I’m not the comic book geek that I would love to be, mostly because I am poor. I am a HUGE fan, however, of the latest series of Marvel movies that have been released over the last few years. I’ve been reintroduced to old favorite heroes, and brought face-to-face with new loves. One hero in particular, one that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy very much at all, has become a new favorite of mine: Captain America.
I generally go for the geeky types in movies–scrawny, goofy, hunched over a computer/book–but Steve Rogers is none of these things. Okay, he IS scrawny for the first part of the movie, but my point remains. None of the normal character traits that attract me to a fictional character were present, save for one:
Steve Rogers is a good guy.
Oh, you may say, but there are LOTS of good guys. The entire team of Avengers is made up of good guys. I, however, would disagree. Avengers is made up of HEROES, but not all of them are good guys. Tony Stark is an arrogant, selfish jerk learning to be a better person. Thor is a spoiled, arrogant prince who is now well on his way to redemption. Bruce Banner is a shy, reserved do-gooder with a dark secret.
And then there’s Cap. He’s just good. Prior to his being encased in ice for 70-some years, he doesn’t really have a dark or troubled past beyond “got beat up a lot.” He doesn’t have some crippling inner demons to battle. He isn’t fighting to redeem himself, or make amends, or anything of the sort. He’s a good guy because the world needs good guys. He fights for what’s right because it’s right, and worth fighting for. He is genuine, sweet, and prepared to do whatever it takes to save the day because he’s a hero and that’s what he does.
Remember when we didn’t need our good guys to be tragic or troubled all the time? I’m not saying that a dark past or inner demon is a dealbreaker for me when it comes to heroes, I just think that such origins are extremely overplayed anymore. Pretty much every superhero ever, certainly nearly every Marvel superhero, has Daddy issues. Many have committed some atrocity for which they seek redemption. A large number have some crippling character flaw on top of all of their issues from their past. Even the new SUPERMAN movie hints at a grittier, more emotionally conflicted Superman. Superman, former straightlaced defender of truth, justice, and the American way, is apparently going to take some hitchhiking/boating journey to self-discovery.
It’s almost as though we can’t imagine a person, super or not, who lives a relatively well-adjusted life and does right because it’s simply the right thing to do. That deeply saddens me.
There is, of course, another side to this discussion. Also overplayed in recent years are the multitudes of sympathetic villains, misunderstood monsters who are REALLY just trying to (fill in the potentially noble cause here). Although Loki is the obvious example to discuss at this point, as Tom Hiddleston fangirls have clamored to defend the god of chaos, but I think he’s pretty safely in the “evil” category, if with a side of “childish need.”
No, the worst offender in this category, to me, is Sam Raimi’s Spider-man trilogy.
Can we just break down the motivations/predicaments of the villains from these three movies?
Green Goblin–driven insane by an experiment conducted on himself in an effort to save his company. (You even see the man Norman Osborn quaking in fear at the feet of his evil split personality)
Doctor Octopus–driven insane by an experiment gone horribly wrong, resulting in the death of his wife and the sentience of his evil tentacle robots. (He regains his nobility in the end, sacrificing himself to save Peter and MJ.)
Sandman–down-on-his-luck petty thief, trying to care for his wife and child, unwittingly subjected to an experiment that makes him a monster.
Hobgoblin–driven insane by the death of his father, which he mistakenly believed to be the work of Spider-man. (He also nobly sacrifices himself for Spiderman at the end, regaining his honor.)
Venom–admittedly jerkfaced reporter whose job and girlfriend have been stolen by relatively equally jerkfaced Peter Parker, moping about his ruined life in a church, wishing for revenge, when he is unwittingly exposed to the evil symbiote.
One of my favorite things about the new Amazing Spider-Man was the background creepiness of Norman Osborn–it made it clear to the viewer that there was genuine evil going on in the background, even if our primary villain was driven insane by his own experiments as well. Even Lizard, though, had an air of truly sinister intent about him, choosing to continue the transformations even after he had caused death and destruction. Spider-man got to be a good guy (albeit a tragic one), fighting a bad guy.
There are plenty of moral gray areas in life. Fantasy is supposed to be our escape, a place to make sense of the everyday and the mundane through the power of storytelling and imagination. And so sometimes, every once in a while, it’s nice to remember that there are good guys and bad guys–unadulterated, untroubled, unhindered by past baggage or emotional conflict–reminding us that in a world that is often so confusing, absolutes remain. Good and Evil are still real and defined and separate. Even if it’s difficult to discern them in reality, in fantasy they should be abundantly clear.