I like to watch a good movie made of nonsense as much as the next person. I mean, who doesn't- Hollywood's annual summer action-fest is like getting into a good war without anyone dying. Baghdad without the bombs. Buildings exploding without the BBC report on the pain and the suffering. It makes you feel like a warrior. Pacific Rim does just that- I mean, you get to be a giant robot fighting a giant monster. Fuck yeah, Hollywood. I just hope you aren't a warrior princess. And pretty much forget it if you aren't white.
(There are some spoilers ahead, I guess. I'm not sure the plot is that important, though).
This Doesn't Even Pass The Bechdel Short-Quiz
The Bechdel Test requires that two women in a story talk to each other about something other than a man. "Hahaha, Fuck You, Rachel Bechdel," says Pacific Rim, "we barely even have two women in the whole movie." If you go to a movie theater that allows alcohol and take a shot every time you see a woman who isn't the female protagonist, you'll be the sober driver on the ride home.
Seriously, by my count, there are 10 credits that go to women on IMDB. Two of them are the same character, but different ages, 1 of them is the voice of a computer, and 1 has maybe 3 lines consisting of mid-fight jargon she says to her male partner during battle. My guess is she is literally on screen for less than 2 physical minutes. I don't even remember seeing most of the other ones, and I can tell you there weren't a lot of uncredited women in the extras. Pacific Rim is a great summer movie if you like sausage. For barbecue.
Let's examine the main female character for a minute, though. Her name is Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi, and she is a Japanese orphan who was raised by Idris Elba. She is setup as smart, poised, and understandably upset that a giant monster came and destroyed her city and killed her parents. The only character attribute that matters is how emotional she is over her parents death.
Mako is submissive, says very little throughout the movie, and exists only for the main character, Raleigh, to have someone to love. She speaks her mind about Raleigh's reckless nature within the first 2 minutes of meeting him, apologizes, and then spends the next 10 minutes making him feel uncomfortable while eye-fucking him. Why does she do this? I mean, he is hot, but that's more or less all she knows about him other than his battle styles. He's not that hot and she's not 12 and he's not a Pokemon.
When Mako tries to operate the giant robot, she is overwhelmed by her emotions and almost kills everyone on accident. Raleigh talks all the time about how he's too emotional to operate the robot because he witnessed his brother get killed, but no effect for him. Now, it's stated that not everyone can operate these, but the only person we see fail at it is the only major female character. This gets her fired by her father, even though Raleigh says that the first time inside one of the robots is hard for anyone. (Did I mention he spends 5 years sulking around practically doing nothing after witnessing his brother's death? Is he too emotional to operate it? Not at all. He's a man). This is on top of the fact that Idris Elba's character spends half the movie telling Mako she can't control her emotions, she wouldn't do well in the machines (despite a perfect simulator score), and that he won't let her.
Wouldn't it be great if she overcame all of these setbacks and became an awesome fighter? Spoiler Alert: she doesn't. Or, she sorta does. I guess. She does help win one major battle with the monsters, but only because she never told Raleigh about all the weapons the robot had. In the other major battle she passes out and Raleigh is forced to save the day after romantically giving her his oxygen and then magically breathing for another 2 - 4 minutes while he sets off a bomb. All in all, her major contribution the the film is a tragic backstory about her parents and someone to fill the vacant hole in Raleigh's heart left by his dead brother. So, she's 1 for 3 if you count almost killing everyone during practice. Technically that's good enough for the Big Leagues.
Oh yeah, one of the other robot pilots is a giant misogynist and tells her to go home because she's a girl. Despite being a better fighter than Raleigh, Raleigh punches the guy and makes him apologize because romance, right? Women need protection and punching this guy makes it clear that Raleigh likes her. Sigh, I miss middle school. Guess what Mako's big reward is at the end of the big robot/monster dance? She gets her man. Hearts are in my eyes it's so romantic.
Hong Kong Is Staffed By White People
Out of work? Looking for a job? Well, Pacific Rim is here to tell you that Hong Kong is looking for well-educated robot enthusiasts, shady businessmen, and kooky scientists to fill it's apparently un-staffable positions. The main theme of the movie is coming together as the human race and forgetting our differences. Raleigh literally narrates this to you in the beginning. But, in case you were wondering people of color, it doesn't get better. When giant aliens attack from the pacific ocean and the whole world is forced to work together, guess who is at the top of almost every food chain? Whitey.
Let's describe the jobs chinese and other asian laborers do- menial grunt labor, dangerous labor, run around Hong Kong, and oh yeah, believe in a religion that claims the aliens are here to punish us. Do they operate any giant robots? Yes, one. Are they rumored to be badass for their awesome martial arts? Yes. Do they get killed in the very first battle they are shown in without inflicting any damage? Of course.
The two major scientists in the movie are white. The barely seen / always unheard staff of the robot facility are sometimes not white men, but all the major staff including the major speaking parts are all white men. (Outside of Mako and Idris Elba's character). More than half the people who are building a wall in the pacific ocean? White men. The major criminal underworld boss- Ron Perlman, who employs the highest ranking asians outside of Mako. It's not that any of the actors they chose were bad. The acting was generally good. It's that they felt they needed to choose all white people in a movie that primarily takes place in Hong Kong and is an homage to various aspects of asian culture.
Let's describe the jobs of black people now- Idris Elba and some extras on a construction crew. Oh yeah, and an Obama clip flashes across the screen briefly. Yay black people. At least Hollywood keeps giving you the presidency during dystopian apocalyptic movies, amirite?
