Back in the day, you knew who the heroes were and who the villains were. Sometimes it was a matter of just wearing black, or wearing white. Indeed, in those days, the difference between being a hero and a villain was very black and white. There were no shades of grey, you were either one or the other. Things have changed. Let’s take a look at the summer blockbusters in the theaters this year, let’s look at the heroes of 2013.
In Star Trek Into Darkness, we are presented with the new young Captain Kirk’s first real foray against evil, or are we? Kirk, traditionally, has never made the right decisions, but following his rank and occupation, he is decisive. Once he puts foot to path, he follows through, and so in the end makes sure lives are saved, no matter the cost. This new young Kirk (long story short, new continuity, same names and characters, different circumstances, smart writing to free oneself of the chains of continuity) is a dumbass, who makes fundamentally bad decisions and learns the hard way. Unlike the original version, he hopes he’s right as opposed to actually being right.
The antagonist is this timeline’s Khan, who is much different from the original, yet much the same. A psychopath who does good is still a psychopath. There’s no changing that, yet, it does impose those shades of grey on both Kirk and Khan. I guess it’s a good thing that Spock takes the majority of the action in this one.
The fact that there is no longer black and white however is not all that new, especially in the heroic genre. Iron Man is flawed from the get go. He is one of the bad guys. As an industrialist, futurist, and weapons dealer, Tony Stark has brought much death to the world. Any grey goes out the window however when in Iron Man Three, he faces a foe so black and evil, there is no mistaking it. If only Iron Man were a more straight forward white hat.
So we turn to the first and greatest of the superheroes, who also had a movie out a few weeks back, the big blue boy scout – Superman. He represents truth, justice, and the American way, no matter how politically incorrect that might be these days. His origin is part Moses, part Jesus, and yes, even part John Carter of Mars. He is the guy we think of when we think ‘superhero.’ If there are any rules of black and white, good and evil, it should be in his latest film, Man of Steel, right? Don’t bet the farm, Martha.
At the helm of the film is Christopher Nolan, a man best known with his last movie trilogy in which he made Batman darker, as if that was even possible. Nolan brings to Superman a new kind of General Zod, one that if you watch and listen carefully is perhaps the most dangerous type of villain, and shade of grey. He is the villain who thinks what he is doing is right. No longer is Zod simply after vengeance on the heir of his jailer, or the conquest of some backwater planet – this Zod has been mandated with the task of saving the future of the entire Kryptonian race.
Seriously, if you’re Superman, how do you fight that? How the hell do you even argue against it? And if that’s not conflicted enough, there’s Superman’s father – no, not Ruussell Crowe as Jor-El, who crazily has more chemistry with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane than Henry Cavill’s Superman – but Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent. This Jonathan suggests Clark not act and let his schoolmates die in a bus accident, and then also impels his son not to save his own life. Pa Kent’s greatest lesson in this new world is paranoia and fear, rather than truth, justice and American way.
Perhaps it is this background that allows Superman only to act once the entire planet is in peril from General Zod’s superior forces, and then only when his momma is threatened directly. This is a hero? Hold on, folks, it gets worse, and if you haven’t had your spoilers helmet on yet, get it ready.
After punching each other through CGI scene after CGI scene of painful 9-11 conjuring disaster porn, finally Zod starts to take his wrath out on innocent bystanders directly, attempting to heat-vision a family in a train station. Superman does the only thing the writers (I’m looking right at you, Nolan, and David Goyer) can think of at that point, he murders Zod. It’s not unprecedented, it’s happened in the comics, but even there it was considered the darkest moment in the character’s history.
Excuse me while I soapbox for a moment. Superman would have found another way to stop Zod, without resorting to murder. He would have found another way – that’s why he’s Superman! Soapbox mode off.
Rounding out this summer of heroes with a darker edge is one that should never have been used in this context – The Lone Ranger. Let’s not even talk about what a complete dumbass move it was to put the bigger star in the sidekick role and have him steal the film with his moronic shenanigans. The Lone Ranger is
a character of, well, high moral character. He is more role model than hero. He does what’s right, and while he has guns, he has never killed anyone, and here Disney has gone and Superman-ized him.
This new Lone Ranger is not bright, not heroic, not the least bit a role model, and firmly in the shadow of a mockery of his sidekick Tonto in this violent flick. I hope you Johnny Depp fans got your fill, because the Lone Ranger fans left the theater choking and starving. All I can say in this case is if Disney hated the source material so much, why did they remake it?
In the summer of 2013, it seems no hero is safe from the internal darkness that permeates pop culture. I hope that changes. Superman and the Lone Ranger have no reason to be dark. And if things are so dark, shouldn’t we have real heroes and role models to look up to, to show us the light? Just my opinion.
Copyright 2013 Glenn Walker
Glenn Walker’s Heroes blog is also found in the August 2013 issue of Voluted Tales eZine. You can find all the Walker you can handle and then so here: