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Chicken Soup for the Popular Kids
January 7, 2013 9:03 PM   Subscribe

The Superhero Delusion: How Superhero Movies created the Sad Perfect Badass Messiah, and what that says about America Warning: Contains spoilers for Chronicle on the last page.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (50 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
That pretty accurately sums up my own problems with superhero movies, problems that can be looked over occaisionally but not when it seems like all the movies coming out are superhero movies. And messiah figures in general have long passed their sell-by date.
posted by JHarris at 9:58 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not to take away from the thesis of this piece, but this has been going on for a while. We were just talking about Die Hard which seems to have most of the qualities:

1. The protagonist doubts himself until Act 3.
2. The saving of human lives is less important, narratively speaking, than the fact that the hero finally decides to be a hero.
3. The hero is misunderstood by authority figures, whereas the common people love him.
4. The hero pays lip service to the idea that “morality” is a thing that is not set in stone, before ultimately reaffirming their own goodness, nay, awesomeness, therefore establishing a world where, if you are not with the hero, then you are a villain.
5. (Irrelevant to the thesis.)
6. (See #2)

In science fiction, we can consider Ender's Game (coming soon to a theater near you) as the sine qua ultra of infantilized justification of violence, even unto genocide.

(I feel that both the novel and movie of Starship Troopers managed to avoid this state of affairs, the novel through a grim, unromantic sense of duty to the human species, and the movie through the satire of the same.)
posted by wobh at 10:06 PM on January 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


Ironically, the one movie that broke all those rules and was an amazing superhero movie was Dredd 3D. It was an action film about a fascist enforcer of a totalitarian state, and didn't waste any time showing that. The one character who did have an arc got through it with a minimum of fuss and angst. The action functioned both as action and as satire on hyper-stylized, self-justifying violence. And unlike Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers, it was quite clear that the 'hero' wasn't a hero at all.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:13 PM on January 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


What it says about America (and the rest of the world, which buys plenty of tickets) is that a good messiah story always sells.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:18 PM on January 7, 2013


Well when you can buy software that helps you write the perfect blockbuster movie script...what did we expect to happen?
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:19 PM on January 7, 2013


I feel like there's something missing, some sense of lightness and fun or weirdness superheroes have on the comic page. If Batman is going to be grim and gritty it should be a warped, Burtonesque horror movie grittiness. The Avengers came closest to that fun but did it at the expensive of a good antagonist and satisfying story arc.

This whole superhero boom was kicked off by Blade, actually, and that started with Blade killing vampires. No long redemption arc for him.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:27 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: the hero pays lip service to the idea that “morality” is a thing that is not set in stone, before ultimately reaffirming their own goodness, nay, awesomeness, therefore establishing a world where, if you are not with the hero, then you are a villain.
posted by glhaynes at 10:36 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Avengers isn't about a superhero arc at all. It's Joss Whedon doing what he does best: writing about a club of not-very-well-matched people in a difficult situation whose unique, unexpected chemistry proves surprisingly essential to the triumph of good even though they're at least arguably not all good themselves. The Avengers is Buffy and Firefly. (Full disclosure: I love Firefly and the Jossvengers, so this isn't meant to be disparaging by any means.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:39 PM on January 7, 2013 [18 favorites]


therefore establishing a world where, if you are not with the hero, then you are a villain.

it's always more fun to be a villain

speaking of which, I just tried to watch Chronicle the other day and gave up about half an hour in. Boring.
posted by philip-random at 10:42 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It looks like the new Superman and Star Trek movies are going to take this route, unfortunately. The trick with Spider-Man is that he was relatable to me, personally. Tony Stark and Batman aren't.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:49 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


George_Spiggott, I think Avengers can be both. On the one hand it's Whedon masterfully plying his trade and on the other hand it's fully committed to the Sad Perfect Badass Messiah.

Then again Buffy is kind of like that too, but at least she got deconstructed occasionally.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:07 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm sure the Scoobies would crush the Avengers, if it came to that.
posted by oddman at 11:30 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Huh? How? I just realized what Hulk does to Loki is a continuation of how the Scoobies handle The Master and Glory.

Speaking of The Hulk, the wonderful FILM CRITIC HULK took on the Avengers but was too kind to it and takes on Dark Knight Rises. I found both of the films unsatisfying, for some reason, and the crazy fanboy defenses of them a bit baffling. And I'm the perfect target audience.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:35 PM on January 7, 2013


I like this analysis in a lot of ways, though I have a few quibbles. I think it's too harsh to say "it all went wrong", because I think it's an interesting question of why these tropes have become so important.

