This is not a movie review, though it’s one of my very, very few posts inspired by watching a movie.
So, I went to see the Avengers (which is SO totally Human Wave.) For those who don’t know me very well, this is under the heading of an anomaly. I rarely go out to the movies. Heck, I rarely watch movies at home. Even those that are highly recommended by friends tend to get forgotten before their theater run ends. But we were taking Friday off as a family, so we went to see the movie…
With much trepidation on my side on whether I’d be able to stand it, we went. Full disclosure – I fell asleep during Star Wars. Twice. Why? Because by that time I was reading science fiction and the plot struck me as “cliche one meets cliche two” and I’m not visual. Also I’ve found in recent times that movies have gone MORE visual, with cut scene to cut scene and minimal dialogue.
Another source of concern is that I hadn’t seen the lead-up, though I keep meaning to watch Iron Man, which we have. And also that I generally don’t watch super hero movies, because…
Well, because modern super heros seem to be like Superman in Five For Fighting’s “It’s not easy to be me” lyrics, you know “I can’t stand to fly/I’m not that naive/I’m just out to find/The better part of me” all the way the incredible touchy-feely wankiness of “men weren’t meant to ride/with clouds between their knees.”
And if you’re saying “But Sarah, it’s the vulnerable side that makes a super hero interesting” … Yeah. It’s the vulnerable/flawed side that makes everyone interesting. But what makes them worth reading about is what they accomplish DESPITE that, not the fact that they’re faster than a speeding bullet and yet whine about being a pretty face beside a train.
Oh, I know when this came in, and I even know why. I read enough pulp to know that one gets tired of the “big muscular hero does stuff” and that is why I like the uncut version of Puppet Masters, because we see why “Sam” runs, and what he does despite his big, sundering flaw. Somewhere along the line the “I’m going to write something totally different” took over, and you end up doing well with it, because no one is doing it… And then suddenly it’s a trend, and then it’s “the way to do things.”
The reason I hate Super Hero stories in general is this ridiculous “his powers are a great burden” and “he just wants to be normal.” Look, children – yeah, we all know people who are very smart or (worse) very beautiful, and we know there is a dark side to it. It’s not all beer and skittles or prom queening and flowers. Yes, their “powers” attract as much envy and hate as they attract admiration and love. BUT ask them… How many would give them up? When they say they would what they mean is NOT “I want to be dumber/uglier” it’s “I want people to accept me and the stupid backbiting to end.” Which again is different from being super man and wishing you were made of tissue paper.
Super heros who spend the movie chewing the scenery about how unfortunate they are and JUST wake up long enough to punch out the villain in the end, make me want to throw things. Of course, this is the fashion in story telling, right now. We seem to have – thank heavens – got over the anti-hero craze of the seventies – even our vampires are defanged before being made heros – but we are still stuck with pop psychology and angst over being heros.
I’m glad to report that Avengers doesn’t have that. It has the required psychological plot (TM) under the idea of team building, but that didn’t bend me out of shape, because… well… it is hard to forge a team of exceptional people. I’ve run enough workshops with extremely talented writers, and had other such professional occasions to know that making a team of gifted people is MUCH harder than making a team of newbies, beginners or people who aren’t special in any way.
What I really liked about the movie is that even though every character is profoundly flawed, the only one who is truly angsty about it is the Hulk and – arguably – he has more reason than any of the others since his shifted form is utterly mindless or close to it. And even though every character is profoundly flawed, they’re not, any of them, (except Hulk) throwing fits over how terrible their fate is, in having these powers. And, oh, by the way, Loki doesn’t turn out to be the good guy all along or even to be just a young man full of high spirits who went wrong TM. Evil is real (if a little simplistic, but then it is a super hero movie, not War and Peace) and good is good, and you know where the line is.
Being myself, I confess that Tony Stark is my favorite character, because I do like characters who don’t take themselves seriously. (“Doth mother know thou wearest her drapes?”) Though Captain America is my second favorite, because he’s a man who does what he has to do. And can any movie be bad that contains the line “Hulk, smash,” as instructions?
