Is it just me, or do you miss a good bad guy in movies these days? I first noticed in last year’s James Bond blockbuster “Spectre.” Suddenly all those times 007 saved the world were reduced to a beef between James and his adoptive brother. There was no world threatening bad guy, just a jealous son. Oh sure, he was threatening the world, but not for conquest, just to get at his brother. (minor spoiler alert) This past weekend’s megahit “Captain America Civil War” suffers from the same issue. Worse than the Bond film, the world-wide threat in this most recent movie ended up being no threat at all, it was just a feint to get Cap and Iron Man at each others throats. Oh yeah, and the bad guys motivations? – His family was killed as collateral damage in an Avengers action.
If these films, and a lot of others, are any indication apparently the biggest threats that face mankind are now all deeply personnel. Something has significantly changed in the four years since the original Avengers movie came out. The heart of that original movie was Tony Stark overcoming his rampant narcissism to make a truly and profoundly self-sacrificial act, thus preventing genuine world wide catastrophe. In the current Cap movie everyone is a narcissist. The movie is a battle of egos, not a battle of good vs evil. And the worst thing, absolutely the worst thing, is that absent a “good” bad guy, there are no heroes. Rather than presenting me with a hero of character to aspire too, this movie reduces my “heroes.” They are not the least bit heroic, but rather mired in the same muck I am struggling so hard to overcome in my own life.
This must mean that the people that put these movies together, investing hundreds of millions of dollars, see this as what the movie going public wants. If these movies are any judge, no longer do we want to be inspired or called to be better, rather we want to know that those that are apparently so superior are the same schmucks we are. It is easy to blame narcissism as the source of this phenomena, but I also wonder if it has something to do with the fact that we no longer perceive genuine evil?
In the end, I suppose one could argue that these movies reveal a deep truth, that evil is not a them vs us thing, but rather we are the source of evil. But these movies fail to make that point, they seek to have us sympathize on some level with everybody. I don’t disagree that many that perpetuate genuine evil in the world do so from understandable motivations, probably even some deep pain. But such is not really the point, at some juncture they made a decision that their pain and their motivation justified their evil acts, and when they did so they sacrificed their claim to sympathy.
If only the films protagonists sought to fight their own impulses as valiantly and defiantly as they chose to battle aliens and monsters. There is nothing wrong with having our heroes have personal demons just like the rest of us, that makes them relatable. But if we want them to be heroes in the true sense of the word, they need to overcome those demons. In “Spectre” Bond gets his brother and then walks away as if all conflict ever is resolved, he never battles with himself at all. In “Civil War” nothing is resolved really. In the much-maligned “Dawn of Justice” the Batman/Superman conflict is simply over-ridden by a much larger conflict that requires their unity. None of these are satisfying for none of them offer genuine hope.
The real superhero teaches us that our hope lies not in a hero, but in ourselves. I am lucky – somewhere along the line I figured out that, that there is no super-soldier serum, no armor and I could never train hard enough to be Batman. (I think I studied chemistry in hopes of replicating the accident that produced The Flash, but I was wrong. )
But I did find a super-power. Christianity gives me access to the supernatural. God is by definition supernatural. A proper relationship with God, through Christ, gives me access to that super-natural power. No, I can’t fly, no cool tech, not muscular enough to restrain a helicopter, but with what God has given me, I am powerful enough to struggle with my own inner demons. The battle is not over, but the end is in sight – there is hope.
Given the state of our pop-culture movies these days, the nation seems to have lost that hope. That’s too bad because that hope is still there if we just look in the right place.