Let's start with the internal-to-comics evolution. Obviously long before Vietnam and Watergate it became difficult to impossible for audiences to fully identify with the perfect superhero. For another, there was always a tension between the true superhero -- the Superman struggling to keep his superpowers hidden as he lives on earth -- and the costumed hero -- the Batman struggling to keep his true nature hidden. I think that's an interesting aspect right there. So at least so far this was interesting.

Then you had the Misfit Superhero that he talks about, which I think came in many ways directly out of the classic works of the peak of the graphic novel era -- Watchmen, the Dark Knight Returns, and so on. But I'm not so sure how new this is: It seems to be a reinterpretation, or inversion in some respects, of the Perfect Superhero, now the Perfect Badass. So up to a point this all follows and hangs together and has value: you want to break down -- deconstruct -- and reconstruct the mythos and language of comic-book hero narrative. I think the societal disapproval aspect is more than an expository plot or emotional point, as it is part of grounding the narrative in reality and asking how society would react if such individuals existed.

So, all well and good, on the printed page anyway. So let's talk movies. Beginning (again, in ways) with Star Wars, you had this new Campbellian approach to the hero myth, blended with new special effects technologies that in time would become CGI (out of sheer necessity it would seem). This allowed incredible creations of fantasy worlds, massive arcologies and world-devouring machines, and disasters on a planetary scale. So Avengers is Armageddon with the world-saving heroes down here on Earth. This is where I get interested. I thought one of the brilliant things about Armageddon -- which if nothing else was the apotheosis of a summer candycorn movie -- was how it fleshed out its characters and gave them motivations and narrative arcs (and they were all led by John McClane, astronaut). It was a kind of humanizing, in a lurid tabloidy way, of the scientist-engineer heroes of NASA and the steely-eyed rocket men we'd all grown up on. But then this evolved into the modern superhero tale as discussed. The question that concerns me is why?

I feel this is a real thing and a big thing, something like how all the weird alien menace movies of the 1950s were really about Communism and the Red Scare. I have a sense that this is a national moment in a way and ask what it says about us that this is what we choose to watch in this national moment. We've been through and are still going through some big, unsettling and very real shit. On one level it's not surprising we're going for escapism. On another we are, I suspect, recapitulating this superhero narrative on a geopolitical scale. That is, we, the USA, are the Sad Perfect Badass Messiah, at least in our own minds. We have military spending that outstrips every other army and navy out there, yet we are obsessed with our weaknesses and our victimhood, not to mention any attempts to curb our violent, city-destroying ways. The world is our public, and it doesn't trust us, even though we know we are both Perfect and Good despite our Badassery.

At some level, then, all this superhero folderol is essentially fascist. Oh, there's populism here and there in these movies, but it's sprinkled on top like frosting on a donut. I don't think the superhero can be anything but fascist by nature. A costumed hero at least has a fighting chance (and there's something of that in TDKR). But a point I like to make is that the superpower of the police is that it's a vast organization working together, not a single rogue hero fighting the system at every turn to effect justice. It only catches criminals because it makes sure that criminals have no safe havens, not because it pursues them relentlessly through living rooms and over backyard fences, but because over that fence is another cop. So the superhero movie, by rejecting this essentially social nature of law-enforcement and cultural problem-solving, rejects the communitarian natures of society and necessitates worship of the perfect hero who must be trusted because he will always do the right thing. (Or maybe I'm just watching this particular tension play out halfway through 24.) So ultimately, what it says about us right now is that we're reveling in a kind of fantasy fascism that will Save Us without our needing to intervene or set goals or expectations or end-points for the rogue Savior operation like the Avengers.
posted by dhartung at 11:40 PM on January 7, 2013 [32 favorites]


It makes sense that superheroes, as a uniquely American in origin medium would come to dominate our movies, the way cowboy films did 70 years ago, and man vs the machine films did 40 years ago. Which should give haters of the genre hope; like those previous genres superhero films will also eventually be played out. In the meantime I'm just going to enjoy the spectacle.
posted by happyroach at 11:45 PM on January 7, 2013


Which should give haters of the genre hope; like those previous genres superhero films will also eventually be played out.

