It’s always dicey to talk about morality in art, partially because art doesn’t really need to be moral, partially because “morality” and “art” are two of the vaguest concepts in any language, such that even mentioning them is enough to inspire a go-nowhere debate. But Chronicle does feel like a harsh moral and artistic corrective to the current decadent phase of the Superhero Movie genre. The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises— and Skyfall and Twilight and kind of The Hunger Games and even The Hobbit and Zero Dark Thirty and Argo – are all movies about heroic heroes who do heroism and are hailed for it, many of them while being insanely attractive and romantically tortured and after crying briefly about dead friends whose legend lives on to inspire the heroes to be heroic.
Chronicle is about absolute power corrupting absolutely. There is no hero; there’s just a guy who stops the villain, and his reward is to lose everything. In its own weird way, it feels like a portrait of an America where everyone thinks they are a superhero — the characters in the film would have just started grade school when Spider-Man hit theaters. It makes other Superhero Movies look simple — and silly — by comparison.
The Superhero Delusion, from Entertainment Weekly of all places.
He has a point. Especially with Iron Man. The movie completely drops the reason why Stark was more than a cardboard character. His alcoholism. A lot of heroes don’t even have the small amount of depth their original incarnations possessed. In the Avengers especially, because if you read the Ultimates-the comic series which defined those incarnations-virtually every negative aspect of them is gone. Thor was seen as possibly delusional, imagining he was a god. Iron Man was definitely an alcoholic. The Hulk killed people, and had no self-control, something which for the longest time made the comic bearable. Hawkeye was more like Bullseye-more of an assassin. It really is heroic heroes doing heroic things.
This can work though. One of the things that always struck me about C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, and which for some reason is rarely repeated is something like this:
You are called to enter Narnia, and eventually, you must lay your power down and leave it.
You can have a heroic hero doing heroic things, but eventually he must lay his power down and accept that it isn’t his to keep. The boy and girl defeat the evil king, and must lay their sword and their wand back into the magical river from which they came. Or your power ends when you reach the age of fourteen, or you find the only reason you are a superhero is because of the villain-when he is defeated, you lose your powers.
I think this enables truly heroic characters without the dangers you find in that article. They can be heroic, because in the end, the power is not theirs, and only their nature is such. Their nature realizes that the power can be a source of temptation and corruption if not used lawfully, so when the time comes, it must be given up.
The realization of this can be poignant. It was sad when Peter and Susan were told by Aslan they were too old to enter Narnia again. It’s sad to think of a boy and a girl having to step through a magic gate for the last time, with only the warmth of each others hands and the memories they possess of a heroic struggle all they have to hold them back in our mundane world. But I have to admit, it’s far better than watching heroes becoming one-note and well, boring.
Batman is boring. Nolan ruined the character, despite the animated movies often heroically embracing Batman and all his flaws. Seriously, watch Gotham Knight-it pains me that DC makes so many great animated Batman tales that no one seems to watch.
Iron Man is boring. Robert Downey Jr. is a great actor, but he’s infusing life into a shell of a character who has no texture. ADHD wish fulfilment. All you need to do is leak that his armor runs on Linux and you’ve made him perfect.
Spiderman is so boring they had to constantly split him off into normal and ultimate versions, and he’s been replaced and killed so many times that I lose track. For one, brief moment, he was not boring during the Civil War, when he unmasked to support registration.
Superman is boring, and even comic geeks admit it.
The X-men are, well, boring. It’s weird to see the admittedly third-tier X-factor crew outshine them simply because they possess flaws and actual character.
Good god, Thor. You realize he had what, 400 issues of comics before he had his movie? That he was barely one step-above Sub-mariner in being the Aquaman of the Marvel universe? That for the longest time, the God of Thunder was an orange horse-faced alien named Beta Ray Bill? He’s so boring that he’s constantly upstaged by his own nemesis, Loki. Who the Avengers movie made completely boring too. When does a trickster god fight hand-to-hand, anyways?
Yeah, I know I’m ranting. But the article touched a nerve. Maybe all these heroes need to finally lay the power down. Maybe holding on to the power is what is killing these characters. All of the ones I have listed have existed for thirty years, or even more. The comics industry has run out of tales they can tell, so they either have events, in which something happens and it’s the story, reboots, in which they just make up a whole new origin, (Spiderman is a Hispanic teenager! There are four Supermans! Lets play musical chairs with X-men members!) and a revolving door of characters they throw at the teams and hope they stick (Wolverine has a son! No wait, he has X-23, which is what, a daughter? Why not give him a dog next? Don’t get me started on Cable.) None of these really work.
I think I’m going to watch Chronicle tomorrow. Though I hear the shaky-cam is murder. I wonder if it lives up to this writer’s ideals.