one of the many scenes he’s in – which is great for him, but is also clear indication that the writers are not driving the story with full control of the wheel.

Subplots involving Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses) and Burn Gorman (Dark Knight Rises) as dueling expert scientists in the Kaiju field – or Max Martini (The Unit) and Robert Kazinsky (True Blood) as a conflicted father/son Jaeger team – similarly make good use of talented actors, at the expense of a focused, streamlined story. Hellboy star Ron Perlman exists in this movie purely to ham it up for his old pal del Toro, and does so admirably. (P.S.: don’t leave the theater before a special mid-credits scene.)

The mythos and world-building are well done, there’s the right touch of winking humor – but again, certain sub-plots (like an anti-Kaiju wall) are never followed to conclusion and come off as distraction. The actual mechanics of the sci-fi technology is hastily explained and then craftily circumvented, so that the many, many, gaps in logic and plot are not all that distracting from the enjoyment of watching a hulking robot slamming on freakish monsters.

The infusion of anime themes and tropes is balanced enough to distinguish the film from, say, Transformers, without veering too far into the more obtuse or abstract styles of storytelling that often discourage Western viewers from embracing anime. Del Toro’s imagination being what it is, this is “East meets West” in the best way possible.

The sound design is awesome – and by awesome I mean very, very, loud. Actual dialogue sometimes had a cavernous echo to it that made it hard to make out – but whether that was just my theater or the movie itself, I can’t say for sure. This is definitely an IMAX experience to be had; but the post-converted 3D, while very well done, doesn’t feel as necessary. A 2D IMAX experience would be more than sufficient – but if you are a big fan of the robot/monster stuff, the extra splurging will be worth it to you.

On the whole, Pacific Rim has its creator to thank for elevating it above so many similar and forgettable action blockbusters, through sheer creativity, love and force of will. While the storyline and emotional core aren’t strong, the action and spectacle are, and del Toro builds his world well enough to create plenty of future opportunities for re-visits, spin-offs, multi-media projects and everything else fans (and movie studios) love in a good fanboy franchise.

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One thought on “On Pacific Rim

  1. Pingback: On Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie | The Progressive Democrat

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