I'm not so much a hater as someone who likes superhero movies occasionally, in proportion to other movies, not where they're made and sequel-ed and rebooted and crossed-over ad infinitum. Since the new millennium we've had four Spider-Man movies, two Fantastic Four movies, three Batman movies, a Superman movie, two Hulk movies, an additional four Avengers prequels, Avengers itself, and a handful of miscellaneous other films.

I don't hate superhero movies, but I do like other kinds of movies.
posted by JHarris at 12:10 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


SPOILERS FOR CHRINICLE:

Chronicle was a far more interesting than it was actually good, IMHO, and TBH way more effective when you got the first hints that the kid was going to go all Kid Marvelman than when it actually unfolded - there I think it would have been better if it had gone more the horror route than trying to be Big Superhero Movie.
posted by Artw at 12:31 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to take away from the thesis of this piece, but this has been going on for a while. We were just talking about Die Hard which seems to have most of the qualities:

Yeah, I can't help feeling that this person has essentially discovered that movies have plots. Have they seen Star Wars? That's going to be a shocker for them.
posted by Artw at 12:39 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ironically, the one movie that broke all those rules and was an amazing superhero movie was Dredd 3D

Dredd ain't a superhero movie, it's PunkPunk.
posted by Artw at 12:49 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The biggest problem I had with Chronicle is that my suspension of disbelief could not encompass the "found footage" gimmick in that one. To paraphrase Meat Loaf, I'll believe anything for escapism, but I won't believe that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:51 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Avengers isn't about a superhero arc at all. It's Joss Whedon doing what he does best: writing about a club of not-very-well-matched people in a difficult situation whose unique, unexpected chemistry proves surprisingly essential to the triumph of good even though they're at least arguably not all good themselves.

That's, um, pretty much every post Fantastic Fiur team superhero comic. You know that and you're doing a thing, right?
posted by Artw at 12:51 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm missing something, but it feels like the author is using a pretty flimsy introduction with the superhero genre to just rant for several pages about contemporary film.

But then, I'm only on page 4.

EDIT: OK, it's better towards the end, but I still think this piece could be half as long and twice as coherent.
posted by HostBryan at 1:06 AM on January 8, 2013


Chronicle was great because it was so understated. No, no, wait, stay with me here. Yeah, you have to buy into the cinéma vérité conceit, but once you do, the characters take over and it's just about a guy trying to stop his friend hurting people. The movie could just as well be about heroin but instead of stealing cars, you send them flying into buildings. It's about someone who loses all restraint and has to be restrained in return. Yeah, the superhero story is always going to be fascistic, but Chronicle does everything in it can to show that that sort of power is only legitimate when it serves to stop an equal power, and that when no equal power presents itself said power should go live on a mountain in Tibet.
posted by cthuljew at 3:25 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Chronicle was okay-ish, but anything looks good compared to genuine turds like Skyfall and DKR.
posted by fleacircus at 3:36 AM on January 8, 2013


The thing is this: There's a deep, astonishing desire for superheroes to exist -- for there to be someone we can turn to, to fix so many broken things.

We're seeing fantasy, reflecting desired reality.
posted by effugas at 4:08 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wasn't Chronicle just Misfits with beautiful people?
posted by fullerine at 4:34 AM on January 8, 2013


I thought Misfits was Misfits with beautiful people.
posted by cthuljew at 5:08 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Daniel Clowes takes this discussion to the next level in his magnificent Death-Ray. Also, has anyone mentioned Kick-Ass or the Crimson Bolt yet?
posted by Tom-B at 5:08 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Avengers is Buffy and Firefly.

Yep, beyond anything else, the core of all of Whedon's shows (and now the Avengers) has been the Found Family. It's one of my favorite things about his works.

And yes, as Artw mentions this is a very Marvel thing. Whedon makes no bones about how much Marvel influences his work. Much more obvious and direct than the Fantastic Four as an influence is the friggin' X-Men.
posted by kmz at 5:12 AM on January 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would be completely unsurprised to hear he was a big fan of the Claremont era X-Men, even if we didn't already kinda know that from the time he wrote The X-Men.
posted by Artw at 5:16 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


At some level, then, all this superhero folderol is essentially fascist. Oh, there's populism here and there in these movies, but it's sprinkled on top like frosting on a donut. I don't think the superhero can be anything but fascist by nature. A costumed hero at least has a fighting chance (and there's something of that in TDKR). But a point I like to make is that the superpower of the police is that it's a vast organization working together, not a single rogue hero fighting the system at every turn to effect justice. It only catches criminals because it makes sure that criminals have no safe havens, not because it pursues them relentlessly through living rooms and over backyard fences, but because over that fence is another cop. So the superhero movie, by rejecting this essentially social nature of law-enforcement and cultural problem-solving, rejects the communitarian natures of society and necessitates worship of the perfect hero who must be trusted because he will always do the right thing. (Or maybe I'm just watching this particular tension play out halfway through 24.) So ultimately, what it says about us right now is that we're reveling in a kind of fantasy fascism that will Save Us without our needing to intervene or set goals or expectations or end-points for the rogue Savior operation like the Avengers.

