At The Movies: Pacific Rim or Not Quite The Monster Apocalypse Markgraf Wanted
I HAVE BEEN MADE TO SWEAR A BLOOD-OATH TO YOU ALL THAT I WILL NOT MAKE ANY “RIM” JOKES IN THIS REVIEW ON PAIN OF MY NEW NEON GREEN KURT GEIGERS BEING CONFISCATED
OH, ALSO THERE’S MINOR SPOILERS
I ain’t gonna lie, readers; it took me a while to write this one. I got home from seeing Pacific Rim, irritated and betrayed (for reasons I’ll explain), and got on The Internet, ready to share my frustrations with the film with a giant swathe of the population that I assumed would doubtless have the same irritations I did.
I found no such people. In fact, I found a great number of people whose feminism and opinions I respected claiming it this great inclusive/representational victory and lauding the characterisation of the, um, one woman. My crest fell. I suddenly felt ashamed and cowed. Maybe they’re right, I thought. Maybe Pacific Rim is this Big Thing after all and I’m just this picky little boy who should swallow my face and look grateful.
Or maybe it’s like Avengers Assemble all over again, where everyone and their dog made Joss Whedon into a Maypole and danced around him, singing the praises of his Black Widow and how boss she was, and all I could think was “yeah but she still strangles men with her thighs in a black leather catsuit though doesn’t she”. It’s a step forward, but even further steps could have been so easy, yet weren’t taken.
Let’s look at Pacific Rim’s director, Guillermo del Toro. Now, Guillermo is my homeboy. We go way back. He’s made some of my favourite films in the world ever, and written some of the best women in filmland, and then put them in main roles (example: Pan’s Labyrinth).
Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) is good in Pacific Rim, sure, but despite what others say about her getting the protagonist’s development arc, she isn’t the protagonist, Boring Raleigh (Charlie Hannam) is, and that’s where the film focuses. It needn’t have done, as Mako does indeed get a nice narrative arc of her very own – but it really does focus on Raleigh instead. Why, Guillermo? Why?
Why focus on the boring guy? The boring inexplicable guy who is not only tedious, but a TERRIBLE choice for “massive robot pilot saviour of mankind” because he consistently makes awful decisions? Decisions so awful, in fact, that I thought that maybe his progress through the film would punish him for his reckless endangering of human lives – but then he was eventually lauded for them! I just. No. (There was a lot wrong with Raleigh, like why doesn’t his hideously traumatic co-death with his brother have more of an effect on him – but I honestly don’t have the wordcount to get into it!)
There were no end of cool background people that would have made the film a) more interesting and b) less inevitably-focussed-on-the-white-American-dudebro. Loads of internet has spaffed cheerful over the Soviet team (Heather Doerksen and Robert Maillet) – and they’re right to do so; they’re bossly and cute as hell (and let’s not forget that BLOODY SEXY Brutalist Jaeger design!!) but they get three lines, all of which are techy floundering and then they die. That’s… that’s not great, guys! Three lines! I had more lines when I was an extra at the local Methodist church panto when I was 14!
Mako wasn’t terrible. There was a standout bit for me where she pilots a Jaeger for the first time and loses it completely as Her Traumatic Past flings nightmare fuel into her face until she endangers the life of everyone else in the Jaeger playhouse – and yet her co-pilot Boring Raleigh somehow manages to swallow down and stamp on the MASSIVE PTSD that presumably he’d have (along with brain damage, surely??) from sharing a brain with his beloved brother as he died an extremely brutal death. I just. I don’t know. Maybe I’d have been less bothered by her shortcomings if she hadn’t been forced to carry the flag as literally the only woman in the film with lines.
“But they didn’t kiss at the end!” people have said, delightedly. And in a world where films appear to be literally impossible to put on celluloid without The Day Being Saved By Heterosexuality, that’s great. I’m all for non-sexual relationships. But that’s not how the film was shot or put together. If it was, it didn’t do enough to undermine the romantic overtures between Raleigh and Mako all the way through (Del Toro says that he did their fight scene “like a sex scene” even), so while no, they didn’t kiss – they honestly might as well have done, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had done.
Frustratingly, it’s not 100% crap. I say “frustratingly” because I’d love to just shit all over this thing wholesale and be done with it, but I can’t. The world of Pacific Rim is absolutely spectacular. Del Toro has done his worldbuilding trick where he’s made everything in the setting fantasticly beautiful, cruel and bleak. But then stitched the actual narrative and characterisation out of tropes. Tropes aren’t a bad thing per se – but I honestly felt that I had seen this film before in a million different cinema-sittings. When you can predict a character’s story before he (and it’s always a he) has even done it? Not great.
But the good bits are really good. The robots are heavy, work-worn and believable. The Kaiju are so beautiful they made me do facewaters on numerous occasions. You know when Newt (played by Charlie Day – but I’ll come back to him in a minute) braindives into their world to spy? That black passing body over the giant red sun? The fiery skies and the knowledge that Kaiju are their answers to mechs? The hot, prickly balloon of delight inflated in my chest and I felt this sudden desperation for Del Toro to make the film he’s clearly always wanted to, carry on from Hellboy II‘s overtones of human punishment monster Apocalypse, and give it the “and then everyone died” happy ending that I’ve always wanted to see him do.
“We terraformed it for them,” Newt says breathlessly. Humans have ruined the world, and now monsters want it to play in. I wept. “Yes!” I yelped in the cinema. “Stamasfodfpohssadjfdk!” I elaborated, which I think in this context meant, “Please give me all the monster Apocalypse porn I need to make my heart complete, Guillermo.” My boyfriend patted my knee sharply, which I think in this context meant, “Please stop making the sounds that will inevitably get us kicked out of the cinema”.
But it didn’t happen. I felt personally betrayed. Come on, Guillermo, I thought we were bros.
Speaking of bros, I did ship/love Newt and Herman (Burn Gorman, who is a hottie), the rivalrous, hilarious, day-saving, vitally-important-to-the-plot-and-yet-still-somehow-endearingly-rubbish scientists. “You can’t ship them!” cried my lovely housemate. “Did you see how they fumbled a *handshake*? That is what the sex would be like. Flapping, awkward and inaccurate.” Yes, it would. Just like regular sex.
Newt was great though. We follow him through the underground Kaiju-part trade as he shambles off on his quest to find this one particular drug-baron. Ron Perlman, of course, plays this…
s p e c i f i c c r i m
…no, I think we’re done here.
YOU SHOULD SEE THIS FILM BECAUSE:
- The monster/mech effects are literally the best I’ve ever seen
- The world Del Toro has built is compelling, beautiful and engrossing. The background detail makes it all feel really real and believable
- Idris Elba Is A Severe Hottie
- Do not underestimate how awe-inspiringly beautiful it is
YOU SHOULD NOT SEE THIS FILM BECAUSE:
- You have seen it before, in a million different hats, over the past twenty years
- The monsters don’t win AGAIN
- It hints at doing something fun and different but doesn’t actually
- What sort of a name is “Stacker Pentecost” anyway1
- Ed’s Note: “MY NEW NAME FROM NOW ON” [↩]