21st Century Expression
December 16, 2015
Not Your Ordinary Heroes: How Pacific Rim Takes Almost Every Hero Trope We Know and Punches it in the Face
If you take a quick survey of some of the most well-known action films, shows, and other media, it is easy to note several similarities. Often, we are faced with a lone, white male hero (or antihero), who goes through some form of the hero’s journey before he is finally able to gain the strength to singlehandedly defeat the enemy. In the movie Pacific Rim, while director Guillermo Del Toro plays with some of these typical hero tropes, he ultimately ends up almost completely subverting them. While Raleigh, the initial narrator of the film, may at first seem to fit the description of the typical white male hero, we quickly see Mako, his young Japanese female co-pilot, more fully assume the role of the hero than he does. Additionally, the film neatly subverts the idea of the lone hero, by making teamwork the only way to defeat the kaiju alien invasion. In doing so, Pacific Rim celebrates empathy rather than individual power, and envisions a world in which, ultimately, people must come together in order to save the world.
Throughout the movie Pacific Rim, the characters manage to completely challenge our usual expectations of the hero and the hero’s journey. As previously stated, Raleigh Beckett appears to, at first, fill the role of our typical white male hero. He is the first character that we are introduced to in the film, and he suffers the kind of traumatic, motivating loss that we often see heroes go through in films when he loses his brother Yancy, after their jaeger gets attacked by a kaiju. However, once Raleigh is recruited back into the jaeger program, he meets Mako Mori, a young Japanese woman with the potential to be an amazing jaeger pilot. At this point, the movie suddenly undergoes a slight change in perspective. Though we are still following Raleigh’s point of view, Mako and her struggle to prove herself as a pilot become the main character focus of the film. It is Mako, rather than Raleigh, who ends up going through most of the steps of the typical Hero’s Journey. She fights with her own self-doubt, she confronts her own traumatic past, her strength as a pilot is tested several times, and she deals with a unique external conflict as she tries to prove herself to Marshall Stacker Pentecost, a man who is both her professional authority figure and a reserved, but loving father figure. In contrast, while Raleigh is still an important character, he does not really undergo much character growth after he returns to the jaeger program, a mere 23 minutes into the film. Instead, Raleigh actually ends up taking on more of a mentor role for Mako throughout the rest of the movie, cheering her on, and consistently giving her support. In this way, it is Mako, rather than Raleigh, who truly fits the hero role in the film. In a world where most female characters are relegated to the role of solely being love interests, and where they often experience very little if any character growth, Mako’s role in Pacific Rim is truly unique. She is a fully realized character, one who’s inner strength and identity as a Japanese woman is respected and carefully crafted, and one who becomes a hero in her own right.
In addition to Mako’s role as the hero, Pacific Rim also defies the usual conventions of the heroic tale by placing a huge amount of emphasis on the importance of teamwork and empathy. In the film, the giant robots, or jaegers, that the pilots use to fight the kaiju must be operated by two pilots, through a process of memory sharing called drifting. Through the process of drifting, two pilots are able to share the burden of piloting the jaeger. If only one person attempted to pilot a jaeger, the stress would essentially kill them. This simple detail, that not working together would literally kill an individual pilot, underscores how much importance is already being placed on teamwork in this facet of the film alone. Additionally, pilot teams must typically have a strong relationship with one another in order to be drift compatible. Because of this, most of the pilot teams that we see in the film include siblings, spouses, or a parent and child. In this way, not only does the film prioritize teamwork, but also the importance of having an extremely strong bond within that team. Finally, the fact that drifting requires an act as intimate and as implicitly full of trust as sharing memories also underscores the role of empathy in the film. By making drifting and having two pilots necessary in order to pilot the jaegers, Del Toro completely shatters the lone individual aspect of the typical hero and antihero story. It is physically impossible for the pilots in Pacific Rim to fight on their own, and rather than things like emotions and family ties making them weak, these things make them infinitely stronger as pilots.
Through the elevation of the main female character and through the prioritization of teamwork and empathy, Pacific Rim completely shatters the usual tropes associated with heroes, punching through them like a jaeger to a kaiju and creating a film that resonates strongly within our contemporary moment. The film also envisions a world in which disparate cultures can come together, respect one another, and work together for the greater good, an ideal that our real world should absolutely always continue to strive for. Pacific Rim takes the things that are so often considered weak, and highlights how strong they can actually be.
Pacific Rim. Dir. Guillermo Del Toro. Perf. Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, and Idris Elba. Legendary Pictures, 2013. Film.