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Mako Mori is a badass.

Note the first: Expect this review to include SPOILERS for the movie Pacific Rim. Not that there’s a whole lot to it that isn’t fed to you by the trailer, but still. Stop reading now if you want to remain somewhat surprised.

Note the second: This movie is not high cinema. Don’t let Guillermo del Toro’s name on the onesheet fool you — you’re not going to leave the theatre saying, “I think the way the ferocious glowing aliens came through a rift in the ocean floor represents our own inner ambiguity about our place in a changing world.” You’re going to leave saying, “MONSTER ROBOT GRR KABOOM!” Because that’s what the movie is about.

Note the third: This movie does not pass the Bechdel test. I wanted it to. I think I actually created a brief conversation in my mind between two characters just so it would pass the test on a technicality, because I enjoyed the movie so much. But it doesn’t. For all that it had room to be, this is not a feminist movie; it’s just a monster movie.

CliffsNotes: In the future, giant alien sea creatures (called kaiju) have started coming through a rift in the bottom of the ocean and laying waste to assorted coastlines. Humanity has banded together to address this threat in the form of enormous battle robots (called jaeger) piloted by two humans each. Raleigh Becket is a Cocky Young Jaeger Pilot Who Flies By His Own Rules. Mako Mori’s family was killed by a kaiju and now she’s Bent On Revenge. They will (spoiler alert!) Overcome Adversity To Save The World.

When we meet military commander Stacker Pentecost (that’s the dude’s actual name), played beautifully by the inimitable Idris Elba, he’s standing impassive in the rain next to the helipad, stick-straight and in uniform. When we meet Mako, played by the excellent Rinko Kikuchi, she’s tucked under an umbrella and holding Pentecost’s clipboard. Well, one thinks. We know where this goes.

And then the movie goes on to actually built her out and make her a character in her own right. We’re drip-fed nuggets of story and backstory a little bit at a time — she’s never been in an actual jaeger, but she’s a pro in the simulator. She has a desire for revenge that Stacker Pentecost (which is the real name of a character) thinks holds her back. She’s not afraid to tell Raleigh exactly what she thinks about him. She can go toe-to-toe with him in physical combat in a way that other prospective pilots can’t, foreshadowing a crucial ability to mesh with him mentally so they’ll be able to drive the robot together. One moment of covert ogling on her part notwithstanding, their relationship remains close but platonic, and throughout the movie Raleigh comes across as more of a more-seasoned partner, supporter, and advocate than a potential love interest.

“But she’s obedient.”

After Mako has, yet again, appealed to Stacker Pentecost (and should I ever have a kid, boy or girl, its name will be Stacker Pentecost, because SERIOUSLY) to let her team up with Raleigh and he’s once again shot her down, Raleigh pulls her aside to tell her Rebelliously that she doesn’t have to obey. She tells him, “It’s not about obedience. It’s about respect.” A small distinction at the time, but one that will prove important later on when, during a walk through Mako’s memory, we get some important backstory: On the day that Mako’s family was killed by a huge alien monster, Stacker Pentecost (I KNOW) is the jaeger driver who comes in and saves her. He raises her himself from probably the age of five, so when she follows his lead, it’s both as a soldier following orders and as a daughter showing respect to her dad.

Similarly, when Stacker Pentecost (dude) is reluctant to let her behind the wheel, it isn’t because he doubts her skills or because she’s a woman — her skills in the simulator were obvious and superior, and he’s already commanding one female jaeger pilot on that mission. It’s because she’s basically his daughter. The conflict there wasn’t him realizing she’s capable; it was realizing that he has to push past that protectiveness and let her do her thing.

“But she’s emotional.”

Of course, the big complaint about Mako is that, dropped into a jaeger for the first time in her life, she gets lost in terrifying memories of her childhood, loses composure, and almost causes a disaster with her great big robot laser thing. Too emotional, critics say. Stacker Pentecost (which is what they named him) said she was too emotional, and there she was. An emotional woman who needed a man to pull her out of and save the day.

