Not A Superman Review
This is not a Superman: Man of Steel review. For that, kindly see my sister’s post last week on sufficient thoughts about that production. I am not going to write today my feelings on the movie because, as I’ve mentioned, this is not a Superman review.
But just to be clear, I’m not reviewing Superman today.
That out of the way, Man of Steel was boring. Partly because of the reasons my sister mentioned and partly because I’m not a fan of comic book movies. Woe befall me for this is clearly not my generation to dislike comic book entertainment. We’re inundated with the material. There’s a practical deluge of comic bookiness pouring from every orifice of society. Trilogies upon trilogies of the silly stuff cram our summer theatres. Television is trying their own hand with the Avenger’s spin-off starring a remarkably unimportant member of the film. Arguably, we can thank comic books for Intelligence as well as it has quite a few tropes typically reserved for the graphic novel genre.
Oh, and let’s not forget the video games.
It may be a little incongruous for someone who writes fantasy and science fiction to dislike comic books. Even more bordering hypocrisy, I read quite a few when I was a child. I collected, almost religiously, the Power Pack series and I shudder to think how awful those stories are now that I’m much older and capable of actual taste. But, to be fair to my younger self, youths have terrible quality control and if there is ever a market for gluttonous devouring of the power fantasy, children would be that market.
I mean, to throw some psychology at the topic, the Theory of Mind is the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others as well as understand that people have different beliefs, intentions and desires from our own. It takes around four to five years of development for us to realize others can have thoughts that are wrong (see the pencils in a Smarties box experiment) and it can take up to seven years for children to understand points of view (see Piaget and the three mountains task). This gave rise to the egocentrism concept – a characterization of preoccupation with an individual world that regards the self’s opinions and views as being the most important and most valid. Though most theories of development basically stick with children and that’s it (the pedophiles), David Elkind found that adolescents exhibit many characteristics of egocentrism up to fifteen and sixteen years of age. This is evident in the obsessive pre-occupation with one’s own self-image and the idea that everyone else is as obsessed with that individual’s appearance and behaviour as the teenager is herself*. If you don’t trust Elkind, you can kind broach the topic of acne with any teenager and learn the trials, tribulations and world devastating effects a simple pimple can have on the poor adolescent.
Given the pre-eminence of their own feelings and experiences, I’m willing to make the leap that children (youths to teens) are quite happy to read comic books which feature heroes of such astounding power, perfection and coif hairedness as to be little more than caricatures than actual characters so they can live vicariously through those experiences as if they were their own. They love the power fantasy because it makes them feel powerful. Given that youths typically have low self determination as they still live at home and beneath their parents rule, the idea of being able to fly around the world, fight aliens and be universally celebrated I propose would be highly appealing.
So, yes, I loved reading the Power Pack because it was about four siblings who inherited super powers from aliens and saved the world. As they were also children, it was far easier for me to imagine being a Power Pack member and enjoy their exploits in fighting the monster of the week. Course, as I grew older, wiser, more educated and mentally developed, these stories failed to grow with me. Comic books rarely exhibit complex characterization. Watch Man of Steel if you don’t believe me. The worst thing that happened to Clark Kent was that his adoptive father got sucked up in a tornado so that Old Yeller could live long enough to be quietly replaced by some other pooch later in the film when the director assumed everyone stopped caring about the mongrel.
That’s your standard fare for comic books. Few demonstrate as much complexity as The Watchmen. And rightfully so as I’m not convinced that a pre-pubescent should really be reading the Watchmen with its gratuitous violence and attempted rape. I mean, I suppose they could read that but they’re going to need some adult explanation to understand what’s going on, especially given the complexity of the situations involved (the attempted rape eventually developed into a relationship between the two characters… so… yeah…). But that was the point of The Watchmen, to add a level of realism and gravity to the otherwise fluffy and irrelevant comic book genre. When all your characters are paragons of virtue or wickedness, it’s really easy to run dry of novel or interesting plot lines. Of course, comic books aren’t really milling the literary genre for depth or profundity. Most of the time, the story arcs are the filler between splashy panels where your super powered heroes can punch various wickedness through walls and other obstructions.
You can see that clearly in the movies. Man of Steel was essentially two acts with the first mostly faffing about with Supes as he struggled to get through the modern economy holding a handful of unrelated jobs. The second half was just an all out brawl between Clark and his extended family when all that prior fancy camerawork was turned towards such thrilling moments involving Russel Crowe opening doors and a bunch of CGI buildings doing their best Tohoku 2011 shuffle. Things happened but never for any real purpose. Amy Adams presence was demanded at a bunch of locations presumably so we would have some perky bosom to see us through since Diane Lane’s getting a little worn for that duty.
But no greater example of this fluff over substance is there than The Avengers. Josh Whedon’s magnum opus, if box office sales are any measure, features a thrilling two and a half hours of computer generated laser showing with a total of zero minutes to any character development. This is made grossly apparently since every Marvel movie following The Avengers has had to cover the character development – from Tony Stark’s post-traumatic stress disorder in Iron Man 3 and Chris Hemsworth presumably having to pout for a good twenty or thirty seconds before beating up some snerfnerblerm.
Course, presumably, this is exactly what the audience wants. They want mindless explosions. They want joyless quips between boring, tired ubermenschen that have fifty years of existence with no character growth or change. They want to see the bad guys lose and the good guys win. I guess it’s fun to see the struggle of good and evil play over and over again since that’s about as much thematic depth as these flicks ever come close to exploring. I guess it’s entertaining to see what few interesting ideas the comics barely explore in their tangentic rambling on such topics like exclusion, discrimination and racism before having the heroes solve all their problems with a fist to the face reduced to even simpler terms to fit into chunk sized hour morsels.
I wouldn’t know, I find comic book movies boring.
*For those who care: Elkind D (December 1967). “Egocentrism in adolescence”. Child Dev 38 (4): 1025–34. http://www.psychlotron.org.uk/newResources/cogdev/A2_AQB_cogDev_egocentrismTests.pdf