I'm halfway through 24 as well, just started season 5 last night. I haven't been thinking that deeply about it beyond a few thoughts that when watched one episode after the other it's soap operaness becomes much more apparent and annoying. Things like the dialog between characters that constantly repeats info about what's going on. Info that each character would know already but is voiced for the audience again and again in case they missed the last episode.

I can see what you are getting at but I wouldn't say that it is facism that is being worshiped. Facism is a particular type of authoritarian control which by definition has it's own communal type nature. One of defining characteristic of a fascist state is control expressed through communal organizations like police forces in a way that most would say is profoundly negative for the masses. There isn't anything in the social nature of law enforcement that makes it good or bad.

The human desire and urge being expressed is more simpler then that as well as something that has been expressed in story, especially hero stories throughout the ages. Namely, that someone, or something that the larger culture can agree on is essentially good and with good intentions, swoops in and fixes things when something in society goes wrong. It's not a rejection of communal nature of society itself but a communal expression that something is wrong or evil within that society and that something needs to be fixed somehow. If there wasn't some sort of culturally communal agreement about who or what the 'bad guy' is there would be no need to make a story about it being fixed.

The 'hero' is a culturally elected savior that is given the authority by the masses to fight whatever the 'evil' is. Why? Because life is complicated and damn wouldn't it be easier and nice if whatever the strife of the time is could just be fixed or things made better by someone awesome. There is an abdication of authority and control given to that person but in a sense the 'hero' is still elected. The type of hero it is and what is acceptable in the story for them to do in the fixing (the details) I think does represent feelings or mores of whatever time the story occurs in because in a sense the hero is a representation of the desires of the masses. If they weren't they wouldn't be popular depictions.

Us humans are communal and social beasts but we are also beasts of hierarchy and throughout history our stories have been reflections of struggles of power that is expressed through our numerous forms of organizing ourselves.

The stories also are a way for ordinary people to imagine themselves as being that hero. I mean who wants to put themselves in the place of being the helpless victim. I'd much rather be like Jack then women getting blown up by the nuke because I can't do anything about. In some sense rooting for the hero in the story to fix things and do the right thing is a way of taking and having some emotional control over whatever evil is being fought against. It definitely an escape that can offer a sense of safety and comfort, even if it's only for that 2 hours in the movie theatre.
posted by Jalliah at 6:37 AM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


e were just talking about Die Hard which seems to have most of the qualities

I don't think I agree with your analysis of Die Hard. I don't think John really "doubts" himself per se until Act 3, nor do I think he "decides to be a hero" at any definable point in the movie, but I could be convinced on either point, I suppose. Where I am pretty sure that I could not be convinced is that he pays lip service to relative morality.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:38 AM on January 8, 2013


I think John decides to be a hero the moment he hears machine gun fire. He's got his gun out, he's circumspect at the door, and his first though is of escape and reconnaissance. Ho ho ho.
posted by cthuljew at 8:03 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Comic book Spiderman does not fit this so-called superhero pattern at all.

Overthinking It on superheros and the fascist aesthetic:
The hero becomes the king, ushering in a golden age...You don’t get to see the day to day life of a superhero because that would be boring, and it wouldn’t solve all the problems of the world. To make the audience believe that the heroic agonized body has ushered in a utopian society, you need to focus solely on the moment of transformation. “I am Spiderman!” he declares, and then we see one more glorious swoop of the CGI-perfected disciplined physique in motion over the New York City skyline — and then credits.

That's exactly the opposite of the original Lee/Ditko Spiderman. His origin story is a story of shameful and contemptible defeat. His ongoing narrative is about his ordinary life, moments of victory and nobility set against a backdrop of pervasive self-doubt. Peter Parker remains poor and is of low social status. Even in his Spiderman persona he is treated with suspicion by the general public, the police and even by other superheroes. Great power doesn't make him a world-changing messiah or even make his life better. His great power confers nothing but great responsibility.

