I am a child of movie rentals, cable television, video games, comic books, and I have an internal conflict raging. By the end of this maybe it’ll be over.
There’s a part of me drawn to the darker, grittier side of film, television, and video game entertainment. The bloodlust and nihilism that can only be satiated by shoot-em-ups, zombies, and endless violence bereft of meaning or consequence.
But that’s not who I am, not really. Call of Duty, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead appeal to the baser part of my nature. But when I come up from the pessimism and the blood and guts, my lizard brain now fed, I regain a sense of what I truly want when intellect and hope seize control. I am a person of optimism, a person who really wants a better, safer world. No poverty, hunger, war, discrimination, just a Gene Roddenberry-esque utopia.
However, entertainment is dominated by the needlessly violent and the ridiculously hypersexual. I was a Call of Duty addict, but I fancied myself a tactician, participating in the online skirmishes like an operative might actually do in real life situations. Set an ambush, lay a trap, use guerrilla tactics. Not run into the middle of firefights and try to kill as many as I could. When I watched The Walking Dead, I thought about what I might do in their shoes, how I could or couldn’t survive in such a world. I didn’t sit in feverish anticipation for the next awesome zombie kill or wait with baited breath to see which underdeveloped, poorly written character would be offed next. When I watched Game of Thrones I kept wanting and hoping for the Starks to reunite, for a good guy, a clear good guy to win something, anything, and decisively at that. I didn’t tune in for the tits and the fighting and sheer horror of betrayals committed in plot twists. It’s just an R-rated soap opera, nothing more.
After witnessing the record ratings and sales of these sorts of offerings this past year and coupled with a few of the more recent blockbuster movie releases I find that I am feeling left behind by modern entertainment. Not entirely, mind you. Just a little bit at a time. There are still games with morals and consequences, for example the Mass Effect Trilogy. There are still shows with warmth and heart, Community and Parks and Recreation come to mind. There are still movies with a message, that leave you fuller at the end like The Beasts of the Southern Wild.
But Game of Thrones offers you no solace. The Walking Dead doesn’t have a soul (or a plot). And Call of Duty does not teach you anything, or force you to think.
The recent movie releases I earlier referred to are Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel. Both had me in high hopes, being a Trekkie and simultaneously a fan of Supes. What I received for my positive outlook was garbage. Pretty garbage, gorgeous garbage even, but garbage all the same. STID was Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan made sexier and gussied up for non-Trekkies and with a couple of “Aren’t I clever?” twists to throw the faithful off the scent. What made WoK so great was that it was a continuation of a great episode from the original series and it explored consequences, ego, and sacrifice. STID tried, but only halfheartedly. Abrams may have loved the original, a claim I find dubious, but he doesn’t get Star Trek. There are no consequences to the story, nothing, you could argue, actually results in the conclusion of the film’s events. In the Star Trek universe there are hard decisions to be made, and sometimes, shit just happens and you as the fan see it unfold, and it has permanence. Aside from the science fiction universe of Star Trek, the reality of difficult choices and what happens thereafter is what makes the source material so compelling. Not Chris Pine’s or Alice Eve’s bodies and a million lens flares.
And then there’s Man of Steel. I for one, actually like director Zack Snyder, but I think his work post-Watchmen has an aura that leads one to believe he’s been drinking too much of his own Kool-Aid. 300 is one of the greatest actioners from the last decade and Watchmen is both the most beautiful and haunting comic book adaptation ever made while also one of the most forgotten and underrated. Man of Steel on the other hand is pretty, but it ultimately makes no sense. For starters, why was everyone so excited for General Zod again? I think Michael Shannon is the kind of intense actor that makes you wonder if he’s actually insane, but in a good way, like you want. That said, why the hell was everyone clamoring to see what they’d already seen?
As for Superman himself, you can update a classic character’s settings, bring them into more modern times, but you can’t change who they essentially are. You don’t fuck with the canon. A for instance, if you will: The BBC’s current iteration of Sherlock Holmes. It’s set in modern London, but Sherlock is still Sherlock. Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the character would work in any version of the classic Conan Doyle stories. He’s still an addict, potentially has Asperger’s, and is an arrogant jerk at times, willing to bend the rules if morally justifiable. Superman is not any of those things. He is, in a way, a Christ figure. He has powers no one else has, and yet he doesn’t abuse them. He only wants to help people and sees himself as their equal and no greater. When faced with an enemy, he doesn’t kill, he proves himself better than both his enemy AND the common man by finding another solution. Why have the monologue from Jor-El wherein he says, “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards” if he’s just going to end up killing, a result in no way superior to what anyone else could offer? It’s the writing equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot, and it also flies in the face of what Superman stands for.
The gritty film reboot worked for Batman, but only because it was sourced from the comic book canon. We can accept him as a darker character, because he’s been that way for a good while, and hey, he’s only human, right? Eh, that’s not good enough for me. If there’s one thing you don’t hear about Superman it’s that.
Entertainment is made to entertain, to escape, you may counter. But why? If all you’re doing with your entertainment choices is escaping then when are you ever challenged? When do you ever think? What does it amount to if the things you choose to consume don’t add to you? Especially if they’re simply a retread of what you already know but with better graphics. They only come, and then go, maybe even taking away a part of you in the process. Your intellect, your warmth, your heart.