First up, this isn’t an anti-Trump post. It’s an anti-Marvel one.
I want to escape the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I’m not being ironic, they actually call it that.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a creation of Marvel Studios, which has been churning out superhero films since 2007, racking up 15 so far, every one of them exactly the same as the last.
In the past year alone we’ve had new Marvel franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr Strange, and Deadpool, as well as being treated to retreads like X-Men 9, Wolverine 3, and Captain America 3.
And they have 11 more in various stages of production, including Thor 3, Avengers 3, the newbie Black Panther, and the third Spider-Man reboot (or 6th film if you’re counting).
Hey, I’m not judging you if you like these pictures, but does the world really need another Spider-Man movie??
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes of various shapes and sizes, from Hulk down to that raccoon character in GOTG, rip and tear the world to pieces as they fight aliens, villains, gods, and mad scientists at every turn. They even fight each other.
There are two main reasons I want to escape (not counting the fact that all these films share the same basic plot).
Firstly, none of them contain a skerrick of actual human drama. Humans are puny, helpless, dispensable. All humans can do is run and hide and quake in fear as the skies and cityscapes above them are filled with Avengers battling evil creatures.
These films portray a universe in which we need superheroes to save us from the evil dudes who want to kill/control/dominate us.
This is so different to when I was a kid in the 70s. Back in those days all our favorite movies were about the power of the individual against the system.
It was Woodward and Bernstein against the corrupt White House in All the President’s Men. It was Robert Redford against the CIA in Three Days of the Condor. It was Popeye Doyle against the French underworld. It was McMurphy against the asylum. It was Rocky against the world.
In Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman played a grad student who singlehandedly foiled a Nazi plot. A grad student, for heaven’s sake! If a grad student ever turned up in a Marvel movie he’d be an overweight loner, living in his parent’s basement, who haplessly hacks the invading alien force’s system and gets fried by lasers.
People made a difference in the movies back then. Even when there were aliens it was a human – Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley – who defeated them.
My second complaint about superhero movies concerns their morality. Things are pretty straightforward in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s good. And then there’s evil. Which is another way of saying there’s us and then there’s them. And the ‘them’ is always ‘out there’.
Back in the day, right and wrong was a lot more complicated. The bad guys were ‘in here’ – the CIA, the military-industrial complex, organized crime.
Robert Redford or Gene Hackman or Warren Beatty might strike a blow against them, but the corrupt system they were battling wasn’t so easy to take down.
And the good guys themselves weren’t always good. They were usually deeply flawed.
Maybe it was because, back then, we’d only recently been through the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, Watergate, Jonestown, and Nixon deputizing Elvis in the Oval Office. The system sucked, man! You couldn’t trust anyone. And we knew our saviors definitely weren’t politicians or big business.
Not so today.
The world conjured up by Marvel is one in which people are powerless, there are insurmountable forces arrayed against us, and only a hero of superior skill and strength can save us.
Enter Donald J Trump, a superhero direct from Marvel’s central casting division.
No one knows the stuff he knows. No one can do the things he can do. He alone can design a healthcare system, defeat ISIS, and stop illegal immigration. During the 2016 campaign he spoke of the challenges facing the United States, things like poverty and violence, terrorism and war, and he offered this solution: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order.”
No appeals to prayer or God. No talk about Americans needing to step up and make a difference in their communities. He alone was the answer to their problems.
More than that, in Mr Trump’s world everything is black-and-white. There are evil guys and there are good guys.
Addressing a gathering of leaders from across the Muslim world in Saudi Arabia this week he spoke about Islamic extremism and explained, “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people, all in the name of religion, and people that want to protect life and want to protect their religion. This is a battle of good and evil.”
I’m not gonna argue that ISIS isn’t evil, but this kind of rhetoric pervades Mr Trump’s worldview. It’s superhero language.
But, as I said, this isn’t an anti-Trump blog post. It’s an anti-Marvel one. We’re all trapped in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it’s messing with our heads.
Marvel is convincing us of our innate uselessness. It tells us we can’t change anything. Only a superhero can make a difference. Only a genius billionaire can save us.
Karl Marx once proclaimed that religion was the opiate of the masses, lulling the proletariat into a stupor, convincing working people it was their destiny to be trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty and injustice.
Today, I blame Hollywood and Marvel Studios. Every new Captain America film lulls us deeper into the slumber of the powerless. Every new Iron Man movie convinces us afresh of our hopelessness. I blame the Marvel Cinematic Universe for Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, Pauline Hansen, and all the other ‘superheroes’ who promise us a solution to our problems and insist only they can lead us to safety and prosperity.