Perhaps superheroes aren't the source of the messianism smeared all over current blockbusters.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:07 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


OK, now I'm on a rant, but none of the Marvel heroes fit this pattern in their comic book origins.

Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four has a villain origin: arrogant mad scientist performs a risky experiment that scars innocent people. He does not think of himself as having a perfected body; he expects that society will see him and his family as twisted freaks. He is redeemed only by the love of his family.

The only character in the X-Men books who thinks of himself as a messiah figure is the villain Magneto.

The Hulk is a monster. The best you can say about him is that he doesn't usually go looking for trouble ("HULK WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE!"). He's marginally less horrible than the monsters he fights, good only in the sense that there's worse evil out there. The only hero in his story is puny Bruce Banner, an outcast on the run who nobly tries to protect the public from his own monstrous dark side.

Captain America is a deliberate subversion of this trope. An ex-Nazi scientist transforms his body to match the Aryan ideal of blond haired chiseled perfection and sends him off to war, but none of that makes him a hero. Everything noble about him comes from the idealism of sickly untermench Steve Rogers. In fact, the idea that blond supermen with perfect bodies are better than everyone else is exactly what he's fighting against. He's a democratic figure who thinks anyone can and should be a hero.

The messianism of Marvel comic book movies has no basis in Marvel comic books. Where's it coming from?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:35 AM on January 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


I wouldn't call this 'Chicken Soup for the Popular Kids,' so much as Chicken Soup for the Disaffected Outsider. Superheroes in this mold appeal to the loner or misfit who sees his own perceived innate superiority as being unrecognized by those around him (until the inevitable call to greatness). The fact that a Bruce Wayne (or, to a lesser degree, a Tony Stark) is materially wealthy is secondary to the fantasy being developed here- it is appealing, but not essential to the image it supports. The comment about Die Hard and John McClane is absolutely spot on- this particular model of superhero film appeals to the misunderstood loner in the same way that the US Army's "Army of One" messaging did (and it really did- I've seen the tests).

I (naturally) enjoyed Kate Beaton's take on the gendered aspects of imagining superheroes this way.

(My own imagined continuation of Kate Beaton's Wonder Woman would probably involve Superman talking about how his parents and all his people were wiped out on Krypton, and how that motivates him to protect the people on his new planet; and little Batman talking about how his parents were gunned down in an alley, and how it was "totally brutal". Later, Wonder Woman calls her mother in Themyscira:

"Hey, mom- it's Diana. How are things? No...nothing's wrong, I just wanted to call and say hi...

...no, I'm not seeing anyone right now.")
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:51 AM on January 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Perhaps superheroes aren't the source of the messianism smeared all over current blockbusters.

Maybe not, but, generally speaking, they are a huge expression of it.
posted by JHarris at 10:36 AM on January 8, 2013


The messianism of Marvel comic book movies has no basis in Marvel comic books. Where's it coming from?

The box office numbers of Marvel comic book movies also have no basis in Marvel comic books.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:47 AM on January 8, 2013


Perhaps it's time for a Marshal Law movie adaptation.
posted by asfuller at 11:02 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps superheroes aren't the source of the messianism smeared all over current blockbusters.

Yeah, I think the main thing missing from this analysis is the level of sheer wish-fulfillment in superheroes. Wow, wouldn't it be great to be able to fly? Or to be able to swing and jump gracefully through New-York like Spider-Man? Or to be able to lift a car into the air with your super-strength or your magic power ring? Or even to just wear a big black cape and a cowl and have a secret underground headquarters and drive around in an amazing black sports car. Completely aside from what you actually did with such things -- whether you were a hero or a villain or neither -- wouldn't that just be incredibly fun?

I think that dream of fun is much more primal than the fascistic fantasies of how I'd fix the world if I had Super Power. And it's the real reason superheroes are popular (and what Batman has in common with the Avengers).

The stuff in the main article is more about why our current movies about superheroes tell the stories they tell. And I agree with dhartung, that they probably do reflect our national image as USA - the perfect badass messiah. But I don't think those stories are inherently superhero stories, or that we couldn't / wouldn't be telling the same stories with some other trope besides superheroes (as evidenced by his willingness to stretch the definition of superhero to include James Bond and Bilbo).
posted by straight at 2:00 PM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


nth-ing that Dredd absolutely rules.

