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Pacific Rimshot

PR-MM-alone

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.

pacific-rim

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.

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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?

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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.

Makostacker

Okay.

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.

pacific-rim-rinko-kikuchi1

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.

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28 comments on “Pacific Rimshot

  1. allthoughtswork
    July 16, 2013

    There are dozens of episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 available for free on You Tube and at the library. For FREE. You can take all the money you saved on exorbitant movie tickets and sink it into junk food and booze, like a good American.

  2. awax1217
    July 16, 2013

    Getting into the mind of a women is very hard to do. I believe that women have different thought patterns than men and view things in a different light.
    Take a scale of one to ten and place ten concepts on it and men will put it in one list and women in another. Are women more emotional than men? Probably yes and that is probably why they are more stabler than men. They handle things better. Between myself and my wife, she is the steadier of the two. Who handles the finances better? She does. Who handles the woes of the family better? She does. I am there for show.
    Just curious why is the Thin Man on this blog? Just curious, the interplay of Mr and Mrs. was incredible. Who controlled the investigations? Right, Nora!!

  3. liberalcritique
    July 16, 2013

    When did they make Rock Um’ Sock Um’ Robots into a movie? I don’t even care, I’m seeing it!

  4. segmation
    July 16, 2013

    Any film of Guillermo del Toro’s is a plus to me! Pan’s Labyrinth was another one that I Ithought was equally beautiful and touching!

  5. Harlequin Tea Set
    July 16, 2013

    I love anything with Idris Elba in it, purely because he’s such cool dude. I’ve been watching the latest series of Luthor and he’s awesome in it. Haven’t seen Pacific Rim but have heard very good reviews of it, and will be looking forward to it after your blog now!

  6. alanjcaceres
    July 16, 2013

    Wait…wanting to fight the Kaiju because of events that happened in her childhood makes her childish? What about Raleigh? Running away from fighting the Kaiju because his brother was killed while they were in a Jaeger? I had the impression that it was Raleigh’s character that was childish and Mako’s that was more mature. It seemed like the movie showed a helpless little girl become a strong woman. But I’m just a guy so what do I know. :-b

    • mcwhirk
      July 16, 2013

      It doesn’t make her childish, per se. But the only insight the audience has into who she is and why she’s doing anything is that she was scared as a little girl. Raleigh didn’t start fighting kaiju because one of them freaked him out when he was a kid. The movie gives him the benefit of having decided on the course his life would take – a decision he made as an adult. I don’t begrudge Mako her fixation on the kaiju killing her family, nor do I begrudge Raleigh his grieving for his brother. I begrudge the movie its inability to show us anything about Mako as a human being other than the direct link between what happened when she was a kid and what she’s doing now.

      Like…can we all see how insulting that is? It’s not even a childhood trauma that shaped her in complex and interesting ways. It’s something that she is still reliving, still unable to process or integrate. Raleigh can still function after witnessing his brother’s death. He mourns, but he functions. Mako freaks out and fires up the cannon and faints.

      • alanjcaceres
        July 16, 2013

        Ah. I see what you’re getting at. Ok. They’re making Mako seem ‘weaker’ because she couldn’t manage the trauma, but then depicting Raleigh as someone who was able to manage the trauma, but just decided not to, making it seem like she needed him to get over the trauma.

      • slamadams
        July 17, 2013

        Mako functions perfectly fine. Mako freaks out and relives the moment not because of some emotional infancy but because they threw her into the deep end with little training because they were running out of time. Raleigh admits that the “drift” can be difficult the first time, and an entire team of experts on the situation immediately recognize it as “following the rabbit,” something that happens enough that they have their own lingo for it.

      • Ruth
        July 17, 2013

        +1 to slamadams’ answer. My impression was that she got stuck reliving it because of being a rookie in the drift, not that it’s a constant thing. Stacker does say that vengeance is not a good thing to carry into the drift, but wanting vengeance and being unable to process trauma are two different things.

  7. Living the Geek Life
    July 17, 2013

    Sadly, thus isn’t the first review of this movie to discuss the mishandling or lack of female characters. Sigh, can if really be this hard?

  8. Pingback: Freshly Riffed 41: I Stopped Caring Hours Ago | A VERY STRANGE PLACE

  9. William Greenfield
    July 17, 2013

    I really enjoyed the movie. Sit down and turn the brain off, enjoy some good explosions and forget about life the difficulties of life for a while. In my mind that is what a good action movie is for. If you look at it there are nearly always issues of the type mentioned within action movies. I would like to see more action movies written and directed by woman. It would be interesting to get a different take on the whole lets blow things up and fight the monster action movie genre.

  10. alcesagigas
    July 17, 2013

    I felt the movie made a point of explaining that going into the drift was an extremely difficult thing to do for the first time, and since it was her first time that fits very well. Having her be perfect at it even though she is a rookie would take away any flaws that she may have, which would be terrible character development. There are so many layers to her character and true, not all of them are super badass and perfect and HBIC, but neither are the character layers to any real woman out here outside the movie-verse. I find absolutely perfect female characters with no flaws a bit boring and a bit offensive, and I found Pacific Rim to be a nice change from that.
    I wish that there had been MORE female characters with great development in the movie, but “baby steps, baby steps” has sort of been my mantra when it comes to this sort of thing.

