Monday, July 15, 2013

Mako Mori and the Hero’s Journey.

[Contains some spoilers for Pacific Rim.]

So, it’s come to my attention that there are a bunch of people who think Mako Mori is a “weak” female character, because of course.

In fact a good friend of mine (who is a woman and professional film reviewer) thought Mako was too “emotional” , which a) made me go “!!????!!” in blank incomprehension, and b) brought it to my attention that people who aren’t random internet misogynists do indeed have this opinion. Still, it’s a wrong opinion, and here’s why:

First of all, let’s talk about cliche.

Pacific Rim is positively roiling in cliches. On purpose. This isn’t a blockbuster movie where some faceless production company focus-grouped a selection of generic Hollywood movie cliches and combined them to create the new Avatar or Transformers. No. This is a movie where Guillermo del Toro, an acclaimed filmmaker and all-round nerd, sat down and thought, “what cliches are awesome?”

Which is how we ended up with a movie about people in giant mecha suits fighting giant Kaiju monsters in an epic battle to save Planet Earth from a Lovecraftian apocalypse.


Guillermo del Toro took a bunch of classic action/adventure movie tropes and gleefully combined them in a cheesy yet incredibly effective way. Also, he conveniently ignored all the shitty action/adventure tropes that regularly make Hollywood blockbusters into a pile of offensive trash. For example, shitty tropes like America Saving The World. Or female characters being relegated to the role of love-interest, helpless damsel, or ass-kicking sex fantasy. 

Mako Mori is neither a damsel, nor a sex fantasy. In fact, much like Stacker Pentecost and Raleigh Becket, she gets her own (beautifully cliched) action/adventure hero character arc.


Raleigh Becket and Stacker Pentecost both follow character arcs that we see time and time again in the action/adventure genre: the damaged yet cocky maverick hero, and the gruff mentor/authority figure. Raleigh is actually a combination of two tropes: a hero who suffers loss thanks to his own cockiness (the death of his brother), and a maverick who must overcome his troubled past to save the day. Stacker Pentecost, like most mentor/father figures, dies an inevitable but heroic death so the younger hero (Mako) can find her own path.

And Mako? She gets the primary Hero’s Journey.

While the movie is mostly told from Raleigh’s POV, Mako arguably gets more backstory, and has more to overcome during her Hero’s Journey. She’s a rookie pilot (hello, action movie trope!) who needs to prove herself to her mentor figure (yes!) and work together with another hero (yes!!) in order to save the world.

The only reason why some viewers can’t seem to grasp this is because 99% of the time, “young rookie hero” characters look like Luke Skywalker. Aside from the fact that Mako is a woman, her storyline is so simple and cliched (in a good way!) that anyone with a basic familiarity with Hollywood blockbusters or Saturday morning cartoons should be able to follow it with the sound off.


When she breaks down during her first Drift and almost trashes the Hong Kong Shatterdome, this isn’t an example of female emotional weakness. In fact, it’s exactly what a male hero would’ve done in the same circumstances. Now, I don’t mean that in the sense that “this female character is just the same as a male character, so she’s awesome!” because a) that’s a bullshit concept, and b) Mako Mori isn’t like a male character: she’s a woman, and is also a hero, and she has character flaws and a tragic past, just like Raleigh.

Raleigh spent five years self-flagellating in an Alaskan construction site to deal with the death of his brother; Mako briefly succumbed to a flashback of her home being destroyed by a Kaiju. They both have their “weaknesses”, because they are both human beings who have experienced pain and loss.

Before a hero can “win” or get their happy ending, they have to overcome two things: their own internal problems, and The Enemy. This is true of everything from 3000-year-old myths to Disney movies. Basically, Mako Mori (or any character in her position) had to fuck up before she succeeded, otherwise there would be no conflict, and the movie would be crap. Not to mention the fact that the reason why she fucked up in the first place was completely valid — and foreshadowed from the beginning. Mako’s whole life revolves around becoming a Jaeger pilot and avenging her parents, which is one of the biggest classic hero tropes in the entire movie. Avenging your dead parents against an evil monster is the ULTIMATE motivation.


If you think Mako Mori is weak and emotional, then you must REALLY hate Batman, because Batman is about a zillion times more “emotionally weak”, and he never learns. Batman’s “my parents are dead” quest is nowhere near as goal-oriented as Mako’s desire to defeat the Kaiju, and he’s constantly screwing up because of his own emotions: anger, self-loathing, and survivor’s guilt. That’s what makes Batman a compelling character.

But after Mako was brought low by her traumatic flashback during her neural link with Raleigh, she immediately picked herself up and kept going. Rather than being sucked into her anger and grief, she channeled it into strength, formed a team with Raleigh, and they saved the world together.


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