The Thing I Like About …

… the recent pre-eminence of super-hero movies: their outlook on humanity.

I like a wide range of films.  I love disaster films like Towering Inferno or Day After Tomorrow; I love the Watchmen for a thousand reasons.  I like action films almost without reservation, and the transformation of special effects provided by CGI is so far from my childhood film experience that I am extremely hard to disappoint.  But the thing I like about the new super-hero movies – Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Avengers (etc.) – is that they aren’t gloomy walks through the depths of pathos, an angst-ridden journey through it’s-hard-to-be-a-hero, or a bleak look at the worst of humanity.  They’re quite the opposite.

It probably is hard to be a superhero; it’s also hard to be a human being of any kind.  How compelling can a story be if it suggests that the best among us are still miserable and defeated?  Why have we been putting up with that stuff?  It’s so much more fun to be with the Human Torch – “Look what I can do!” – than with Ang Lee’s well-done but depressing “What have I done?” Hulk.  Even the people in the movies agree:  Tony Stark’s Iron Man is so powerful and … well, cool … that little kids wear his costume and pretend to be like him – quite a sharp contrast to the crowd’s response to the Watchmen’s Comedian.

As emotionally engaging as it is to watch the survivors in 2012 choose their better selves over their lives, it’s not … uplifting.  We respond to it because we know human failure, we see ourselves in the conflicted people on the screen, and we don’t know what option we would choose if we were them.  We cry at that scene (well, some of us do) because we fear we would choose poorly; we smile at their choice because it is a thin tendril of hope that, if it really happened, maybe we would do better too.

But now think instead about our Avengers:  humanity is awesome!  It’s worth saving and fighting for and dying for!  We’re worth it right now, not in some future utopia where we’ve become better people.  Evil is bad, good is … good.  Differences are resolvable.  The bad guys need killin’; the good guys will triumph.  It won’t be easy – that’s why we need superheroes in the first place – but it will happen, because we do … not … quit.  And, oh yeah, look what we can do!

There’s enough pathos and soul-searching and failure and misery in the real world.  If films are our culture’s campfire stories, what possible “lessons” are we teaching ourselves by watching perpetuations of gloom-and-doom, sadness, and loss?  But sacrifice, now, that’s something else – and hope, and joy, and optimism, facing challenges with courage and honour and love, fighting evil and winning – that’s what we need.  That’s what we really want.

And that’s what the Avengers delivered.  Thanks, guys.


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