Violence, ‘Realism’ and Hope in the Superhero Movie

aquaman jason momoa justice league batman v superman unite the seven first look realism hope james wan

So I was watching this video recently, about the reasons why you should look forward to an Aquaman movie (this is really the only reason you need) and one of the things that was mentioned is the fact that he doesn’t have a ‘no kill code’ like Superman and Batman.

Now, in theory, I can understand that. It’d be a pretty interesting contrast against the other characters, and might fit in quite well with the idea of the character as a king with responsibilities.

But… I’m not convinced that something like that is a selling point, because it’s that contrast which would make things interesting – and that, of course, doesn’t really exist.

Man of Steel was the most gratuitously violent and destructive movie I’ve seen… well, ever, actually. I can’t call to mind any movie that’s even close to resembling that level of destruction, where it deliberately harks back to 9/11 and plays upon that imagery (which is messed up on whole other levels, but I’m not going to get into that, because I’m really not qualified to.)

To then go on to say that another DC hero is sometimes willing to take a life is really quite disingenuous… but it does beg the question, why is that actually a selling point?

Generally, I prefer superhero films to be a fun, enjoyable affair. I mean, I’m not against the occasional movie shaking things up a bit for dramatic purposes, because that can be a pretty compelling story, but on the whole, superheros are meant to be a symbol of hope. People with great powers and abilities, who use those talents to help other people, and improve their lives? What else is that apart from a story of hope?

What’s strange though is that the split is pretty much entirely DC and Marvel. I suppose what this comes from is The Dark Knight trilogy – the only DC superhero film to have been really successful was more in that vein of gritty realism, whereas when they tried something outside that mould, they ended up with… well, Green Lantern. (I actually quite enjoyed Green Lantern, it’s a lot of fun. Similarly, I liked The Dark Knight trilogy because, whilst they were serious, they never took the turn towards being crushingly bleak.)

Marvel, on the other hand… well, Guardians of the Galaxy opens with their hero dancing to this song. I don’t think there’s really any better way for me to explain the difference! (I loved Guardians of the Galaxy for this very reason, in case it wasn’t obvious)

The point though is that The Dark Knight made money and that Green Lantern didn’t so much was not due to their tone, but a whole host of other reasons. To suggest that people prefer that kind of tone based on that alone is rather a mistake – which is obvious enough from the Marvel movies. (Chris Pratt says some interesting things about the tone of Guardians of the Galaxy at the beginning of this video)

With the state of the world as it is, I don’t want these symbols of hope to take that veneer into cynicism and darkness. Misery and pain is not intrinsically more ‘adult’, and if it is, that isn’t something to aspire to.

Make us believe that a man can fly… and enjoy flying.

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