Pacific Rim Analysis: Is Mako a Strong Female Character?

I finally saw Pacific Rim this week. It made me think All The Thoughts, plenty of which were about women. So…let’s talk about strong women and the role of Mako Mori, Raleigh’s co-pilot.

Mako Mori official poster

(This post is not a review, but here’s a capsule review of Pacific Rim for you: Unexpectedly nice balance of giant robots fighting giant aliens with some great character development. Just…bring earplugs, because this movie is LOUD. And all those sparks during the fight scenes are rather blinding, too.)

Hollywood blockbusters are not known for their strong female characters. Women are usually relegated to eye candy (Transformers) or sexy scientists (Star Trek Into Darkness) or mothers (World War Z) or damsels in distress (Spider-Man (2002) — Mary Jane is an independent woman with her own ideas, but at the climax she’s still dangling from a bridge screaming). The bar to surpass these roles is not set very high.

So when I saw Mako participating in the plot and being treated like a person rather than a woman, I got excited. But her role is still problematic. Let’s look at why…

Mako as a Strong Woman: Pros

1. She’s desexualized. Her outfits don’t scream sexy, and she never has to disrobe for thinly disguised male gaze reasons (ahem, JJ Abrams). The sexiest moment is the bit with the umbrella when she’s first introduced.

2. The other characters treat her like an equal. She’s a member of the army and, eventually, a Jaeger pilot, and that’s how she’s treated (except by Marshall Pentecost, but that’s a parent-child dynamic, not a man-woman imbalance). The only person who puts her down for being a woman — Chuck Hansen — clearly needs (and gets) a comeuppance.

3. She can kick ass. She fights Raleigh to a standstill…and again, her outfit and the camera work don’t emphasize her sexy female body while she’s doing it. And then, of course, she goes and kicks Kaiju ass too.

4. She’s a central character with her own arc and her own choices. Granted, the film fails the Bechdel test, but at least the romance is de-emphasized (they don’t even kiss! Hurrah!) and her arc isn’t all about a man, it’s about her.

5. All she’s ever wanted is to be a pilot. Her hero is the first Jaeger pilot she ever saw — a man — and she dreams of following in his footsteps. And the movie thinks she can, too. None of the characters, even Chuck Hansen, ever says she can’t do the job because she’s a girl.

Pacific Rim official posterMako as a Strong Woman: Cons

1. She has an emotional breakdown. If anyone gets lost in memories and unable to escape, it should be Raleigh, who was so traumatized by his brother’s death that he quit the program and had to be bullied back into it. But no, it’s the girl who gets, ahem, hysterical.

2. She gets rescued…several times. Raleigh rescues her from her memories, beats up the misogynist pilot for her (even though she could clearly defend herself), and ejects her from their shared Jaeger before their final mission is over (after others have died at their posts to get them into the portal).

3. Her commander (and surrogate father, and hero) doesn’t think she can handle the job…and he’s right. She wants to prove herself. He thinks that not only is she not ready yet, she never will be. She proves him wrong on the latter…by becoming less like the emotional little girl she was and more like a man. (That’s a point that deserves its own blog post. Stay tuned…)

Your turn! Do you think Mako is a strong female character?

Here’s what other bloggers had to say about Pacific Rim:

If you liked this post, you might also like my earlier posts Women in SF and Fantasy: Book Recommendations and Women in A Game of Thrones.

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8 responses to “Pacific Rim Analysis: Is Mako a Strong Female Character?

  1. See, I don’t see her breakdown as her being a woman, but as her being a rookie. She’s never drifted before. Raleigh is extremely experienced at it, but HE gets knocked off balance at first, and knocks her out of balance. He, being experienced, is able to recover. She doesn’t know how.

    And I saw Raleigh more as looking for a reason than defending Mako when he KNEW she could take Hansen down if she wanted. 😀

    *will try not to be rabid about defending this movie to the death and after 😉 *

  2. The marshall didn’t want her to pilot because he felt her traumatic past would cause problems with drifting (and because, y’know, surrogate dad) — and lo and behold, she has problems putting her traumatic past behind her. Sure, *he’s* not thinking that she shouldn’t do it because she’s a woman, but that’s what the subtext is saying.

    I did like Raleigh’s demanding that Hansen apologize for what he said about her, but the way the scene played out seemed pretty gendered (man insults girl; her guy has to step up to defend her honour).

    Don’t get me wrong. I liked the movie a lot. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have so much to say about it. 🙂

  3. Pingback: In defense of Miss Mako Mori of Pacific Rim « It's a very, very mad world

  4. I haven’t seen the film … yet. It was written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro. Not that guys can’t write strong female characters. Joss Whedon is proof of that. I like the points you make about the characters. Now I’ll have to go see it. 🙂

  5. Elizabeth, Joss Whedon is da bomb! And del Toro, of course, wrote and directed Pan’s Labyrinth, whose central character is a young girl. Hope you enjoy Pacific Rim!

  6. I will have to rewatch it. Whilst I agree with KD’s interpretations of those situations, I do have a feeling that they happened because she was a girl.

    *If* Raleigh and Mako had both had episodes, Mako’s episode would be nothing. Or so I think.

  7. Dianna, yes, exactly. It’s not that her breakdown doesn’t make sense in context, but *why* was the plot set up that way? If Raleigh had had one because of *his* traumatic past and Mako didn’t (heck, maybe she could even have pulled him out of it), would that have looked weird to the audience? Probably. *That’s* why it’s problematic.

  8. Pingback: Raleigh Becket, Quest Maiden (Pacific Rim Analysis) | T. L. Ryder

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