Now, this concludes the movie portion of this blog post, and it brings us back around to what is a hero. Not a “superhero” just a hero – a hero of the sort I like to find in books, even when they’re not about heroic actions. And this is my view of it:
1 – A hero is larger than life. What he does and what he can do puts us in awe of him. (Not in “aw” of him.) This despite the fact that
2- A true hero is or should be completely human. Running up against a hail of bullets is yawn worthy, if you’re invulnerable to bullets. Heroes know what can happen to them, face it and
3- Do what they have to do despite knowing how much it will cost them.
4- What they have to do MIGHT be run up against a hail of bullets. Or it might be running into a burning building to save a child – or a cat. Or it might be working three jobs so their kids get through school with no debt. Whatever he does, though
5- He does this without complaining, whining and angsting that would shame a thirteen year old girl, particularly when a thirteen year old girl IS a hero. (I think Hollywood directors caught on that we like the underdog, and think every character, including the hero needs to be the underdog. Trust me, humanizing a character does NOT mean castrating him.)
6 – The hero doesn’t always win, but when he loses, he gets back on his feet and tries again. He doesn’t spend time thinking of giving up his super powers, just so he doesn’t have to fight again. AND he definitely does not wander around all angsty because no one said thank you. The hero does what he has to do, he doesn’t do what he can so he gets thank yous.
7 – I’m not saying that all heros have no internal flaws driving them. Most of them do. Good examples are Black Widow and Hawkeye in this movie, who have oceans of blood to pay for, and know they’ll never clear the bill. These flaws can and should be presented, they just shouldn’t be WHAT the story is about. The story is about the exceptionally good things heroes do. They don’t even have to be particularly good people, they just have to do good stuff.
8 – Heroes don’t have to love people. They do need not to be idiots. (I will admit here that if I hear one more pseudo-profound diatribe about how we’re a cancer/infection on the Earth, there’s going to be broken crockery. This nonsense denotes as much deep thought as saying “We’re all naked under our clothes” another sixties favorite.) By this I mean, they might not love people in general, but they’ll love SOMEONE, or else they might not really like people, but they feel they belong to them. Or else, they might not love people but … as compared to what? The point is, they should be on the side of good and not go looking in the weeds for reasons to hate humanity in order to sound like post-modern-scholars (TM).
9 – The hero needs only ONE outsize quality. That is, your hero doesn’t need super strength or super powers, or x ray vision (which always seemed to me very weird. I mean, who stands in front of a villain and goes “I’d have your kidneys checked.”) A hero needs ONE outsize quality, and it can be something all of us have, but he has more of it. Think Inigo Montoya in Princess Bride and PERSISTENCE. There’s a reason he’s one of sf/f’s favorite characters and totally steals that movie. (And the lady or gentleman in the back who is giggling over “outsize quality,” stop it, or I shall throw a dead fish at you.)
10 – The hero needs to do the heroing. This involves a certain moral quality. It is impossible for us, in this day and age of multiculturalism and “everyone has his reasons” to actually say that without cringing. But heroes have moral certainty. Look, you might or might not be for the death penalty, but Inigo’s certainty he should kill the six fingered man makes us follow him and cheer him. It’s not our moral certainty. It’s his. And the fact that the six-fingered man grossly needs killing just makes it perfect. You’re the writer. You’re in control. You can make villains who need to be destroyed and actions that must be stopped. Like, how many of you will stop on the way to rescue a puppy from being put in a blender to go “well, everyone has his reasons. I need the villain’s take on this?”
But Sarah, you say, I want my heroes and my villains to be done in middle-grades, in fifty shades of gray as it were. I want to be realistic and life-like.
Oh, please, do go ahead. You will probably win several prizes. I just won’t read you. And probably there are a few people who feel like me. I have no objection to THAT market being served, I’m just jazzed to see storytelling come around to where there is some of the stuff I like and where a blockbuster movie unashamedly does the Human Wave.