Warning! Spoilers Ahead
The summer blockbuster season is almost over. Compared to recent past summers, this one seemed a bit lackluster. Even an average budget horror flick managed to make its way to the top past several highly anticipated blockbusters. However, one film truly stood out for me and not just because it was the only one I managed to see during its first run in the theaters.
Like many geeks of color, I highly anticipated seeing Pacific Rim. Brown man at the helm? Check. Black man in charge on screen? Check. Brown woman with cool blue hair highlights as leading lady? Check. I was in. I managed to see the film during its second week, missing the very important opening weekend in which it opened third. I have to say that I found it a rather enjoyable popcorn film that seemed to go by much faster than its two-hour plus time frame.
However, what I found even more enjoyable than the film were the conversations that geeks of color had around the film. The one-hour squeefest from Nerdgasm Noire Network in a special episode was a perfect exploration of what this film meant and how various geeks of color reacted to it. I also found a fan made trailer of the film, which cleared up a lot of a film review by Geek Soul Brother. I’ve even seen fandom that has crossed the Pacific Rim universe with Attack the Block, which is actually pretty damn clever.
I enjoyed these conversations because they were by people who anticipated the film because they knew the anime tropes it followed and wanted to see people of color at the center of such a film. I’m not as well versed in anime and in fact remember very distinctly missing the airing of Akira one morning years ago on the SyFy channel and feeling like I had missed out on something big. (I finally saw it this year and understood why it is such a classic.) I learned so much about these tropes and these fans just by listening to these conversations. For instance, I was a little dismayed at the very beginning when I saw that the monsters were given the Japanese name but the robot “heroes” were given a German one. Apparently, this is already an anime trope, so perhaps that was one I overthought.
I was also so glad to hear so many opinions that were similar to mine. I was very upset that the first robot to die was Crimson Typhoon. Seriously, there were three of them with three arms that had rotating blades. How the eff did they die first? On the other hand, I found something amusing about Ron Perlman playing a character who names himself Hannibal Chau and dies in the most ludicrous way possible. I saw it kind of as a wish fulfillment of getting rid of the cultural appropriator who comes into someone else’s country and gets rich of the people.
However, what I loved most about this film were the bucking of tropes with the characters Stacker Pentecost and Mako Mori. In fact, two of my favorite scenes in the film involve Pentecost. He is given such a heroic treatment in this film, especially when the young Mako sees him exit the Jaeger that has just defeated the Kaiju she has watched destroy the city. I not only saw Idris Elba glorified with this beautiful backlight in a familiar mise-en-scene, but I also saw it from the point of view of an Asian girl. She sees a black man as a hero and later as her father figure. Pentecost has remained protective of her over time and treats her with all the care of a daughter. They have a beautiful relationship but a complicated one. I actually found it interesting that Pentecost did everything he could to protect his own daughter, but he went on a suicide mission with another man’s son.
The second scene I absolutely loved most involved Pentecost with the character Raleigh. I cannot think of another time in a film when I have seen a black authority figure completely put a white man under his command in his place. Not only does he tell Raleigh never to touch him again, but he makes a point of making Raleigh call him “Sir” after telling him that he owes him nothing. If I hadn’t already been in love with Idris Elba, this moment would have sealed the deal.
I know there are people with mixed feelings about the film and those who try to minimize Mako Mori’s role in the film. However, listening to conversations such as those from NNN and GSB brought up very good points such as the importance of empathy and the use of Hong Kong as window dressing in the film. (Seriously, where were the Chinese Jaeger pilots, scientists and military?) I actually enjoyed it and felt terrible that I didn’t get to count toward the opening weekend numbers.
For many fans, the excitement about the film still has not died. In a way, I think this is because geeks of color have finally gotten a film that not only featured us in important roles but also put our stories as central to the story. The intersection of Stacker Pentecost and Mako Mori is absolutely essential to how the story plays out. It is essential to how the Jaegers will defeat the Kaiju. But I still think Crimson Typhoon was wasted and should have had at least two battles.
This summer, we got a blockbuster film filled with people of color who weren’t all connected to Will Smith. Not only that, we got a film that is steeped in a non-Western pop culture tradition that was not completely whitewashed. Whether or not Hollywood intended, it has given people of color our own summer blockbuster. Hollywood needs to take note that people of color invest heavily in our own stories and will indeed show up for them. Geeks of color, we may not have found Pacific Rim perfect, but we did show that we cared.