Are you on the edge of your seat in anticipation for The Bourne Depression? Did you get your movie groove going hard with the series announcement for Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Questions His Existence? Do you commonly think to yourself, “This fight scene is great, and I love that the bad guy is about to get theirs, but what I’m really in the mood for with my action films these days is someone having a thoroughly solid pity party in a dank basement and/or apartment right now. Like, at least half of the entire story. Yeah, that’d be the stuff of popcorn and satisfaction, right there. Why, Gods of Action, why must that itch go unscratched?!” Well, my angst debilitating, non-thrill seeking friend, what you need to do is ditch those lame-o secret agent military police types and get you some of that superhero action.
Ok, I’ll give you the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but as for pretty much every other major comic-turned-live action property out there right now, why do the showrunners, directors, and writers seem so obsessed with making superheroes as sad and as failed as they can? They’re all saddled with crippling self-doubt and as many skeletons as a writer can cram into their closets. Guilt, depression, failed relationships, drinking problems, anger issues, family issues, and loss, you know, all the stuff of inspiration and “What I want to be when I grow up” assignments.
Somewhere around the time when pretentious comic-book nerds and film students transitioned from that cafe with Russ Meyer posters on the walls over to Twitter, the edgiest theory that they all bought in to was that sadness and failure equal drama. Hook, line, and stinker. “Uh, it’s called character development” the snarky tweets will counter. Hell, I know they’ve seen Reservoir Dogs back when it was a VHS rental, but I’m going to disagree with them anyway. Character development? Yeah, if you’re developing a character that was made to be inspiring and fun into an asshole.
“It’s about the deconstruction of the…”
Deconstruction has become the faux-hawk of superheroes. It’s not automatically edgy to muddy up the fun of a person that dresses up and fights evil. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be every character every time, and all those shmucks that still chub-up at the thought of Batman saying “fuck” don’t have to be a demographic on your radar because they’re going to watch your Batman movie anyways. The “We won, but at what cost” themes have their place, but you’ve got to build to them. When Zack Snyder decided to have Batman and Superman hate each other and get to fighting at their first meeting, it sucked. It super-sucked and you want to know why? Because the story didn’t earn that. There was no build. Borrowing themes from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns got all of those previously mentioned shmucks all excited, yet it didn’t work because there had been decades of successes and friendship between those two characters before he wrote that story. Snyder wanted to skip everything that gave their adversarial relationship weight in Miller’s book and get right to the end game first in his movie. Big surprise that no one resonated with the imagery and anger taken completely without the years of context behind it.
The modern checklist seems to include making sure the superhero doesn’t dress in costume until way, way later, if ever, and maybe they’ll have to deal with the loss of their powers. They lost their powers? It’s only the third episode ever! How many episodes are there? Thirteen. Dang. And they’re hour long episodes?! So you’re giving me a superhero that’s not super or heroic for nine more hours before giving them their hero stuff back in the final 15 minutes of the season finale. Nine hours. Will they be whiney about it? Immensely, you say. And everyone around them dies. And the bad guy gets away. The villain character seems pretty fleshed out, though. Oh, that’s who you thought the crux of the journey actually was with. Spinoff hopes? For the bad guy? Am I confused? Not at all. It sounds very dramatic.
It feels a bit like going to a sushi restaurant and expecting me to be cool about your having thrown sauerkraut over my order in the name of drama. You wouldn’t be surprised if your restaurant had to close, would you? That’s why your movie flopped, your series got cancelled, and The Hollywood Reporter will publish an article about the fall of the superhero in Hollywood. How about we try letting the superheroes be super and heroic for a while. How about we try giving them some clear victories that feel great. How about we see them driven to help people by the desire to do good instead of the demons of their past. There’s nothing wrong with letting the audience actually look up and admire your superhero and there’s nothing wrong with a hero that has made the moral choices in their life. Maybe they just have the spare costume in the closet instead of a skeleton. Maybe your drama can come from the fact that they have to stand up and stop the forces that are in complete contradiction to what they stand for. Trust me, the superhero knows what they stand for, it’s your writers' room that got in the way of it.
Since the majority of people that go to these movies and watch some of these television series aren’t comic book readers, let me put it in this funless context. Imagine an Indiana Jones series where the opening episode finds a drunk and self-destructive Indy in the basement of his home. The doorbell keeps ringing but the disdain on his unwashed face will only recognize a swig from the bottle of whiskey in front of him. Marcus Brody (that dude who works with him at the university and can’t ride a horse worth a damn) lets himself in and finds his friend all being woe is me. He tells Indiana that Belloq (the evil French dude from the first movie that spoke Hovitos) has been spotted in Tangiers, or some shit, with Nazis, and they’re about to obtain some occult relic that will crush their enemies and remake the world in their image. A relic that’s been on Indy’s to-do list his entire life. But Indiana lashes out at his old friend. He cut all ties to him last year. Marcus is better off without him in his life. He’s poison, he says. He brings nothing but sorrow and death to anyone he cares about. That’s not true, Marcus tries to say, and it wasn’t your fault. Stop blaming yourself. But not after what happened to Short Round. How could he? Willie still hasn’t forgiven him for Shorty’s death and her disfigurement rests on his shoulders as well. Can you blame Marion for disappearing? Sallah’s betrayal came at too high a cost. He vowed he would never wear the hat or whip again. He’s better off dead.
This goes on for six hours worth of episodes. Seriously.
Joyless, uninspired, and grossly misappropriated, these sad-ass non-superheroic superhero interpretations need to stop. I signed up to vicariously live through a fictional character wearing an unrealistic outfit who loves every second of punching holes through mountains with optic blasts from their face to stop evil. I don’t know if that counts as drama but it sure does sound like a lot more fun to me.