Let me be the first to call bullshit on Pacific Rim.
Pacific Rim came out today and everybody loves it. It’s got mecha and kaiju and it’s a stomping good time. This is all true. The fight scenes are thrilling, the story (mostly) works, the cinematography is fantastic and Idris Elba gives a career-making performance.
It’s also kinda sexist.
It’s not that the men talk down to the women and pat them on the butt. It’s quieter than that, and in a way more insidious because of how unconscious and oblivious it seems about its own acceptance of a sexist standard that says men are more important and interesting than women. There are sixteen men and boys with speaking parts, many of whom have complicated, multi-layered relationships with each other. There are two women with speaking parts, who never have a scene together. One is a bit part, and the other–Mako, the co-pilot of the “hero” mecha Gypsy Danger–is barely more than a supporting character. Men drive the plot and women, when they are allowed on screen at all, are mostly along for the ride. Once the fight scenes start, Mako basically shuts up and lets Riley drive. I think she spoke once during a battle. Maybe. She certainly doesn’t have as much to do as her co-pilot Riley, getting conveniently knocked out of action in the final fight scene. (Oh I’m sorry, did I spoil that for you? Suck it up.)
It feels like a slap in the face. The press for this movie was all about MECHA! KAIJU! HUMANITY BANDING TOGETHER! and then they all but ignored half of our species. There is no reason, no reason at all, that more of those supporting roles couldn’t have been given to women. The film makes several almost-shot-for-shot homages to Neon Genesis Evangelion, but has only a fraction of that show’s understanding that humanity is more than IMPORTANT MEN (and the women who stand next to them). This movie was couched as a love letter to nerds and monster freaks everywhere. I grew up watching Godzilla, and the first time I saw Gundam I freaked out with joy. Here was a movie that was going to celebrate the things I grew up loving, that says yes, I remember those too and they were AWESOME. All summer long we’re getting pumped for this thing…
…and then it comes out and it becomes clear that they were really only thinking about the men who grew up loving this stuff. They’re only interested in creating something for little boys to fall in love with. The little girls who like Godzilla? Who like robots and fighting and saving the world? Well, they’ve got Mako and that Russian chick without a name, so it doesn’t matter that they’re sort of pushed off to the side, right?
No. No that’s not all right. It’s 20-fucking-13, and we still have movies that are almost entirely about men. In fact, it’s getting worse. This is not acceptable. We can’t tolerate this from our culture. Women exist and they matter and it’s absurd that our biggest forms of entertainment need to be reminded of that. The Chinese jager could have been piloted by sisters, or the ground control team could have had more (by which I mean any) women in it. The Australian father-son team could have been a father-daughter team (even I’m not optimistic enough to think Hollywood would ever show a soldier who was also a mother). The scientists could have been a bickering slap-slap-kiss-kiss couple. The friggin black marketeer could have been a woman! Any or all of these parts could have been gender swapped and it would have made the movie so much stronger if only to reinforce its stated theme of being about humanity fighting back. Instead it’s about men fighting back, with a few chicks thrown in for variety.
This could have been a movie for the ages, a true popcorn masterpiece that combined heart with intelligence with style and fun. It could have reminded us why movies can be great. Instead it reminds us–well, the half of us that notice we’re not on screen very often–that movies can kind of suck even when they’re being really amazingly well made.