Pacific Rim: Your argument is invalid because Sword Button 8

Let me be clear: I was born to love this movie. I grew up watching Voltron, Power Rangers and other sentai shows, and kaiju movies. I was a giant Gundam weenie for years and years. (Evangelion not so much, but that’s a rant for a different time.) This movie was designed to hit every single nerd squee button I possess all at once and turn me into a shrieking explosion of popcorn and glitter. It’s GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING KAIJU HOW COOL IS THAT.

However, had it only been giant robots fighting monsters, I would have left the theater happy, but not been thrown into paroxysms of pure glee like I am now. Obviously, I’m capable of disliking movies that involve giant robots. I hated Transformers 2 and 3, after all.

But this movie was fun. And it was good. I’d even go so far as to call it groundbreaking, and let me explain why.

But there will be SPOILERS. [okay, I’m trying to use the “more” tag but I don’t know if it’s working, apologies if not.]

Pretty much everyone I’ve seen that’s been speaking positively about Pacific Rim has said that it’s awesome and fun, but not groundbreaking. So I’d better explain myself. The entire reason I use that word is because of Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi. (And yes, all of the characters in Pacific Rim have amazing that-could-totally-be-from-an-anime names, the best of which is of course Stacker Pentecost.) At first blush, Mako seems like a very stereotypical demure Japanese woman character, but Kikuchi quickly shows us the utter steel underneath her, the competitive edge and depths of resolve. The only thing that holds her back at all in the movie is the love of her adoptive father figure, Stacker–that’s what almost scuttles her chance to be a Jaeger pilot. Not self-doubt, but an inability to stand up to someone to whom she owes that much. Anyone who thinks she was one note was clearly not paying attention.

She’s a main character in her own right, not just the sidekick to the American guy, Raleigh. The most poignant and extended flashback in the entire movie belongs to Mako Mori, and it’s heartbreaking and terrifying and Mana Ashida (who plays young Mako) was just amazing. She is both fragile and competent, and her journey takes her from being driven by revenge to resolution.

But that’s not why I used the g-word. Why?

There is no romance plot.

Del Toro himself said this, and having watch the movie, I believe him. I’ve seen a lot of people claiming that there is some kind of weak love story between Raleigh and Mako. They’re wrong. And I think the reason for that confusion is because it is so goddamn impossible to find an action movie where the woman isn’t present to be the male lead’s love interest. There is chemistry, there are long looks, and at the end there is hand-holding–which ends in a hug, not a kiss. It’s not a romance. It shouldn’t be read as one. Rather, the point is made over and over again that when the Jaeger pilots drift, they are entirely in each other’s minds. They know everything about the other person. Because of their drift compatibility, Mako and Raleigh are closer than friends, lovers, or any other possible relationship. They know each other in the most intimate way possible. And ultimately, because Raleigh has no one in the world, and Mako has lost the only family she had left (Stacker), they have become everything to each other.

So yeah, I’d say they love each other. But such a thing as deep, platonic love is possible, and del Toro put it in his movie.

That’s why I’m calling it groundbreaking. There was a woman, a female character who was both strong and human, and she was not there just to fuck the hero.

Hell, if you want romance out of Pacific Rim, just look at the two comedy relief geeky scientists. There’s already got to be fanfic about them.

There is a lot of other damn fine stuff in this movie, and it’s all to the credit of the actors. Idris Elba makes Stacker Pentecost not just a badass control freak, but a father who deeply loves his adopted daughter and will do anything for her. (When Stacker tells Mako effectively that he is so glad he was able to watch her grow up,  I just about started to cry.) Robert Kazinsky as Chuck Hansen managed to be the biggest shit on the planet and still made me care about him by basically punching me in the heart when he said goodbye to his father. Max Martini as Herc Hansen just helped him break my heart.

And the apocalypse is not averted by a lone hero with a gun. It’s averted by a team. There is much made in this movie about team work, about how the pilots must work together (Stacker and Raleigh have both managed to pilot solo before, by the way, but that assuredly is not what saves the day) to fight. I loved that; it’s another unusual thing to see in movies like this. There wasn’t a hero and a sidekick, it was two heroes as a team.

There could have been more plot. There could have been more character development. But the actors took what they were given and ran with it, and they made it good. I can’t wait to see what extras we might get on the DVDs.

And yes, of course, the fighting scenes were amazing. The setting was brilliant and technicolor and with that lovely twist of weirdness that just screams del Toro at the top of its lungs.

