Angst 'Em High: Why I Loathe Modern Superhero Films

by Chris French

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In the days before writing this, I watched two movies which purport to be from the same genre (non-pejorative sense), but come at it from entirely different directions: The Dark Knight Rises, and The Expendables 2. The former I loathed with the sort of loathing I typically reserve for sharks, football players, and-- hell, most of the human race; the latter actually had me laughing and smiling, and people who know me know: About the only time I do that is when one of the three groups aforementioned is suffering serious and abiding trauma.

TDRK is the third, and grace a Dieu last, installment in Christopher Nolan's Batman series. Whereas the preceding flick in the series was a ham-fisted attempt to invoke the WTC/Pentagon attacks and the whole "war on terror", this is an even-more-ineptly-handled attempt to bring the "Occupy [location]" and the "1%/99%" "class warfare" twaddle spewed by the mainstream media over the past couple years. Ignoring the obvious technical incompetence on display - half of the main villain's dialogue is completely incomprehensible - the movie is about as much fun as sliding down a bannister wrapped in barbed-wire; Christian Bale spends the entire movie moping like one of the "Goths" in Dork Tower, and the movie in general plods along like one of the title characters of The Walking Dead.

Worse was the preview for the Superman re-reboot, Man of Steel-- some pseudo-Celtic high-pitched mewling interspersed with some old man going on how about "you have to make choices" and "who do you want to be", over scenes of an Alaskan fishing village (what, Kansas is now insufficiently "hick"?). To the surprise of absolutely no one, guess who's responsible for this? Yup - Christopher NoFun - sorry, Nolan.

There is at no time any sense of what the comics which spawned Batman and the other superheroes-- no sense of adventure, no notions of Good and Evil; only Angst, Life Sucks, and Woe-is-Me as far as the eye can see.

Now, The Expendables 2-- here is adventure, and the Good/Evil split, in spades (aces thereof). Good Guys need to go collect a Mac[Guffin] detailing the location of five tons of weapons-grade plutonium; Bad Guys nick said computer, killing "Ensign Leibowitz" in the process; Good Guys smash Bad Guys like produce at a Gallagher concert-- with much splatter. In-jokes concerning the tropes of the action-movie genre abound, as do callbacks to the various actors' previous works; however, none of them are played for gratuitous comedy-- in all cases, it's played as though it were the most natural statement in the world to make. (Think Airplane! as opposed to the "Eh? Eh?" pseudo-comedies currently being spewed forth by Whollyweird.)

At no point does any member of the Expendables ever second-guess himself, except to put another bullet or fist into a mook to make sure he's throughgoingly an ex-mook. The closest to Angst comes following the demise of the "red shirt", and that sequence lasts all of a minute, including the time required to decide "let's go find the Bad Guys and kill them all". The Batman flicks? Nothing but solid "what good have I ever done" whining, with the odd junket into "you're as bad as they are" from the folks covering up Harvey Dent's Two-Face-Heel Turn. (Hot tip, Bruce: If you put a bullet through the Joker's brain, chances are you will never see his face again - especially if it's a hollowpoint, and you fire it into the back of his head.)

Re moral codes: The Expendables team has one-- theirs merely allows them latitude in how they accomplish the goals required. If someone needs to be shot, he gets shot; if someone needs to be beaten or tortured to acquire information, so be it. What matters is "does the job get done"; any factors in the way of that goal get... removed. (The lone exception to this is illustrated when "Ensign Leibowitz" gets killed - and that exception is the one which allows the group to exist in the first place: Do not betray your own.) In most superhero flicks these days, the only reason a "moral code" exists is because otherwise the movie would be about ten minutes long; apparently, the Superhero Moral Code comes attached to an Idiot Ball.

A balance-point can be found in the movie Sucker-Punch; there is Angst, but at least here the angsting characters have reasons to angst-- most of them actually have made stupid decisions, and are in the mess they're in as a result of said stupidity. That said, when it comes time to stop with the whining and Do Something, Something gets Done. (Sort of-- it's hard to tell with that flick.) 300 also applies here; no angsting, nor any "are we doing the right thing here" claptrap-- just "stack the Bad Guys up like cordwood" (in at least one case, literally). Taken (and like as not its sequel) ramp this up to levels where I fully expect Liam Neeson to be invited to the third Expendables flick. Much like the action flicks of the '80s and '90s, characters who needed to go and do went and did.

The "four-color ethos" generates in me some very colorful four-letter- words, none of which I can use in this august periodical; but I can safely say the following: Enough with the angst. Enough with the unnecessary moralizing and navel-gazing. I want my heroes to be heroic again-- and that means saying "smile, you sonofabitch" and blowing the Bad Guy all over Hell's Half-Acre for no other reason than knowing: "Here is my enemy-- he lies at my mercy; I can kill him, and never see his face again; or I can leave him alive, so he can recover, and try to kill me and mine again... hey, slick: When you get to Hell, tell Mom I said 'hello'." <BLAM>

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