I think I finally put my finger on what bothers me about all the tons of meta discussing how Mako Mori is really the main character of Pacific Rim.
It’s the same reason I like but am sort of uncomfortable at the idea that Pepper is the hero in IM3, and Natasha in Cap2. And I do like it, don’t get me wrong—or at least, I sort of like it. And I’m sort of made really sad.
I am sick of stealth heroines. I’m sick of the idea that yes, this girl is the center of this movie, but you need an essay to figure that out. And I’m kind of sick of pretending like we’ve discovered some secret feminist truth in these movies, that of course the main arcs belong to Mako, and Pepper, and Natasha, that this is the way the movie is framed and that’s all there is to it. Because it’s not. That’s not all there is to it at all.
Here’s the thing: there are many ways to make a character the hero of the story. One of these ways is via plot arc. These ladies get heroic plot arcs, yes, but if you ask the average moviegoing audience member who the main character, the hero of any of those movies is, that’s not what they’re going to say. And no, we can’t just wave off the average moviegoing audience because they’re blinded by what they expect to see, because they’re not aware enough to have read the same meta essays as us. There are reasons.
There are reasons it reads like Raleigh is the main character of Pacific Rim, and it’s because that’s how the movie is presented to us. We get huge swathes of the movie from his POV. We get the beginning of the movie from his POV.
We get Raleigh’s tragic backstory right there with him, as it happens, we’re with him in that. We get Mako’s in flashback. We find it out, we discover it, as Raleigh does. We come to her from the outside and learn our way in, whereas we start on the inside with Raleigh and stay there the whole time. That’s the difference between the framing of a main character and a second lead.
I think I’m just tired, you know? Of seeing analyses that put female characters’ arcs front and center that ignore the fact that the movie itself didn’t. Did Natasha make the big heroic sacrifice here, did she change the most, did she have the really important arc in this movie? Yeah, she did. But she had it all in the background, in passing dialogue and in action scenes, with none of the quiet moments that Steve got to help build his story along.
It’s continually fascinating to me how stories show focus, what they do, how they center one character and not another. I don’t think we meta about it enough. I don’t think we talk enough about how shows and movies distinguish which characters we’re with, on the inside, and which we’re watching from across the room. What are the subtle hints used to say ‘this character is a factor in how events progress’ vs ‘this character is a person’? And these hints are every bit as important as isolating plot arcs, in determining who’s central to a story and who’s not.
Mako’s a person, but one we’re trying to figure out, not one we start with, not one we’re inside of. Pepper’s a person, but we get her victory through Tony’s eyes, not her own. Natasha’s a person, but we only get hints and the brief moment of fingers stilling on a keyboard to tell us how much this means to her.
And I want to talk about what that means more.