Meanwhile, the real hero – the one who actually did offer us a solution to all human woes – the God-man who came to teach us about a world of justice, reconciliation, beauty and wholeness, and who has offered us the wherewithal to start living it out, is completely overlooked.
6 thoughts on “We don’t need another hero”
There another side to our prevalent worldview too: I don’t need saving; the bad guys are bad but I’m not one of them so I’m ok; it’s only the bad guys who need to be dealt with.
Then there’s the only acceptable solution to the bad guys: kill them. Imagine a marvel movie where the good guys sat down with the bad guys and told them a story, or gave them somethingto eat, or even said “I’m going to die instead of you”.
Nah, that could never happen right?
Like when Hawkeye meets his enemy Scarlet Witch and they have a chat, realise they have common cause and decide to work together instead of fight? Or when Capt. America meets his Soviet counterpart and as an old friend tries to help him, despite the US party line saying no? Or when Loki is creating havoc, but he’s Thor’s brother, right, so how can we get him to behave without actually executing him for his crimes? Many of the good guys in these films are actually borderline bad guys looking for redemption, ex-bads, side-switchers, good guys with different ideologies than the other good guys so despite trying they can’t work together closely, and more.
Describing superhero movies as being bereft of human drama speaks to an inability to relate to the characters of those movies. For example, “that racoon character” is called Rocket, and he hates being called a racoon.
It’s not the 70s any more. Today, superpowered people are a reality, and I think it’s important that our stories reflect this dramatic imbalance of power. What would Trump do about Woodward and Bernstein?
Rhubarb Michael. If you don’t like these movies, don’t watch them, but for crying out loud don’t criticise them for things that aren’t true.
From Fantastic Four comic #1 in 1961 onwards, what made the Marvel heroes different than other publishers characters was exactly that they were flawed and human, not picture perfect black-and-white like all the others.
Bruce Banner – picked-on nerd who gets to have all the testosterone he wants to fight the bullies, but at a horrible cost.
Ant-Man – divorced dad by day, burglar at night. Gets caught by someone he’s stealing from, who gives him a second chance/shot at redemption.
Iron Man – selfish prick/genius who comes to see the havoc his inventions have caused and tries to make things right. Does do a lot of good, but sometimes his best intentions create more problems. Has alcohol and ego issues.
Thor/Loki – sibling rivalry, 2nd child syndrome, etc. What do you do when your brother goes off the rails/wasn’t on the rails to begin with? How do you help someone who will do you over at the slightest opportunity, who is your brother?
Hawkeye – ordinary human who trains really hard and gets to play with the others. He has a secret life – a family! – how does he keep his work life at work and ensure worklife stress doesn’t intrude on wife and kids?
Black Widow – Russian assassin who defects, regrets her past, is dealing with being abused as a child.
Captain America – 50s guy who wakes up after decades in suspended animation. Er, ok. The point of his story – was the classic 90lb weakling who got tough after a govt. experiment; his heroism isn’t because of his toughness, it’s his character – perseverance, doing the right thing, etc. The most ‘white hat cowboy’ of the bunch.
Star Lord – tongue-in cheek name for someone we’d call a larrikin, mischievous, not really on the right side of the law. Meets lots of people who want to fight him, makes alliances with some, loses alliances with others. Yes, there are many shades of grey.
X-Men – kids at a special school. They’re ‘different’, it outsiders, ‘gay’ subtext. Magneto – noble character, Jewish, abused at Nazi concentration camps as a child, unresolved anger puts him often at odds with the ‘white hats’.
Spider-Man – high school kid finds it’s cool to suddenly get all sorts of powers, but they don’t help him get his homework done or get the rent paid.
As I said above, many of the ‘good guys’ in these films are actually borderline bad guys looking for redemption, ex-bads, side-switchers, good guys with different ideologies than the other good guys so despite trying they can’t work together closely, and more.
Far from being unrelatable, unattainable, these characters are full of flaws like regular people, and are a combination of relatability and wish fulfilment.
The worst kind of storytelling is when the person who punches hardest wins. A good story needs odds to overcome, ingenuity and good character rather than brute force. Sure, there’s lots of punching, explosions and so on in these movies, but you’ll find that they are far more about human interaction at their core. If you were to watch them at all, that is.
Comic Book Movies do not tell us villains exist. We already know the villains exist. Comic Book Movies tell us the villain can be overcome.
We are not all so luck in our friends as you, for some these character are we have in the world to hold back the darkness that would swallow us whole.
I for one need another hero.
“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” 1 Timothy 4:7
It might sound silly, but after I became a born-again movies just don’t have the same appeal. In one way or another there is often something about it that is mildly toxic. Morality separate from God. Ambition without God’s direction. Etc.
Be prudent. On a sub-conscious level, cinema is shaping us much more than we realize.