Pacific Rim is in many ways a typical summer action movie. A sort of Godzilla/Transformers mashup, it features the usual flashy monsters, robots, explosions, and special effects that we’ve come to expect from a high action, low plot, adventure- thriller. One of the features of the movie that thrilled a bunch of us even more than the awesome Kaiju and ferocious robots was the character of Mako Mori. The action-adventure genre tends towards vapid, over-sexualized female characters whose only purpose is eye candy. Like Mikaela Banes, Transformer girlfriend, they might be eye candy who can kick ass and take names, but still they’re primarily eye candy with little character development or backstory.
Mako Mori, however, is not particularly sexualized. She’s no one’s love interest, and though her conventional gender role as Dutiful Daughter is stereotypical and bland, it’s presented against a backdrop of an organization that utilizes females in roles similar to the males. For example, we have another female Jaeger pilot, (Kaidenovsky). who is presented without explanation or apology. Mako is competent and driven, cool, ruthlessly honest, and untried. Many adventure stories are coming of age stories as well. They’re retellings of Joesph Campbell’s hero’s quest in which the monsters are necessary obstacles to overcome on the way to self-actualization. Even so, the monsters are also vital parts of a quest worth “every effort” to complete, ala Christopher Booker‘s Jungian style plot analysis.
In classic hero’s quests, the hero is typically a young knight, pure of heart and body, who will go forth into the adventure both to prove himself worthy and save the kingdom. At first glance, it seems that Raleigh Becket is going to be the hero of Pacific Rim, and indeed he does have an important story, but his role is always a supportive one. Mako is our true gentil knight, and the dragons to be slain are hers in very personal ways. Raleigh Becket serves Mako, even though his experience is greater and his need for closure/revenge is also strong.
Quest maidens of old were, like Raleigh, vital to the story at hand. Percival or Galahad or the Red Crosse Knight can not complete their missions without the aid and guidance of their “Una”, the accompanying maiden. They, like the heroes they serve, are pure and righteous, though they may seem to need a bit of rescuing in the beginning. They are typically wise beyond their years if they are very young, or are, despite their “maiden” status, old and experienced enough to serve as reliable guides for the hero’s quest (see the Arthurian “maid of many years”). Raleigh’s ability to “drift” (hook up telepathically with another pilot in the Jaeger), his previous fighting experience, and his experience with personal loss equip him with everything necessary to be Mako’s quest maiden.
Like any good quest maiden, he is ready and willing to protect his knight when necessary while also defending Mako’s right to attempt the dangerous and vital quest. Raleigh campaigns to get Mako as his co-pilot, engages in fisticuffs and insubordination on her behalf, and stands as her loyal sidekick even when she screws up. And as Siri Paulson points out in “Is Mako A Strong Female Character?“, Raleigh shows that he has the emotional intelligence (I’d add spiritual attunement as well) to serve in the maiden’s role as comforter.
Even though some classic quest maidens are also romantic interests for their hero, Pacific Rim wisely avoids such entanglements for the duration of the adventure. As in Galahad’s adventure, any mid-plot consummation is done by way of symbolism (Mako has put her sword into Gipsy Danger’s toolkit, and she and Raleigh must wield it together). Purity of mind, illustrated by the dangers of out of control drifting, purity of purpose, refined by releasing the desire for revenge and focusing on the “saving the world” task at hand, and purity of body, shown by the lack of sexual tension in Mako and Raleigh’s early staff sparring scene, work together to allow Mako to win the Quest.
Some of the final action with Raleigh’s trip into Kaiju space muddies the clarity of his grail maiden role. Even so, his story and Mako’s story are not complete until they are reunited. No good quest maiden gets killed on quest, after all, and no true hero would allow such a thing. Mako does her heroic duty, and Raleigh, as dutiful and strong as Una in The Faerie Queen, uses all his skills to enable Mako on her road to self-actualization.
- Pacific Rim Is Not Your Average Action Juggernaut (themarysue.com)
- Pacific Rim, Raleigh, and Emotional Intelligence (grimalkina)
- Is Mako A Strong Female Character (Siri Paulson’s Blog)