not in our stars, but in ourselves
Earlier this evening, my housemates and their friends were sitting in the common room, loudly discussing how hot the female contestants were in the Crossfit Games – and I decided that it was imperative for me to get out before I stabbed someone in the neck with a pen. Probably myself. Anyway, it seemed like a fine time to finally make good on my vague threat to see lots of summer blockbusters this season – and so I went to see Pacific Rim at the fabulous Somerville Theater.
I have some thoughts about it.
First, let me say: it is a lot of fun. It’s deeply silly at times, but it is quite enjoyable. Sometime in the near future, a portal of some sort has opened up deep in the Pacific Ocean. Enormous alien beings, called kaiju, rise up from the water and lay waste to coastal cities. The Asia-Pacific region defends itself with jaegers: equally enormous robots powered by two human pilots, who share each other’s thoughts while they’re in the machine so they can work as one. Something like that. At first, the jaegers are an effective weapon in the fight against the kaiju. Like any good virus, however, it learns its opponent’s tricks. During a battle off the coast of Alaska, a jaeger piloted by the Becket brothers is torn apart by a kaiju that knows what to expect. Elder brother Yancy dies in the fight, and Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) barely escapes with his life.
Five years later, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) – yes, that’s really his name – mounts one last desperate fight against the kaiju. They’ve been destroying jaegers and the pilots within them at an alarming rate, and their attacks have been increasing. Stacker’s protégée, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), is a brilliant fighter herself; within about two seconds, she and Raleigh are making googly eyes at each other. They become co-pilots, etc.; there are lots of big fight scenes; a fun little role for Ron Perlman; and the creepy guy from The Dark Knight Rises and The Hour (Burn Gorman) and Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Charlie Day) as comic-relief scientists.
Okay, so it’s fun. I had a great time. I still have some issues with it, though, and I feel that I’m one of a very select few. While I appreciated the half-dozen or so slabs of hot beefcake on display, courtesy of Hunnam and a couple of Australian pilots and the unimaginably beautiful Elba; and I appreciated that Kikuchi’s hot bod was not similarly objectified, as is usually the case in dopey sci-fi movies; I felt strongly that the film falls into the same tired old trap that most films outside the pre-Code era fall into. That trap is the woman as lack, the woman as mystery, the woman as blank screen onto which men can and will and do project whatever they want. I will pretend not to have noticed the even more tired and boring trope of the inscrutable Asian, which could have been accidental. Mako is just this damaged little bird who doesn’t know how to fly unless a man tells her how and when. She can’t control her emotions. She gazes longingly at Raleigh, but it’s never explained why she might like him for anything more than eye candy. He likes her because she’s beautiful, intelligent, and a fierce warrior. What’s in it for her?
The film does delve into her motivations, somewhat. See, the kaiju killed her family. She was a hysterical little girl, wandering around Tokyo clutching her shoe, when Big Strong Stacker killed the kaiju and saved her life. She wants to kill kaiju now as vengeance. In short: as far as Pacific Rim is concerned, Mako is a child. Her motivations are childish. She was not a grown-up who decided to pursue a particular career or course of action, as the men are. She formed a grudge against the kaiju when she was eight or so, and that’s all we have as an insight into what makes her tick.
I’ve been getting up on my soapbox quite a bit lately, feminist-wise, and I’m just going to step up there again and yell into the din and then step back down again. Men, please try to understand. We are also humans. We also have rich inner lives. We have reasons for what we do, and we experience the world just as you do, and we think and feel just as you do, and we each have our own internal universes – just as you do. We are not just mothers, virgins, whores, and little girls. Will you all please TRY to get that into your thick fucking heads? I can count on one hand – one hand, gentlemen, and I’m not using all the fingers on that hand either – the number of men I know personally who genuinely understand this concept. Two are gay. You figure out the rest.
With that being said, I still recommend Pacific Rim to anyone looking for a couple of hours of summer nonsense. You’ll laugh. You’ll laugh a lot. And maybe you won’t roll your eyes quite as much at the one-dimensional love interest as I did. It refers often to other sci-fi films, but in a way that seems to have been motivated by respect and admiration. Whether you like Japanese monster films, the Alien franchise, Blade Runner, or even Spaceballs, you’ll be a happy camper. Mostly.