Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s faceoff between alien monsters and giant robots, is unusual in a number of ways. It’s one of the few blockbusters we’re getting this summer that isn’t part of an existing franchise, or doesn’t feature a character audiences are already familiar with. The monsters in question are kaiju, Japanese imports from a genre that began with Godzilla. And while both of those factors are enough to get a lot of nerds and champions of Hollywood originality rooting for Pacific Rim to do well at the box office, there’s one more thing that makes the movie worth cheering for: It’s the rare blockbuster that doesn’t end with a smooch between its male and female leads.
The nature of the relationship between veteran giant robot pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and the rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)—who gets her shot to work with him when humans make their final stand against the monsters—is a matter of some debate, even between the people involved in the movie. Director del Toro has said explicitly that he and his collaborators decided not to have Pacific Rim include a love story. But Hunnam has said that the way the characters work together—as co-pilots of the robots, Raleigh and Mako share a mental bond known as “the Drift” that lets them coordinate their actions, but also requires them to share their most intimate memories—is “about all of the necessary elements of love without arriving at love itself.”
That dynamic makes Pacific Rim the rare movie—the rare anything in pop culture, really—to suggest that men and women can be extraordinarily close friends. It’s incredibly tiresome for movies to insist, as When Harry Met Sally did, that there’s no other possible endgame for a connection between a man and a woman than True Love or a terrible breakup. Raleigh’s drawn to Mako because they’re professionally compatible, and then finds that he’s comfortable letting her into his head. They turn out to be a great fighting team, supportive of each other in an environment full of big egos, and become just really good friends. I am holding my breath that the inevitable sequel will not have them trying to remain good friends while having a baby together.