Why Pacific Rim is a Good Movie for Geeks
Hint: Giant Robots Have Nothing to Do With it
I’ve seen a few articles on more mainstream entertainment sites that posit Pacific Rim is a good movie for geeks because:
- Giant robots vs giant monsters
- If you are a girl geek, there’s lots of sweet man-ass
Ugh, no. Yay for giant things punching other giant things, and I will fully admit to my man-crush on Idris Elba, but still, no. No no no.
Pacific Rim is a good movie for geeks because the actual “geek” characters are:
- not solely defined by their geek characteristics
- not marginalized for being geeks
- capable & respected
- heroic / more than exposition devices
- not made to change (or are punished for) their geeky ways
DIGGING DEEPER MODE ENGAGED:
1) Not solely defined by their geek characteristics.
It would have been easy to slap Hermann and Newt into matching lab coats and glasses and leave them to just be mad scientists. Yes, they are painted with broad brushes. But even though their costumes broadcast rather specific geek tropes (Tweedy Professor, Nerd Rockstar, but even these both are subtly subverted, see my previous costuming posts), their true archetypes are really “left brain” vs “right brain”.
You’ll also notice that both characters can be considered disabled in some way. Hermann obviously has a physical disability and Newt is neurologically atypical (it’s not a far stretch to consider him some flavor of bipolar). But these are traits that are never so much as commented on, and no where do they impede the actions of the characters or inform their motivations. If anything, these disabilities mainly serve to reinforce that Hermann and Newt are opposites.
2) Not marginalized for being geeks.
Here’s a biggie: Newt & Hermann, despite being geeks, are not defined by their relationship as it compares to the non-geek cast. There is no “nerds vs jocks” thing going on.
They are not marginalized as “The Other”. Their comedic role comes from their relationship with each other, not from being nerdy. (Note when Hermann goes into his “handwriting of God" spiel, Newton - a fellow nerd - is the one that laughs at him. Other movies would have Herc or Pentecost be the ones to be all “yo, dude, tone down the math feels for us normal peeps”) The people most likely to suffer from their character flaws are, really, just Newt and Hermann. Pentecost gets mad at them for arguing, but he gets mad at a *lot* of people in the movie for arguing.
Back to the concept of “Othering” geeks: Take a look at all the scenes in the lab. Consider all the other movies where the mere presence of a non-geek character in a geek’s “lair” is a source of discomfort or comedy. None of that here. It’s very refreshing.
3) Capable & respected.
Stacker Pentecost clearly has a lot of faith in our science bros. They have been with the program a very long time. They are well equipped, even when forced to operate in ramshackle “resistance mode”. Though Stacker initially shuts down Newt’s Kaiju drift idea, it’s more out of motivation for conservation of resources and reluctance at putting good people at risk (consider how the loss of his Rangers affects Stacker).
When Newt proves his idea is viable, Stacker is immediately 100% on board. He assigns the job of tracking down a fresh Kaiju brain, something that requires getting close to a *very* dangerous criminal to… a geek. Stacker is strapped for people, and in normal situations, the job may have been assigned to someone else, but all the same, he does not show any concern about Newt’s capabilities, nor is the mission framed as a wild goose chase to get the scientist out from under anyone’s feet. (And while Newt is on his hero’s errand, Hermann is visible in background of the control room for other scenes, which just reinforces the idea he is an integrated part of Stacker’s team.)
4) Heroic / more than exposition devices.
This one is easy. While they begin as exposition devices (there’s a hilarious gifset on tumblr addressing this), the scientists quickly evolve and play a critical role in the victory vs the Kaiju. Perhaps more importantly, they also demonstrate the overall story themes of trust and working together.
5) Not made to change (or are punished for) their geeky ways.
THIS. MOTHERFUCKER. RIGHT. HERE.
I wish I had time to catalog scenes from other movies where geeks are punished for being who they are. Or worse, are suddenly transformed into non-geeks as if it were some kind of FUCKING REWARD. Usually it involves some awkward sub-plot involving a sex kitten or our former geek has “finally” joined the jock/”normal person” ranks. (There’s loads of material to mine for examples. SOMEONE PLS DO DIS KTHXBYE)
So, let’s just look again at our boys’ geek-inspired character flaws and how they’d be treated in other movies. Newt is reckless and enamored with the enemy — any other monster movie and he’d probably be devoured before the end of the second act. Hermann is arrogant and unyielding — think about how many times this character type gets utterly humiliated in some grand come-uppance. And yet our two end up working together by their own volition, and reap the rewards of a closer relationship for it.
I’ve prattled on enough at this point, and I’m not the first to verbalize some of these thoughts. It’s just ironic how many “geek” movies, through poor characterizations and character arcs, are ultimately abusive towards the very market they supposedly cater to. So, I will allow myself to gush about how Pacific Rim, a big, “dumb action movie” can both embrace and subvert geek tropes, giving us an experience that’s satisfying on so many levels. It’s a good movie for geeks even without GIANT ROBOTS SMASHY SMASH RGGHH MONSTERS and I love it so much for that.