Perhaps it's time for a Marshal Law movie adaptation.

If this ever actually materialises, you may end up having your wish.

Chronicle was great because it was so understated

Sure. Apart from the loudest spider dismemberment in history.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:40 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was reminded by this of an interesting piece on the Tintin movie by a Tintin scholar. He makes a really interesting point about how the film's "trust yourself" message works against the themes of flim-flammery and switcheroos that Tintin stands for. It made me wonder how many other kinds of stories we are missing out on.
posted by steinsaltz at 2:49 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The biggest problem I had with Chronicle is that my suspension of disbelief could not encompass the "found footage" gimmick in that one.

But see, it's not actually a "found footage" movie. There's no narrative conceit about finding this footage. It's just a movie in which the director choose, as his POV, only what could be seen by any actual cameras around where the plot happened.

The bit where the girl was filming stuff for school seemed forced, but I thought the part about the main character filming himself all the time to be pretty believable, especially once he was able to use his powers to hold the camera.

And I thought the use of security camera / cell phone footage for the action scenes was extremely effective. It did a great job of looking like the sort of amateur / accidental footage we often see of natural disasters and made some of the superhero action seem much more realistic than what you see in a Spider-Man or Avengers movie.
posted by straight at 2:56 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't call this 'Chicken Soup for the Popular Kids,' so much as Chicken Soup for the Disaffected Outsider.

I think there's a key difference between the popular kid scenario the author lays out and the outsider scenario that you're thinking of. And that is the fact that popular kids are loved by most people (his #2), while outsiders are not liked and sometimes even hated by people. And this dislike happens if the right or wrong thing is done. For example, even when Darkman wins in the first Darkman, he isn't loved by anyone (including the love interest). He's still ugly, disfigured, and has emotional issues. It's not always that extreme. Another example, the Ghostbusters win in Ghostbusters I, but in the sequel the public reverts back to apathy for them.
posted by FJT at 4:49 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wrote a whole rant here, but then deleted it because I became weary of pointing out how most of his "tenets" don't apply in many cases (especially in Dark Knight Rises) but also how most of them could apply to most films, if not most stories. Lincoln, Django Unchained, Looper, and even Frankenweenie, just to name a few I've seen recently, fit six or seven out of his eight tenets. Almost any movie that is: a) Aimed at a general audience (that is rated so that children may see it) and b) Based upon an existing franchise, is going to hit most or all of his tenets.
posted by runcibleshaw at 6:48 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The spider bit was the best bit, you'd pretty much seen everything you needed to see by that point.
posted by Artw at 6:55 PM on January 8, 2013


I think there's a key difference between the popular kid scenario the author lays out and the outsider scenario that you're thinking of. And that is the fact that popular kids are loved by most people (his #2)

Except Batman right? Batman is loved by a minority as a grim anti-hero/boogeyman legend. Most people in Gotham think he's a cowardly murderer who killed the real hero of Gotham, Harvey Dent, and then disappeared. Or are "most people" AKA "the masses" meant to be "some people". And, if it's just some people then can it just be the main characters loved ones or teammates? Also, Spider-Man is really just loved by one guy (Pony Boy) who cajoles his homies into helping out Spidey (though I agree that the crane scene is ridiculous). You see how the "popular kid" aspect of this argument loses all meaning when examined against the the actual examples used? I think what the author was really thinking about was how popular these characters are in real life, which is why they have movies.

What about the Hulk? Pretty much everyone is terrified of him, even, maybe especially, his teammates. The author uses Tony Stark/Iron Man as the exemplar of his tenets, except for number 4 where he uses Black Widow and the Hulk.

Also, his point that the main characters of movie franchises don't die in the movies that are about them? That's just idiotic. You know what would be cool? If this character, who we plan to put in a bunch of movies, dies. They'll never see it coming!

I agree that many popular movies could stand to have the main character die/fail, but that's just not how most movies have worked... ever? To ascribe it as some special leg of superhero movie octagon of tenets (aka the Octavo) is just... hold on let me get out my thesaurus... fatuous.

My point is that he's cherry-picking characters and other elements to support his thesis. That's certainly what I'd do if I had a thesis, but I'd try to be less transparent about it. The tenets that don't fit almost any popular commercial movie don't even all fit the movies he says they do.
posted by runcibleshaw at 7:17 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I second the "wow, he's discovered how plots work" remark.

