People are angry about Pacific Rim. Maybe “angry” is too strong of a word, but there’s definitely a fair amount of disappointment going around. At the risk of sounding block-headed and completely naïve, I was shocked (yes, jaw-droppingly so) when I read the Internet rants, disapproving of the way women were portrayed in the film. Usually my feminist radar is fine-tuned and rearing to go off at the slightest hint of dehumanizing or anti-feminist tropes. Even my favorite films will usually trigger my radar enough for a laundry list of gripes. So why didn’t my radar alert me when I saw Pacific Rim?
The film takes place in the not-too-distant future, where the world has banded together to fight giant monsters (kaiju) with giant robots (jaegers). Each jaeger must be piloted by a team of two, and in order to successfully control the man-made wonder, the pilots essentially meld their minds to act as a single unit, letting the other pilot peek into all their thoughts and memories. It’s pretty intense, to say the least. Our two main characters are Raleigh Becket, famed kaiju killer, and Mako Mori, novice but enthusiastic pilot, whose adoptive father has only just recently and reluctantly encouraged her to take the jaeger helm with Raleigh.
In this high-concept, action-packed film, the biggest complaint from my fellow feminists is that there’s a lack of female characters and lines. One of the main characters is a woman (Mako) and there’s a nameless Russian woman who pilots another jaeger, but that’s not to say that these complaints aren’t well-founded. It’s easy to see that the film definitely fails the Bechdel Test. “Only three lines are spoken by a woman in the entire first half-hour of Pacific Rim,” says an article from Vulture. An article from Kulture Keeper adds, “The only two actresses… barely register as characters. They’re more like plot-objects in the shape of female bodies.” Ouch. The women in this film are products of a writer and director who brought us full-fledged and interesting female heroes in films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, so there must be more going on here.