The other thing I really liked about the movie is that it shows the problem as being a global one. Sure, there are plenty of other movies that center a global threat, but it always ends up being about how America (or even a single American badass guy) saves the day. Most of the movie takes place in a technicolor, future Hong Kong. Stacker Pentecost, the head of the Jaeger program, is definitely not American. And while the Jaeger that ends the conflict is piloted by Raleigh (an American) his partner is a Japanese woman. I just wish we’d seen more of the other two Jaeger crews, the three brothers from China and the pair from Russia. I was sad we got to know them just long enough to see them get eaten by kaiju.

One last note: Pacific Rim is not about 9/11, as most post 9/11 disaster/action movies are accused of being. If it’s trying to be an allegory for anything, my best guess would be global climate change. But sometimes a giant robot is just a giant robot. (And often I wonder if 9/11 is really on every director’s mind, or if every critic is just looking for it whenever they can find.)


8 thoughts on “Pacific Rim: Your argument is invalid because Sword Button

  1. Reply David Merriam Jul 15,2013 12:49

    I also loved that not only did the team win the day, they also won in part because of the scientists doing *their* research and taking their own risks. The scientists weren’t incompetent mooks for us to laugh at, nor were they generic white suits to explain the technical things so the heroes could save the day. They actually had personalities and were actually integral to the plot. It made my day.

  2. Reply Dan Page Jul 17,2013 11:54

    Just saw it and loved it. Very few complaints. The triplets and the Russians dying so fast was not surprising, but annoying. (I didn’t even catch that their Jaeger was named Chernobyl lol) I thought both main characters living to have their heartfelt moment was a bit formulaic, and would have been happy enough if just the female lived. I want to know how they maintained status of the mechs after they went through the throat into the other world; that was a stretch for me. A lot of shades of Independence Day. BUT SWORD BUTTON!!! (Why didn’t they use swords the whole program, FFS :) )

    • Reply tequila0341 Jul 29,2013 12:08

      Just FYI – the Russians’ mech is called Cherno Alpha in the English-language materials, but apparently in the Russian dub it’s Cherniy Alpha – “Black Alpha” – which just sounds fucking badass.

      • Reply Rachael Jul 29,2013 12:12

        Okay that’s just awesome.

        Also to correct myself, in thus original post I thought the Russian pilots were sibs. Second viewing showed I was obviously very wrong.

  3. Reply Marcos Fernandes de Sousa Jr Aug 14,2013 10:20

    Sure, has a sword button, that they do not use until the last second… they also have missiles and plasma cannons that they do not use when they should… they also have superficial characters and jaegers that basically “die” without doing anything… Sure the lack of “romance” is something different, but i don’t see how it really makes this movie groundbreaking by any means…

    • Reply Rachael Aug 14,2013 10:36

      My entire reason for calling it groundbreaking is the character of Mako Mori and the fact that ultimately, she is the main character. Scifi movies with women main characters are few and far between, and scifi action movies even moreso. (And when you think about it, the one everyone always thinks of is Aliens… Which is fucking awesome, don’t get me wrong, and Ripley doesn’t get stuck in a romance plot either. But one difference here is that Ripley can be analyzed as being out in a protective mother role, whereas Mako is that much further outside the regular female tropes.) And that didn’t even touch on the rarity of non-white female main characters. Anyway, my argument about Mako being the main character is expanded upon here:

  4. Reply Bibulb May 12,2014 08:41

    I came across this just now (cross linked from your review of Chef), and that title is exactly the phrasing I have used to describe this movie. “I’m sorry, but DID YOU NOT SEE HOW SHE HIT THE ‘SWORD BUTTON’, AND THEN THE SWORD UNFURLED AND THEY AWWWWW, WOW WOW WOW!”

    Also, the “lack of a romance subplot” was one of the (very, very) few things that I enjoyed in Congo – they have a brief nod to the idea that we expect something there, and then throw it in your face. (Not worth the rest of the movie, but still worth noting.) When that sort of thing happens, I’m always kinda pleasantly surprised for the swerve from expectations.

    • Reply Rachael May 12,2014 08:45

      EXACTLY! Like every time someone’s said “well why didn’t they use it earlier” I have to resist the urge to shake them and scream YOU HAVE OBVIOUSLY NOT WATCHED ENOUGH SENTAI SHOWS REMEDY THIS IMMEDIATELY.

      I really want there to be more movies where it’s okay if there’s no romance. And good movies.

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