| Ten Reasons Why Pacific Rim Is a Great Movie for Geek Girls
||[Jul. 18th, 2013|04:17 pm]
I recently read an Entertainment Weekly article on Why 'Pacific Rim' is a good movie for geek girls (contains major spoilers for the film). The article's conclusion is that Pacific Rim is mostly a terrible movie for women, except for the fact that it contains a bunch of hot guys. I...disagree. Hence this post on "Ten Reasons Why Pacific Rim Is a Great Movie for Geek Girls."|
Disclaimer: In the following list, I make a lot of gendered generalizations. Obviously, there are exceptions to every generalization; there are men whose favorite thing is Jane Austen adaptations and women whose favorite thing is action movies that are 95% mindless violence and 5% toilet humor.
There's also room for a ton of overlap in people's tastes. Maybe you love emotional complexity as well as kickass fight scenes, or strong interrelationships as well as stunning special effects. Nevertheless, I think that all of the following items highlight elements of Pacific Rim that make it particularly appealing to female viewers (even if many of the elements might improve the viewing experiences of male viewers, as well).
Additional disclaimer: While this list was initially conceived of as a response to the above-linked EW article, I've read 50+ reviews of Pacific Rim at this point--both professional and fannish--and the list draws upon and responds to common themes in many of these reviews.
Additional additional disclaimer: I've avoided major spoilers in this post, but minor spoilers abound. Caveat lector.
1) Obvious to me, but apparently not so obvious to the people writing a lot of the reviews I've read: plenty of fangirls grew up (or grew into) loving mecha and/or monster movies, just as fanboys did. Power Rangers had and continues to have huge numbers of female fans. Ditto anime series like Gundam and Code Geass. And of course the Alien movies and Jurassic Park and numerous other popular monster flicks have broad appeal, too. I don't have statistics on the proportion of male to female fans in any of these fandoms, but even if they are weighted towards the male end, we're still talking about thousands upon thousands of fangirls who are or should be part of Pacific Rim's built-in target audience.
As to whether this particular mecha vs. monster film would appeal to the pre-existing population of female fans... Speaking personally, I'll admit that I'm less enthusiastic than your average male fan about simply watching giant robots battle alien dinosaurs. (I love a good fight scene, but a good fight scene for me involves more than just cool opponents and big explosions.) Otoh, I'm no doubt a hell of a lot more enthusiastic than your average male fan about watching two people co-piloting a giant robot by merging their consciousnesses. Add to that basic premise the fact that the fight scenes are beautifully filmed, as expected from a director of Guillermo del Toro's caliber, and I for one am completely sold.
2) The film really emphasizes the human element of mecha. Back to those robot vs. dinosaur battles: it would've been easier yet so much more boring to stick a camera right up in each of the actors' faces, add a few science-fictional lighting effects, and let the characters direct their Jaegers mentally or using conventional cockpit controls. The film could've then cut to their faces for particularly emotional or significant lines, and 99% of the action in those scenes could've been of the Jaeger-kaiju battle from the outside.
Instead, del Toro made the brilliant decision to outfit the cockpit like an enormously complex, steampunk-inspired treadmill. The gestures the pilots make are mirrored by their Jaegers. The hits the Jaegers receive physically affect their pilots. The whole process is, in a very immediate and visceral sense, nothing like controlling a conventional armored assault vehicle and everything like embodying the mecha. It's very skillfully filmed, and the end result is that in each Jaeger-kaiju fight scene, you as the viewer care not only about the vulnerability of the pilots in the cockpits, should the kaiju manage to penetrate the Jaeger's exterior; or of the citizens in the distant city they're trying to protect; but about the physical vulnerability of these giant machines.
3) There's a complete absence of the male gaze. No underwear shots of a female character; no panning up a woman's body with the camera while she stands there in tight and/or revealing clothing; no fight scenes in which a female character strikes ridiculous poses in order to show off her boobs and butt and pretty hair. There is one male-female fight scene that's intimate and even a little sexy, but it's not sexualized, and certainly not unevenly sexualized in a way that makes the man the subject and the woman the object.
(There's also a scene that invokes the female gaze, as the audience shares the perspective of a woman watching a male character who takes his shirt off before remembering that his door is wide open. YMMV, but I thought this scene was filmed in a far less fetishistic and objectifying manner than your average male gaze scene; I'm happy to discuss why in the comments, with anyone who's seen the movie already or who doesn't mind spoilers. Either way, though, the female gaze: a refreshingly new perspective in action films.)
4) The rookie character is a woman. (How often do we get to have that?!) And she is awesome. Too often rookies become the rookies because they're preternaturally good at something; to get a little psychoanalytical about it, this appeals to the infantile part of us that is convinced that we the viewer, who identifies with the rookie, is the center of the universe. It's often emotionally effective, but it's sloppy storytelling. Mako, though, isn't a savante; she's someone who's been working on this shit for years, who's got the engineering and the tactical knowledge down cold, and she only wants the chance to apply it as a fighter rather than as a techie.
5) Corollary to #4: yes, the protagonist's still a white guy, but the main character arc is Mako's. As several reviews have noted, she follows a classic hero's journey over the course of the film, and it's glorious to watch.
6) Family relationships play a major role in the movie. And along with the expected father-son and brother-brother relationships, there's also a [spoiler redacted] relationship that is heart-tuggingly realistic and wonderful, and in which Mako doesn't function as a symbol but as a fully-realized person whose interactions with [spoiler redacted] have shaped both their lives.
7) Though I wanted the film to do much better on this front, in addition to Mako, there's a supporting female character who's a Jaeger pilot and a number of female extras in the Jaeger program. And at least the relatively low percentage of women in the film's two main locations (a military installation and a construction site in Alaska) can be partly justified by the fact that women now--and arguably in the near future--continue to be underrepresented in all three of those areas: the military, construction, and Alaska.
8) The central relationship in the film is between a man and a woman who've only known each other for a very short time, and yet, midway through the movie, I realized that it didn't matter whether they stayed platonic
life partners teammates or whether they got together romantically: I'd be happy either way. Too many action film narratives adopt the following romantic storyline: Man: *saves the world*, Woman: *is pretty*, Man and Woman: *fall in love*. Notice that this storyline is missing things like, oh, an actual emotional connection between the two characters. Compare this to Pacific Rim, in which Man and Woman meet, share their consciousnesses and memories, and join together to help save the world. A lack of emotional connection is really not a problem.
9) Even beyond the fact that the male and female leads are more evenly matched than in many films, this movie rejects the idea of a lone (white, American, male) action hero. The Jaeger initiative is an explicitly international effort, and the importance and value of teamwork is perhaps the most significant theme in the movie.
10) Oh, yeah, and there are some gorgeous guys in the film, and sometimes they take their shirts off and/or look really good in form-fitting armor. Plus there's a gorgeous woman who doesn't take her shirt off but who also looks really good in form-fitting armor, if you're a geek girl who likes the ladies instead of or in addition to the menfolk.
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