    I think it’s also super important to push the fact that there wasn’t a romance in the movie. There was no big kiss. It’s established early on that Mako admires R. and has studied his strategies and techniques, combined with the fact that they shared their memories and thoughts and feelings with each other, it was pleasantly surprising to find that they had a very close bond of camaraderie instead of a “quick get over here we saved the human race bb let’s bang” thing going on at the end there. Just a nice relieved hug.

  11. DB
    July 17, 2013

    I saw the movie last week and enjoyed the scale and spectacle of it, despite the two dimensional characters and hokey dialogue. I expected better from Guillermo. Then yesterday I read this article from Vulture – http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/does-pacific-rim-have-a-woman-problem.html – about the embarrassing shortage of women in the movie at all, let alone women with underdeveloped characters/motivations, as you discuss here.

    Admittedly, the absence of women didn’t register with me while I was watching the movie. Maybe because I was too swept up in the story, which tends to happen to me. Or maybe because I’m a guy and therefore automatically less sensitive or attuned to something that should have been an obvious observation. Either way, I thought the article raised some great points.

    Congrats on the Freshly Pressed spotlight!

  12. Ruth
    July 17, 2013

    I agree with you that it’s a fun and enjoyable movie (and on the eye candy, though I can’t say I was an Idris Elba fan before this). I also agree with alcesagigas above on enjoying the lack of forced Hollywood romance in the movie – I appreciated that ‘mm, I like you’ did not translate automatically into ‘let’s hop in the sack together whether we know each other or not’. Granted, they had other (huge green) things to think about.
    You asked “it’s never explained why she might like him for anything more than eye candy. … What’s in it for her?” I thought she liked him because she knows from studying his battles that he fights well and is good at her chosen career, so they have shared interests. She also knows he has suffered deep loss because of the kaiju, like she has. Perhaps I’m reading something between the lines that isn’t there, but that is what I thought.
    Congrats on the FP, by the way.

  13. clubschadenfreude
    July 19, 2013

    I have to say that I don’t find Mako a “little girl” at all. She’s suffering from PTSD just like Raleigh. Both want revenge. Both are damaged and both have survived.

  14. pongorcs
    July 21, 2013

    In short: got it Amelia, I’ll try to get it in my thick head. It would be great if you would have a good example on a movie directed by a male that shows the female mind? Rich inner world, and mind fully shown etc.

    • mcwhirk
      July 21, 2013

      The Others (2001). Goodbye Again (1961). Imitation of Life (1959) – for the Juanita Moore/Susan Kohner plot, not the Lana Turner/Sandra Dee plot. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). Baby Face (1933). The Red Shoes (1948). Black Narcissus (1947). Sense and Sensibility (1995). Persuasion (also 1995, also Austen).

      These are off the top of my head.

      • pongorcs
        July 23, 2013

        I just browsed through. I will check 2 of them. I got The Others already- while I think there the pressure and “inner suspense” was dominant. For the real female movies… phew. I will have to sit down, and take a breath to watch. Not my style.Gonna be Black Narcissus and Baby Face then re.

      • mcwhirk
        July 23, 2013

        They aren’t all films where the woman’s Rich Inner Life is the entire point – they’re films where it’s clear that she has one, and it informs how and why she does what she does. That’s all. You won’t regret Black Narcissus or Baby Face. They’re great.

  15. The Afictionado
    July 24, 2013

    I do agree with some of the points you made–however, I also really liked the fact that Mako wasn’t just shoehorned into the love interest role and her relationship with Raleigh could be interpreted as romantic if you wanted it to be, or could just be left as a strong friendship. That’s something pretty rare that I had to take a moment to boggle at.

    • mcwhirk
      July 24, 2013

      That was certainly a welcome change of pace. Likewise, while she’s obviously an attractive woman, it was nice not to see her running around in a bikini. The movie didn’t get everything wrong with her, at least.

      • The Afictionado
        July 25, 2013

        I thought overall she was handled pretty well–while I would have liked to see even more diversity, they did provide a bit of a spectrum of female characters with her at one end and the Badass Russian at the other, neither of whom were objectified or treated with any of that kind of silliness.

      • mcwhirk
        July 25, 2013

        I got a kick out of the Badass Russian, but she’s barely there, and she’s only defined as one half of a team. Were there any other women in the movie, other than extras in Hong Kong? I can’t remember any.

  16. scottgrossman
    August 8, 2013

    Overall, I agree with your assessment of the film but I did write a rebuttal piece that you can read here: http://scottgrossman.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/battle-of-the-sexists/

  17. Gary Bonkowski
    August 25, 2013

    Good review, it was a decent movie… about what I expected. Anymore, people’s expectations seem to have skyrocketed, it’s ok to visit your childhood once and a while and just be entertained with riveting action.

  18. Pingback: The Avengers: Age of Whedon | more stars than in the heavens

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