I prefer heroes, including superheroes, to be loners.
When I was a kid, Batman was on TV, Superman was on at the cinema and I had my very own Spiderman action figure. As an adult, I’m still open to the idea of watching and enjoying a good superhero movie. But I have no real interest in ‘superhero-universe’ films, such as Marvel’s Avengers films or the X-Men films. I just don’t want my superheroes to be hanging around in gangs. I don’t find that appealing at all.
Fundamentally, why do people like superheroes? Perhaps the main reason is that we like to fantasise about having superpowers to help us deal with life’s problems. It feels good to imagine how you could use your superpowers to teach your enemies some lessons they’ll never forget.
But the type of hero I particularly like is the enigmatic loner hero — a hero as a celebration of the strength and fortitude of the individual, standing alone, the one against the many, fighting for values and principles that others have long since abandoned.
Why? Perhaps it’s because that’s a reflection of the heroic characters I admire in real life, or in more realistic movies. I admire principled people. Often outnumbered, often alone, they fight for what they believe is right, no matter how many people oppose them or despise them.
Gary Cooper’s Marshall Will Kane in High Noon — that’s my idea of a hero character. And Gary Cooper himself was a very principled, heroic character in real life, too.
Superheroes, of course, aren’t just ordinary heroes. They’re heroes with superpowers. But that, for me, doesn’t change the fundamentals of what makes a hero a hero.
And I suppose I like loner heroes because I’m something of a loner myself — so I find it easier to relate to and empathise with such characters.
Modern, Avengers-style movies, on the other hand, don’t hold any attraction for me. These films’ superheroes exist in a world of many other superheroes. Their uniqueness is compromised. Yes, the individual superhero’s powers are different from those of the other superheroes, but far from acting alone, they are one of many, operating as part of a team.
Crucially, this teamwork factor de-emphasises a key facet of what being a hero is traditionally about; the strength of character to do what you believe in, even when you have little or no support from anyone else. The ‘lone hero’ idea that is central to so many classic hero films — from High Noon and A Fistful of Dollars to Dirty Harry and Taken — is largely discarded. And it’s replaced by a team ethos and interpersonal conflicts within the team — which, frankly, I couldn’t give a shit about.
And just as I don’t want the superhero to have friends with superpowers, I don’t want the bad guys to have superpowers either. Again, this undermines the hero’s uniqueness.
Plus, the mismatch of superhero powers against relatively ordinary enemies is where a lot of the fun and coolness of a superhero movie comes from. A violent criminal shoots at the hero and sees the bullets just bounce off. It’s amusing and satisfying to see the bad guy so bemused and so overpowered.
A young thug has cornered a young woman in an alley and intends to rape her. But here comes Robocop (the original Peter Weller incarnation, of course). And this moronic dick-for-brains is about to get the surprise of his life. He’s pathetic in his attempts to stand up to our hero.
He holds the woman at knifepoint and threatens to kill her if Robocop doesn’t back down. But this is no problem at all for Robocop, whose technologically-advanced aiming system allows him to shoot the would-be rapist’s balls off. It’s not a close contest. It’s satisfying precisely because it’s such a comically one-sided battle.
Even the main bad guy of a movie, who may sometimes look strong, can ultimately be comically outmatched by the good guy with principles. And we can fantasise about how great it would be if more real life bad guys could be made to endure a similarly humiliating fate.
It’s true that, even in the better superhero movies, scriptwriters may be required to write in some sort of extra-powerful bad guy with whom the hero can have a big battle at the end of the film. Ideally, however, he won’t actually have any superpowers. Instead, his power will come from being in charge of some sort of criminal organisation. Or perhaps he’s in charge of an evil corporation. Just like with bad guys in real life, he’s assisted by henchmen and by ordinary people who’ve effectively been forced to work as his slaves. But one man (or woman) stands in his way.
But when the bad guys have superpowers too, the humour of the traditional ‘superhero meets villain’ mismatch is lost. Having a superhero over-matched against a villain, is intriguing and entertaining. But if you match someone with superpowers against someone with superpowers, it may be no more intriguing than a fight between two ordinary people. The principle source of humour and one of the keys to satisfaction, is lost.
Got a politician who won’t listen to you? It’s fun to fantasise about being able to use your superpowers to make his head explode. But if the politician is given some sort of super-shield to protect them from your head-exploding superpowers, you’re just back where you started; talking to a politician who won’t listen to you. And, funnily enough, I don’t want to fantasise about taking to a politician who won’t listen to me. That’s the sort of crap we have to put up with in real life. I want to fantasise about having the power to make politicians listen to me.
So no, I don’t want supervillains and I don’t want superheroes hanging around in gangs, squabbling over their interpersonal conflicts. I want traditional, loner heroes, standing up for what’s right, against the gangs of bad guys and the brainwashed masses — because that’s what true heroes are like in the real world.
Now, please excuse me whilst I go and watch Taken again to cheer myself up. It’s far from being the greatest film ever made, but at least it’s got the sort of tough, single-minded, determined loner hero I can relate to.
The only superpower this guy needs is his single-minded determination to hunt down the bad guys, find them and then kill them. On his own!
Yeah. Now that’s more like it!