Sure. Because having your brain hooked up to another human brain so you can bond via a conduit of your memories is the kind of thing that most people could glide smoothly through their first time out. God, keep it together, woman, right? But call me a pushover, if you happen to get caught up in the memory of the time an enormous, phosphorescent alien sea creature laid waste to your entire town and massacred your family? I’m going to let it slide. And even if it did happen to be at an inconvenient moment — i.e., strapped into a giant killer robot — it might do well to remember that Raleigh got caught up in the memory of the time an enormous, phosphorescent alien sea creature laid waste to his robot and killed his brother, and broke first. If he, the seasoned jaeger driver with numerous wins under his belt, had held it together, he could have helped her, the talented but inexperienced simulator jockey who’d never set foot in a giant robot before, keep it together.

“But she’s just romantic fodder.”

And that remains the nature of their relationship — partners, not, y’know, partner-partners. (And del Toro has said that he was intentionally avoiding romantic overtones.) Their bond is much like the one Raleigh had with his brother back when they piloted their jaeger together. When Raleigh fights with the Australian driver in the hallway (giving in to his emotions and losing his composure? It could be argued), it comes across more as a brother defending his little sister than a man fighting for his woman’s honor. And at the end, when they don’t-kiss in Raleigh’s escape pod, it makes sense — for two people who’ve just saved the world via giant-battle-robot-mind-meld, something as superficial as romantic connection seems to pale in comparison.

Is the movie a feminist paradise? Certainly not. As I noted above, it would be perfectly simple to have Mako and Russian jaeger driver Sasha Kaidanovsky bond over, well, anything. Or even share a “Hey, nice jaeger.” “Yeah, you too” in the hallway. But no. It would have been nice if there had been more than two named characters in the movie, period. Also, it would have been nice for Mako to help save the day, instead of passing out from lack of oxygen and getting popped to the surface in her escape pod, leaving the White Dude to Save The World. Not only could it be better, it should be better, and should the anticipated sequel become a reality I expect that it will be better. “Hey, at least you got a woman” or “Hey, at least you got a person of color” isn’t enough.

But of all the available criticisms, “Mako is too emotional” — or “meek,” or “sexualized” — doesn’t hold water. She shows little to no skin. She fights like a boss. Having not had a chance to drive an actual jaeger, she drives a simulator like a boss, because she wants to be a jaeger driver and thus has busted her ass to make it happen. When, toward the end of the movie, their robot loses both the arm and the leg that Raleigh controls, leaving Mako completely in charge, she wrecks shop single-robot-handedly. Mako Mori is a boss, and as tempting as it can be to make assumptions, to apply our own values where they may or may not apply, and to fill in blanks that, it turns out, might not have actually been blank to begin with, it’s nice to see the girl pull out a humongous mecha-sword and filet the enormous glowing alien dino-shark-osaur once in a while.

47 thoughts on Mako Mori is a badass.

    1. Neither did I.

      However: From the point of writing an amusing article, those comments worked well, IMO. (Then again, perhaps I am just easily amused).

    2. Because it’s such an awesome Majestic Tough Guy name. Just say it: Stacker Pentecost. It’s like Action Movie Mad Libs. They probably passed on Lion Apocalypse and had Pinnacle Rocketfuel next on the list. Which will be the name of my other two kids, by the way.

      1. What about Rexx Dangerous.or Maxx Wildman? Gotta have a Rexx or Maxx. Remember the two xs, one is for lady-men and three is for show-offs.

      2. Because it’s such an awesome Majestic Tough Guy name. Just say it: Stacker Pentecost.

        My personal fantasy about it is that, after Max Martini was cast to play the older Australian Jaeger pilot, Del Toro stayed up for seven solid nights in the hopes of inventing a name cooler than the one that man was born with.

  1. Can I just say the sequence during their first drift where they throw down for that “my nightmares are worse than yours Olympics” was amazing. The little girl Mako made me break my rule to dislike child actors on principle because she sold it. I don’t know what they had on set with her, but if she emoted that well to a floating tennis ball or what have you, bravo. Also, the image of Stacker Pentecost (Yes really!) rising triumphant from his jaeger’s cockpit alone, sunlight streaming down was a frickin cherry on top of a huge catharsis Sunday.