Idris Elba plays Stacker Pentecost, which is like a joke, wrapped inside a stereotype, wrapped inside the first name Stacker. It's rumored some names lead women to become strippers or prostitutes and some names lead men to the military or professional wrestling, which is a good thing for Stacker, because he found both in one.
I won't lie, Idris Elba is amazing. He's great. You want to fuck him. I want to fuck him. Elmo probably wants to fuck him. Thankfully, the premise of Idris' character is that he's everybody's father figure. "Eveerryybody, eveerryybodyy, come see who Elmo fucked. Elmo fucked daddy. Elmo has issues." I kid.
Let's play the question game again, though. Does he love his daughter? Yes. Does he spend most of the movie acting like a military commander to her, telling her she isn't good enough, and can't handle her emotions? Yes. Does this affect her relationship with him? Of course not. Does Elba's character have a badass backstory? Yes. Is he one of two people to have ever done something in battle, although it's not shown? Yes. Is it shown for the white actor? Yes. Does he immediately get his ass kicked in the only battle he's shown in? Why yes he does.
On top of this, in order to get around an entire movie's worth of plot device setup - the same plot device that makes sure Mako is seen as emotional and unable to control the giant robots - Idris Elba's character is forced to explicitly state that he brings no thoughts or emotions that will confuse or disorient his robot copilot when he is forced to become the replacement. I guess that's a civil rights victory. I think. The strongest thing he has going for him is he keeps the giant robot program afloat while the world governments inexplicably stick to building a wall that immediately fails. But hey, he sheds like 1 tear with his daughter before he goes out to battle one last time and commits suicide for the good of mankind. It's a good tear, though. I mean, you really want to fuck him after that tear. Alright, screw it, Idris- Call Me. I would like to have sex with you.
Morals of Monsters and Robots
It is not the greatest fairy tale of the twenty first century, as some have said, but it is decent when it comes to the feel good emotions stuff. The drift is the neural bond between two co-pilots that creates a hive mind needed to operate the giant robots; it's a good analogy for cooperation in difficult situations. I mean, it really works at the character level to cement the point that nations need to work together to solve big problems. After all, a minor plot point is that global warming causes the aliens to invade. I'm sorry, re-invade, they killed the dinosaurs originally. However, I think the analogy is somewhat limited since basically it's just white people cooperating with other white people, but in Asia instead of America. Maybe it's a metaphor for Democrats and Republicans. Ahh Fuck It- I'm rooting for the monsters then.
Outside of the limited moral implications of the film, it's highly watchable. The premise is entirely stupid, but whatever, people are into that. (90% the plot struggles of the movie could have been solved if someone had figured out that flying missiles with giant swords attached would kill the monsters. Also, technically, missiles don't destroy the monsters at the beginning of the movie but do when they are attached to giant robots or the giant robots blow up with them). But Hey! It's super cool and real fun watching giant robots punching giant monsters. The visual effects are amazing and definitely worth seeing in a theater if you value that. The acting is great for what is essentially a high-budget Sharknado with a better director. I mean, when the robot cuts open the giant shark monster flying at it, it's way better than when that happens in Sharknado. WAY BETTER.
If you ignore everything you've ever learned as a feminist or a liberal, the characters totally make their cliches seem real and worth caring about. The film is stupid but I certainly don't hate it. It's better than both Transformers sequel but it's probably on par with the original Transformers in terms of action and engaging storyline. It's not as good as Hellboy, but it's better than Hellboy 2. Certainly it combines the right amount of action, acting, and morals to make a decent movie, even if it isn't a good feminist movie.
Ultimately, this movie would have worked so much better as a gay male anthem, though. If Mako had been a man I actually would have liked the movie a lot better. Or maybe Raleigh could have turned the misogynist asshole into not such an asshole and it could have been Top-Gun, monster edition. Then it wouldn't seem so sexist and ridiculous to see only one woman fighting (Two if you count the Russian who is on screen for 2 minutes). Keep in mind, much of the movie takes place in the near future, not present day, so it seems out of place that our new, awesome liberal morals teach us that only men can fight giant monsters. The Hollywood racism would still have been there in the casting, but it wouldn't have been the disappointing double whammy with the sexism. I mean, come on, it's essentially an all-male cast anyways, and the main character is looking to fill the hole left in his heart by his dead brother. At least throw gay men a federal wedding present and give them a Gay Edit cut.
A Review, Summarized
Rating: C- to B, depending upon what you're looking for.
It's good for a monster movie, I guess, but it still suffers from a lot of problems. I won't lie; it's not terrible and it's not intolerable. Just, as a feminist, it's mostly disappointing. I know the movie has been in production far longer than the past 12 months, but the movie's plot and characters are so drenched in cliches that it feels anathema to the social achievements made by women (Frontline fighting), gays (Weddings), and people of color recently (Friendly, lovable leaders with positive emotions).
The movie's message is about inclusion for all humanity and yet the cast is a bunch of white men with quota parts for a Japanese girl and a black guy. They do a great job with those parts, but still. Guillermo Del Toro speaks about how hard it is to break into Hollywood as a minority and yet he makes a movie about inclusion where the major characters in Hong Kong are all white men.
The effects are good. It's visually appealing, but beyond that it still feels like a dead fish flopping about stereotypes and cliches.