The more I think about Pacific Rim, the more I realize that half the stuff in there is stuff that’s never done because people say it’ll keep a movie from being successful. There’s so many tropes inverted, and it’s all done so right.
- Raleigh’s story begins moving forward because of a death of a loved one. Rather than it being a girlfriend, a mother, or a sister, it was his brother. The movie literally starts with a man being put in the refrigerator. In fact, through the entire film, no woman dies to advance the characterization of a man.
- There’s three lead characters in the film. One is an Asian woman. One is a Black man. One is a white man. In many situations like this, the white man’s story would default to the A-plot, while the other two characters would either have a subplot, or spend the entire film as support extensions of the white male lead’s A-plot. In “Pacific Rim,” however, the story of Mako and Stacker is the A-plot, and Raleigh is the one whose development is a subplot and whose role in the film is largely supportive to the A-plot.
- Speaking of the A-plot, it’s a coming-of-age, heartfelt father-daughter story that shows both the daughter’s struggle to respect her father’s instructions despite them being contrary to her desires, and the father’s struggle to trust his daughter to take care of herself and accept the fact that she’s grown up and he can’t protect her forever. That’s a pretty common theme in movies, but what’s the proportion of those movies where the father and daughter are white? Pretty damn high. The proportion of movies where it’s a father and daughter of color is practically statistically insignificant. The fact that this familiar story is shown not only with a man of color as the concerned father and a woman of color as the grown daughter, but also that it’s a situation of interracial adoption, is magnificent.
- The core of the story revolves around a woman who’s an action star, is feminine without being sexualized, and who has her own motivations and acts for her own reasons, independent of the men around her. Even though she is not blind to the presence of the men in the story, and she considers them as much as they consider her, she is not an extension of any of them.
- It’s a blockbuster action film that shows a friendship between a man and a woman who have lots of chemistry, but is not a romantic relationship. In fact, not a single one of the characters’ storylines includes a romantic subplot. I remember for the last few months, I would ask people to name one feel-good movie that doesn’t have a romantic subplot. People would almost always reply that there is no such movie, or that such a movie isn’t possible.
And that’s the thing. These are all features of a movie that people say are impossible to pull off, or won’t play with audience, or won’t make money, but in Pacific Rim, it proves that “it doesn’t work” isn’t the reason. Pacific Rim has gotten overwhelming critical praise, garnered a cult following within days, as well as being near-universally loved by audiences. Put aside the fact that it proves movies about gigantic mechas and monsters smashing buildings and punching each other can be smart (meaning Michael Bay has no excuse), it proves that movies don’t need to be about white men first, white women second, and everybody else third, if at all, and the rest of Hollywood has no excuse for their insistence on making movies that way.