    It really should have passed the Bechdel test, either using the (only) other female character of swapping a role (I’m looking at you ops guy).

    While I’m still nerdgasming, my sister and I agreed after watching Idris Elba successfully deliver a clunker like “We’re cancelling the apocalypse” that they need to go back and remake the Lord of the Rings with him as Aragorn.

    1. they need to go back and remake the Lord of the Rings with him as Aragorn.

      Not even my deep and abiding love for Viggo Mortensen can bring me to dispute this.

      1. Elba damn near stole Thor right out from under Chris Hemsworth. He was magnificent as Heimdall, and I admit that I squealed when I learned he’d be in the sequel.

  2. Not passing the Bechdel Test doesn’t make something not feminist though? Isn’t having a well-realized, actualized female character treated by the narrative as a person and not an object, with their own goals and desires beyond the male character’s aims…feminist in and of itself??

    1. Yes, but in a movie where there are more than two characters total, having no interactions between two female characters is a weakness. When was the last time you saw a movie that just happened to have no interactions between two male characters?

      It is awesome that Mako is a well-realized, actualized female character with her own goals, but it’s not perfect. Having there be a second female character that Mako ever has an interaction with would be better, because very often, even powerful women exist in a limbo where there are no other female characters, and this is a weakness. (I remember how blown away I was by the sequences in the opening of the second season of Deep Space Nine when Kira and Dax are being guerrillas together and Kira is reminiscing about when she was in the Bajoran resistance and it’s just the kind of bantering conversation about the mission that guys in Star Trek engage in all the time, except this time it was two *women* and I’d *never* seen that. Crusher and Troi generally talked about men when they talked. I think Uhura and Chapel talked once ever, in Chapel’s intro episode. I should not be shocked and amazed to see two women doing something that two men do all the time… but I was, because it was unusual.)

      1. I’m not arguing it’s not a weakness, I am just saying the absence of passing the bechdel test does not immediately make the text NOT feminist.

        The bechdel test is a useful tool, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of feminist critique. That’s all.

        1. You can have a movie with strong female characters that doesn’t the Bechdel Test or one that does pass that doesn’t have anything to do with feminism (Alien comes to mind).

        2. @Chataya

          I agree with that — I just don’t agree that Pacific Rim can’t be considered feminist because it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. That’s all.

        3. It’s a judgment call, right down to what one sees as the definition of feminist film. I definitely don’t see it as an anti-feminist film. Not in the slightest. And I would consider it to be more feminist than most action movies I’ve seen, purely on the strength of the female lead.

          But identifying it as a feminist film? To me, that seems like a more absolute term that puts a whole lot of burden on the movie to focus on identifiably feminist themes (whatever you consider “feminist themes” to be). I don’t think Pacific Rim can’t be considered feminist. I just don’t know that it’s “feminist enough” for me to identify it as a feminist film. It definitely does a better job as a monster movie than it does as a feminist movie.

        4. Capteron put her finger on it.

          I think there are two ways to use the term “a feminist X,” both of which are useful, but are completely distinct.

          1) Something which generally advances the cause of feminism (for example, a film which shows women being capable, equal to their male peers, etc).
          2) A film about explicitly feminist ideas/themes

          So I’d argue Pacific Rim is a feminist film under definition 1), but not 2).

        5. @amblingalong

          I think of the first one as “a feminist movie” and the second one as “a Feminist movie,” and agree PR was the former.

          I like the Bechdel test as a litmus, but it can be overly reductive to just go pass/fail with it. Similar to how overuse of trope based analysis strays away from remembering that tropes are tools.

        6. I agree that the Bechdel test isn’t the be-all, end-all of feminist identifiers, and I guess I didn’t make it clear that it wasn’t the only thing I was looking at. I loved the movie, and I loved Mako, but it just didn’t answer my questions right. Would a “feminist film” really only have two female characters, only one of whom had any real dialogue? Would a “feminist film” really pop our heroine out in an escape pod and send the hero on to save the world solo? I’m not saying it’s a sexist film, and I’m not saying it doesn’t have feminist themes or that feminists shouldn’t like it; I’m just saying that there’s more I’d expect of it to call it a feminist film.