While I appreciate the level of thought he's put into this piece, I also am thinking, "Uh, is that really a problem?" We like to see heroes. We don't see a lot of damn heroes in real life. We spend 80% of our lives sitting at desks, typing at computers, and our real lives boil down to fighting over who cleaned the toilet. I am all for the wish fulfillment because I'll never do anything interesting or special with my life...but also seeing the downside of heroism makes us feel better for NOT being heroes. "Well, I'm nothing special and a data entry lackey and my life is so boring, but at least I don't have the shit that Peter Parker deals with." I watch Bilbo go on about how adventures make sure you don't show up for breakfast and think, "Yeah, try life where you don't have the option for adventures except for maybe your one week of vacation a year and stop yer whining. At least you know you did something cool with your life."

I'd like to leave you all with a quote:

"Everyone's a hero in their own way...in their own not-that-heroic way." --Captain Hammer.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:48 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


this piece could be half as long and twice as coherent.

It raises an interesting point I hadn't considered before, but I'd figured out by halfway through the first page that he was going to compare the current crop of superhero movies which dominates cinema at the moment to the attitude America has about itself at the moment. I skimmed through the rest in case there was a twist, but there really didn't need to be so much filler between the beginning and end of the article.

It's a good point. America as a nation is becoming aware of how other nations see it, and is a little surprised that it's moral decisions are being questioned and there's growing distrust of the disproportionate power it wields over the rest of us. Superheros are a good metaphor for that, compared to the old cowboy image of a rugged individualist who did the right thing when no-one else would, or the renegade cop who protects the innocent even if he has to break the rules. I don't see the current superhero obsession as a bad thing, but I'd like to see someone really dig into what it means that the movie versions are so different in tone than the comic origins, and why they've taken over the popcorn end of the movie spectrum.
posted by harriet vane at 8:43 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Except Batman right?

I don't know about Batman and the people. The movie didn't really deal well with that part. I mean, the police certainly don't like Batman, but I didn't see a part where the citizenry of Gotham turned on Batman and ratted him out to the police or even pelted him with rotten vegetables.

I agree that many popular movies could stand to have the main character die/fail, but that's just not how most movies have worked... ever?

Well, they don't need to absolutely die or fail horribly, but there has to be some...grit and gristle. This is going to get very rambly, but I realized something about my tastes in 2012. Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers were letdowns to me. And in a way this was inevitable, since the hype and buildup leading up from the last five years had reached an untenable position. But they were also both mega-franchises backed by major companies and talent that were designed for the widest demographic family and international audience as possible. They were essentially made "dud" proof, which to tell you the truth makes them a bit boring and formulaic to me.

There's also another reason why these movies felt a bit stale to me. It was mentioned earlier that superhero movies are meant as a sort of escapism. And they are a fun thrill ride. But why would anyone settle to watch a superhero do things, when they can BE a superhero? And that's what I've been essentially doing on a regular basis by playing video games. And nowadays it's converged a bit more since movies use so much CGI for special effects and computer hardware is capable or rendering great graphics on consumer TVs and monitors.

When I think back on 2012, the most surprising thing was my favorite action movie was The Raid: Redemption. This was the only movie last year that made me actually laugh with joy and pump my first in the air while I was watching it in theaters. This was really surprising to me. I loved Dark Knight and Iron Man 1 in 2008. I'm definitely older and my tastes are evolving, but I had no idea that they could change this much, this fast. The Raid doesn't really have a complex story at all, in fact, people said the basic premise of cops going into a criminal fort is a lot like this summer's Dredd (I haven't seen Dredd, so I'll have to watch it later and compare).

When I think about it, there are obvious reasons why The Raid worked for me. Intense martial arts, REAL stuntwork (CG is used for bullets, debris, and blood, but that's about it), and a basic plot that seemed to be taken out of an 80s action movie all helped. But, there is one less obvious thing: I didn't know ANYTHING about the film going into it. Not the director, or the actors, or anything beyond the basic story. This was a foreign movie from a country that I typically don't watch movies from. And because of this, I didn't know who was supposed to live or die, I didn't know who was being typecast, and I had less of a common cultural background to draw from. This made the movie much more tense and unexpected, and kept the story interesting for me.

In short, I probably outgrew superhero movies (just like how I've outgrown zombies). Oh yeah, and go watch The Raid. It's the best action movie of the year. And it has none of that superhero malarkey.
posted by FJT at 12:00 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


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