Acknowledging those points of weakness, however, Pacific Rim is very progressive in portraying unconventional versions of typical action heroines/heroes.
Let’s begin with Mako Mori. Mako (played by the fabulous Rinko Kikuchi) is the main character of the film. You might be asking– “wait, isn’t Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) the main character?” Well, yes and no. Raleigh is the protagonist whose perspective we follow throughout much of the narrative, but Mako is the main character. She is the the crux of the story, the one we cheer for, the one whose story we learn and troubles we care about. Raleigh is our point of reference, but Mako is what binds the rest of the characters in the story together. So we’ve got a female main character of color who is incredibly smart, observant, capable (she can beat up Raleigh in a one-on-one match and also manage an entire Jaeger restoration program), determined, and passionate, who goes on a Campbellian heroic journey.
Raleigh (despite the white-bread action-man appearance) is also a structurally-interesting character in his own way because he displays something very unconventional for an all-American action movie tough guy– emotional intelligence… The fact that he is not portrayed as any less of “a man” for being emotionally available and interpersonally cognizant is worth mentioning. He easily could have been written as a dark and brooding figure: he’s got a tragic backstory and the weight of the world on his shoulders, but everything he does is an outward, extroverted motion to try and do something good for the world. Whether that “good” is battling Kaiju or helping Mako make her wish to become a Jaeger pilot a reality (or punching Chuck Hansen in the face) is another story.
On the topic of Mako and Raleigh, their relationship is one of the few representations of a close, emotionally-intimate male-female friendship that never turns physical. Upon first watching the film all the way through, I was continually waiting for him to kiss her and the music to get sweeping and explosions to go off in the sky behind their heads.
It never happened.
Pacific Rim is smart because it’s self-aware, particularly with regards to how it treats the characters on-screen.
I could go on about other, smaller facets that carry representative weight (for example, the importance of Stacker Pentecost’s working-class British accent making the grand proclamation “We’re cancellin’ the apocalypse!”, or the loving interracial non-nuclear family unit formed by Mako and Pentecost), but I think the last important takeaway I should mention is the overall message of the film.
***Defeating Kaiju is not a one-man job.***
Within the Hong Kong Shatterdome there is a constant collective presence– the mechanics maintaining the Jaegers, the scientists researching furiously, the technicians in LOCCENT monitoring every happening. Even prior to Raleigh’s arrival in Hong Kong we get a sense of the global scale of the situation and how it affects peoples’ lives though the workers building the wall, or the worldwide news reports, or the civilians who find Raleigh almost-dead on the beach. The focal point of the story is a collective one as told through the experience of Mako and Raleigh, who just happen to be at the center of it… What makes this film particularly emotionally nuanced is how much attention it gives to the people who enable the heroes/heroines to do their grandiose world-saving.
In this way the message of Pacific Rim‘s story is communal: cooperation, aid, appreciation for the efforts of others.