          I think sometimes we get caught up in an idea that we can only like “feminist” things, and that if we like something it has to be somehow feminist. But sometimes good things just are . I really like hummus. It’s tasty. It goes well as a side dish or as part of a larger entree. It works with celery or pita. It nourishes me. And I am a feminist. But that doesn’t mean that hummus is feminist; it’s just a delicious, satisfying treat.

        7. I agree with your broader point re: the silliness of trying to categorize everything as either feminist (good) or not-feminist (bad); at the same time, I think there is something feminist about moves like PR or Salt (which was a movie originally written for a male lead, with a female simply cast in the role), where a woman is portrayed as competent and capable and tough.

          Maybe it’d be closer to your understanding to say the films accomplish feminist work, as opposed to ‘feminist’ themselves? Or perhaps we just disagree on the borders of the label, which isn’t a huge deal.

        8. Maybe it’d be closer to your understanding to say the films accomplish feminist work, as opposed to ‘feminist’ themselves?

          I would agree with that completely. Although I could also argue that Angelina Jolie’s wig during that first interrogation scene in Salt is a blow to women everywhere and should be seen as a sign of how far we still have to go before we’re truly gained respect from Hollywood.

  3. She really is.

    I’ll admit that my first thought was not that she wasn’t sexualized, but that she was sexualized in exactly the same way as the male pilots. Mako’s Inexplicable Robot Armor Suit had inexplicable boobs, but that was okay because Raleigh’s had inexplicable pecs. Obviously, it was no coincidence that they cast some truly beautiful specimens of humanity to pilot the Giant Robotic Monster Death Machines. I saw them all as sexualized, but only actively–through their athleticism and their bad-assery, a form of sexualization that normally is only applied to men. None of the characters were ever sexualized through their passivity or vulnerability. Maybe it’s just me, but when I saw that scene with the quarter staves, my bisexual, martial-arts-loving brain may have blown a fuse.

    1. I really love this way of looking at it. I was also really surprised that the only shirtless scene was Rayleigh’s. And it wasn’t even gratuitous, as it showed his scars and why his left arm was fried.

    1. What, now I’m supposed to name the movie I’m reviewing when I review a movie? I bet you expect me to name the book in book reviews, too.

      (Sorry about that. It would, in retrospect, be a good idea to identify which movie I’m spoiling instead of making people guess. Fixed it.)

  4. Also, the Stubbly Squinty White Dude acts as emotional support for Mako instead of degrading her for her girly weakness or being broody and angsty about his brother’s death for the entire movie.

    And Sasha is a BAMF. When faced with a giant Jaeger plasma fist at point blank range, she glares at it for inconveniencing her.

  5. I have to admit something makes me uncomfortable about a film called “Pacific Rim” with seemingly only one Asian character in it, but whatever.

    1. There’s a set of Chinese triplets who pilot one of the other jaegers (alas with not much character development, but hey its a monster movie). Plus the main support officer was according to screen notes born in China.
      Most of the film is set in Hong Kong with plentiful extras.
      The featured jaegar pilots are Russian, Chinese, Australian*, Japanese and American – all countries that border the Pacific.
      So, yeah.

      *Well, they’re identified as Aussie. The accents I found hilariously unaustralian. Elba’s accent comes closer to Australian than either of these actors.

    2. One of the things that struck me about Pacific Rim was the distinctly non-American feel of it. Most of the film takes place outside of the US in a way that feels like a deliberate choice (the script could just as easily have been written for LA to be the site of the showdown), two of the three main actors are neither white nor American, Mexican writer/director, Iranian-German composer. Its far from perfect, but I’m frankly shocked to see even that level of diversity in a mega-budget block buster.

    3. Three comments defending the movie– But I just saw it (Mako is awesome! And she does save the day. Particularly in one particular scene involving a sword) and I came away feeling pretty much the same. How would you feel about a movie that takes place in Los Angeles where the premise is the defense of L.A. from such destruction yet only features a cast of Chinese characters speaking in Chinese?

