Angry Superhero Movie 2: The Angry Superheroing
"Hey, guys. Maybe some SPOILERS ahead. So, you know, read carefully."
The Summer of the Angry Superhero™ continues!
Captain America: Civil War is unquestionably a better movie than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but they have a lot of the same problems, and I left the theater feeling the same way about both of them. There were parts I liked (some quite a bit) and breakout characters whose solo films I'm now looking forward to, but they were also both overlong, tried to do too much, and were weighed down by an unearned sense of self-importance.
Overall, though, my feelings on both movies comes down to two things:.
The first is simply that I'm sick to death of angsty, angry, morally gray superhero storytelling. It's not the whole "all the superheros are fighting" thing, per se, because that's a trope almost as old as the superhero genre itself, going back to old school throwdowns like the Human Torch vs the Sub-Mariner and Captain Marvel vs Spy Smasher. There are misunderstandings, punches are thrown, and then comes the inevitable team-up against a common enemy (admittedly, in the Marvel movies' case, that team-up is several films away yet, but still). Two of these same types of movie in the same summer is too much, I'd argue, but whatever.
No, what bugs me in these movies - and in the last decade or so of the comics from both publishers that spawned these films - is that no one seems willing (or able?) to let our heroes be heroic anymore. I've talked about this before, but we've become too skeptical of our heroes' true motivations, we're too cynical to accept capital-G Good at face value. And hey, I get it... we live in a world now where real-life superhero Hulk Hogan goes on a racist tirade in a sex tape and beloved TV dad Bill Cosby stands revealed as a serial rapist. Those (and many others) are blows to the American pop psyche that are going to leave marks that will take generations to recover from fully.
But on the other hand, I think bringing the actually-heroic down to that level in the name of "realism" and "making them relatable" does more harm than good. Sure, darkness defines the light, and you don't have much of a story without a struggle, but an endless slog of that darkness and struggle is really hard to sit through, especially when normally upstanding characters seem to just give into it because actually standing up to it is just too hard. If our heroes constantly compromise their beliefs in the name of expediency or convenience, then of course cynicism will continue. We learn by example. It's the worst of self-fulfilling prophecies.
The second reason ties into the first, and it's that fixation with realism (or realism-adjacency) superhero films have had since the Nolan/Bale Batman movies. "If these characters and situations existed in our world, this is how they'd work," we're repeatedly told. And yeah, maybe that's true, but why would I want to see that? I don't look to superhero storytelling to be a beat-for-beat re-enactment of the world I see every night on the news. I look to superhero stories for an escape from that.
There's nothing wrong with using real world events as a jumping off point, something that can be served up and discussed allegorically (like on this past season of Doctor Who, where we got a two-part episode about religious fundamentalism and terrorism in Zygon drag)... that's the sort of thing superhero stories do very well. But a lot of these movies are getting too bogged down in the details, I think, and the escapist fantasy gives way to too much emphasis on the harsh light of day. Or the harsh gloom of overcast skies at dusk, because a lot of these movies are literally gray nowadays.
I mean, look... when one of your characters is a sentient, nigh-omnipotent android with an Infinity Gem in his forehead and a weird penchant for sweater vests, the real world doesn't really enter into things anymore. Maybe stop trying to show me how a world with this guy in it is just like my world, and instead show me how a world with this guy in it is actually very different from mine. The relatable aspects can all be established pretty easily - hey, their grocery store sells Rice Krispies, too! - so spend the time and effort on the fantastic.
Your mileage may vary, of course. Judging by the weekend box office numbers it probably does, and that's fine. As I said, neither movie was all bad, they both had many things about them I enjoyed and I find myself looking forward to the solo movies for Wonder Woman, Black Panther, and especially the new Spider-Man, so it's not like I'm coming out of these with a completely negative frame of mind and actually want to watch them both again to see if my opinion changes at all. I'm just tired of the doom and gloom, and I don't find bleakness to be entertaining (which is why I can't get into stuff like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, etc.).
Feeling like I need an escapist fantasy to recover from my escapist fantasy seems wrong on so many levels.
"Bleak or not, though, I'm pretty damn cool, amirite?"