Perhaps it’s time we mourn the death of the super hero
When I was a kid, one of the most teeth-gnashing frustrations I had was that my parents were never on the same page as me in regards to priorities.
Sure, food on the table was great and probably necessary but come on, Atari? That square slick joystick with a single blood red button looked more like an actual missile launcher than the purveyor of Sunday afternoon digital tennis. Who would not want that? Food can wait.
But food was what we had, and a roof over our heads and warm blankets, but no Atari in sight. The world shaded into ashen grey for this punk as I slowly shrugged to the idea that I was never going to own an Atari. I just could not understand why no one took my priorities seriously. I mean, I was not asking for a trip to Disneyland or anything. I just wanted to crack the ‘Space Invaders’ high score. That’s all.
The comic book movie genre has grown up with the recently released Logan. The James Mangold-directed film is garnering plenty praise for its gritty treatment of the Wolverine character. Hugh Jackman plays the character with a brevity and hopelessness that has never been seen previously, not even when he was staring down the cosmic gauntlet of the universe-consuming Phoenix entity. Unlike the last seven outings for the character, there is no verve or cigar-chewing spunk here, replaced by the debasing effects of regret and resignation. Logan is not a movie about heroes. It is a movie about people.
Gone are the anchoring concepts of heroes against their counterparts. There aren’t enough heroes, if you can even call them that, to go around in this film anyway. No Han Solo ace card that you can be flung in as cavalry. If Bryan Singer’s films were meant to showcase the benefits of not being alone, then Logan is the opposite tangent of that experiment. But make no mistake, Logan is an exceptional film, moving at suitable pace, steeped in multi-fold tragedy and anchored on a character that already compels a lot of people. It is not an exceptional comic book film, it is an exceptional film. Praise of the film has been unanimous, most agreeing that the film elevates the genre to another beast altogether, which brings me to a grouse I’ve been having.
If the comic book movie genre previously existed as brash rebellious teenager that refuses to stare into the humbling road of grown up responsibilities, then Logan is the sound of it being forcefully dragged into adulthood, by the hair, kicking and yelling. Mangold was leaving no stone left unturned by giving us the uncushioned deal concerning adult responsibilities and issues in an almost pornographic way at times. From substance abuse, financial woes, to unprepared parenting and even caring for the elderly sick, Mangold spared little. These issues are not uncommon in the pages of a lot of comic books of course, but the intensity by which they are dealt with here, the character that has been left to deal with them, culminated by the fact that we are seeing this being played out on a large screen, budgeted by millions, made certain scenes a minor torture to watch.
Some would argue that The Dark Knight had already achieved this years ago, a comic book film that stuffy adults can be proud of watching, but I’ve begged to differ. The grittiness of that film was largely self-serving, and wasn’t designed to elicit a paradigm shift out of its audiences. There was still a hero intending to be a hero and a villain, with intentions that are far too senseless to be anchored in reality. The issues being debated throughout the film remained largely fantastical. If anything it was the only instant where Batman was done right. Perhaps we’ve confused realism with a tightly executed comic book film that just happens to be grounded in a form of reality.
As much as comic book movies can slap the faces of film fascists with their thick ledgers of ticket sales, like any kid, they long to be invited to sit at the table of adults, to be taken seriously. Logan may just be their long awaited pass. It is therefore unfortunate that it was not able to earn its seat by being true to itself, and the genre it comes from. That it needed to mature to earn its seat just leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth.
Detractors to comic book films would proclaim that the utopia of the genre is to be taken seriously by proper film people. Then again what does that mean anyway? To win a ‘Best Picture’ Oscar? Logan probably has a decent chance. A nomination at the very least. That may not mean much to fans who are just glad they can actually see Josh Brolin playing Thanos these days, but to the people who are actually making these films, it represents a longed seat at the adults table. That chip on the shoulder is probably not going to go away anytime soon, no matter how many box offices you crush.
But I say that the utopia should be more. That these films are taken seriously because they’ve had to change to type appears to be a hollow celebration at best. Instead, they should be invited to the adults table on their own terms, still a budding kid dreaming fantastic dreams that are bathed in bright Technicolor, instead of a weathered man raked with the cares of adulthood who once dared to dream exciting dreams. That should be the utopia instead.
We as a society often encourage kids to dream big, but in actual fact we want them to dream old, to have dreams that align with the priorities and perspectives of adults. That’s just disappointing. There is nothing more fascinating than the uncouth imagination of a child. My concern is that comic book films will start getting used to having a seat at the adults table, to churn films that would offer them that permanent pass. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Logan. But I enjoyed The First Avenger as well. And I need these two tangents to exist in a neat balance for me to be contented as a fan of comic book films. I certainly do not want to be force-fed a Justice League movie trying to mask itself in Blue Valentine threads. Well, at least not too often. I say, let kids be kids and love them for it.
Sigh, if only that happened to me, I would’ve owned an Atari.