      75 percent of the movie is set in Hong Kong yet they could not have a single character from Hong Kong? There is literally one line in the whole movie spoken by a Hong Kong native. In every shot of the outside ‘public’ it is raining so you hardly see any Asian faces. Mako is supposed to have a back story where she’s getting revenge for the death of her parents, but in her flash back you never seen see her parents once. It just seemed like they went out of their way to avoid showing Asian faces or characters besides Mako.

      Besides that I’m not saying it’s a bad movie or deliberately racist or something. It’s just the setting seemed strange. If the whole thing had been set in Los Angeles or New York it would have made a lot more sense.*

      *If something like this were for some reason to happen in real life, you can bet the Asian nations that make up the majority of the population of those bordering the Pacific Ocean would take a lot more active role in their own defense and not just import Americans to do it for them. It’s not like they’re technologically incompetent.

    4. I don’t know, I agree the setting in Hong Kong could have led to more Asian actors, but the conceit of the Jaeger program was so explicitly international it made sense, I think, the way it was. Of the ten Jaeger pilots shown, five are POC (Stacker, Mako, the triplets) and four are Asian. Of the four who are actually focused on (Herc, Stacker, Raleigh, Mako), two are POC.

      I’m generally pretty aware of this stuff, and I’m really not trying to engage in apologism; for example, not a huge fan of Ron Perlman being cast as the leader and only white member of the a Hong Kong black market organization that is otherwise entirely Chinese. But in terms of overall casting, I think the movie did a pretty solid job.

      1. Fair enough ambling. Your points are very logical. My perspective just comes from the fact that in a normal American movie, it’s easy to justify under-representation of POC because POC are a minority in the US. For example Asian Americans are only 4 percent of the US population, so it seems normal that you hardly see any Asian Americans cast in major films.

        That’s why it’s jarring when you have a film that specifically takes on a global, more culturally equal perspective and is set in Asia… yet you still get only 1 Asian cast member out of about 11 named characters. At least she is one of the main 2. That’s all I’m saying. If it seems like I’m holding this movie to a way higher standard, I am.

        With that said it’s great to see a WOC in a lead role in a major action film. That’s progress. And apparently this movie is doing great in China so I’m hoping that will help seal the case for a sequel.

  6. After reading later (on the tetzoo blog about alien biology, cause aliens!) that the person who came up with drift tech and ran the first successful jaeger was a woman I couldn’t help but be sad that she wasn’t there as one of the scientists. What better person to have on your team than the person who knows the tech inside and out, literally. From what I’ve read on other blogs there is a pretty complex world with some great female characters they could have picked from.

      1. Plus there’s talk of a comic series to cover the Kaiju War before the film proper starts, which should have plenty of fun in it.

        1. There is already a comic that covers some of the early set-up. It is called Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero. Stacker’s sister and the women who co-founded the Jager program (and is the one who figured out the two-pilot requirement) are both characters in it. Stacker’s former co-pilot makes an appearance as well.

  7. I really liked this movie, but Mako had so little dialogue it was awkward. I really only went in for the monsters. I left happy. But it was distracting to me. Mako was the most 2D of a bunch of 2D characters.

    1. I also felt like she was a Chekhov’s gun that never paid off. The movie talked about how skilled and what a badass she was, but really only showed it in the stick fight scene. Most of the conflict with her took place in the form of the two men arguing with each other. Can she do it? Should she do it? But she’s the best! But I can’t let her go! It would have made more narrative sense, IMO, if she had saved the day at the end instead of floating up to the surfacs.

  8. I wouldn’t call this a feminist movie per se, but I would call it a movie most feminists could watch without objection (at least on feminist grounds). And those are rare enough. It was also nice to watch a movie with lots of strong platonic relationships (and I thought they did a good job with the different kinds of relationships between the pilots– spouse teams, sibling teams, parent-child teams, etc.)

    I did cringe at the name of Mako and Raleigh’s Jaeger. It took away some of the awesome of having multiple PoC leads.

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