South Park Self

I'm going to need therapy

It's all strawberryfrog's fault. He took my shamefaced admission of enjoyment of the Fantastic Four movies as an inducement to add them to his Netflix queue, and in the resulting interchange I found myself dealing with the inevitable fallout, viz. the need to watch both movies again, back-to-back, to confirm that they're as cheesy and horrible as they were the first time.

God, they're horrible. In the comments on the last post I described them as "fluffy and plastic and entirely lacking in brain. The clockwork kittens of the superhero genre. The meeping is mechanical and they bump into walls." They really do. They're ham-fisted junior-science-project robot kittens programmed by a stoned goldfish. The script is dreadful, the actors are largely cardboard, the special effects are cartoon. (Especially Mr. Fantastic. Aargh.) The only interchanges which have any snap or ginger to them are those between Johnny Storm and the Thing, both of whom are apparently blessed by something vaguely resembling personality, and manage to almost elevate the terrible material. The plot basically goes through the motions, and ends up being a slow-moving parade of predictable clichés loosely held together by unimaginative fight sequences.

And, you know, they're still kittens, and therefore cute, and it was still a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a few hours of a Saturday evening. The movies aren't up to much except cheese (low-grade Gouda, toasted into Mr-Fantastic-style gloopy strings), but they're perfectly inoffensive, good-natured, unpretentious. They're about the zing and zap and Spandex of superheroes, and while their nods to angst and realistic characterisation are rather less than perfunctory, they do celebrate, however ineptly, the simple moral imperative as well as the cool of the superhero. And there' s one thing they do get right, which is the ensemble.

I have said before that superheroes are, to me, ultimately about their ability to symbolise the worthwhile goals of a co-operative system, which seems to be a basic concern in my psyche. I'm always more about the superhero group than the lone hero, which is why I'd rather watch X-Men than Batman, and why my fondness for Superman is a bit of an aberration. (The bits of Smallville where other heroes start working with Clark are still my favourites. The Avengers is going to reduce me to a superhero-fangirly puddle of glee). A group of superheroes working together to Save The Day/The World/whatever still contents a very basic need I seem to have to recognise perfect co-operation, elegant euphony of abilities, mutual recognition of function in the cause of efficient address to a problem.

There is always a moment, in a superhero movie, where it pauses on the threshold of a combat, with the band of superheroes carefully arranged in a variety of striking poses, neatly centred around the main character, and confronting the Evil Du Jour. It is, of course, a moment designed for movie posters, and you very often see it there. (The only bit I can remember enjoying in the horrible Wolverine movie is the superhero pose before hitting the Nigerian facility; I can't find it online anywhere, phooey, and it's not quite the one in the poster).

This isn't just a photo-op. It's a statement of creed, a momentary embodiment of philosophy. Here, it says, we are: each of us recognising not just the need to battle the Evil Whatever, and our unity (often temporary and flawed, but for a moment perfect) in the face of that threat, but something more. Here we also are individually, if only for that moment, each inhabiting the skin of our powers, completely and perfectly, in a rare union of self and ability and purpose. Those powers are by nature incomplete, too specific and one-dimensional or even silly (Aquaman!), often a mere embodiment of sterotype; it's only in the co-operative moment that their individual value is truly realised. That momentary epiphany is like a fulcrum point. The angsts and insecurities of the superhero coalesce into this instant of coherence, of acceptance of agency and embrace of individual limitation in the service of a greater whole, and then swirl outward again into the violence of the encounter. But it's both fulcrum and springboard, that ownership of self and powers catapulting the hero onwards into the fray somehow empowered to place precisely the necessary ability on the point of desperate need. Self-recognition is simultaneous with the submission of self to the greater good.

(Actually, parenthetically, this is probably why Superman gets a free pass in my superhero processes. His powers are ridiculously wide-ranging and mutually co-operative, and his angsts are not about accepting them. He's a one-man group superhero pose in himself.)

My favourite bit of Fantastic Four is the four heroes facing off against Doctor Doom. It's particularly effective because they've signally lacked cohesion and co-operation up until this point; like the script, they've simply floundered. They don't step forward together, but separately, so the moment is cumulative and all the more powerful for it. (Of course, they might overcome Doctor Doom, but they are powerless against the script iniquities; this is probably the best moment they'll get.)

X-Men are also good for the Pose Moment; one of the (many, many) things for which I will eternally loathe Brett Ratner is the way in which he gives that moment most reliably to the bad guys. Brett Ratner, director most likely to put the important point in the seat of his trousers and sit down on it. But it still works, after a fashion, for misguided mutants; the goal is ignoble, but the moment of embrace still powerful.

All of my examples are from bad superhero movies for a reason. It's because even bad superhero movies can't always completely obscure the power and point of the myth. And thus I will occasionally watch Fantastic Four, and cheer as it bumps off the walls, meeping. Because it occasionally pauses, just for a moment, to let the heroes be themselves.
  • Current Mood: contemplative randomly analytical
It's actually lovefilm. But it's much the same. Half the fun is wondering which film will come next. The last one that I got was Apollo 13. Before that The Thing
There's a certain charm to randomness, and to being forced to watch things just because they're there. Hence the close-eyes-and-stab-with-pin assault on my accumulated unwatched DVDs, although that's been a bit kiboshed by my sudden rediscovery of Avatar TLA, oh dear.
In a weird and unlikely synchronicity, there's also a copy of that sitting in my "to watch" shelf. We should compare notes!
Flame On
I liked Fantastic Four. And hasnt Chris Evans done well for himself in the superhero genre. :-)
Re: Flame On
Hooray, I am not alone! Yes, Chris Evans is making a good thing out of superheroes. I really enjoyed his Captain America, who's diametrically opposed to Johnny Storm in character, and is still likeable and compelling. He's not a bad actor.

(There's a very funny bit of Avengers publicity where someone, I think it might be Mark Ruffalo, talks about the cast being at a party, and everyone's dancing, and he looks around to see that the two Chrises (Evans and Hemsworth) aren't, but are sitting in a corner comparing biceps, with Evans fascinatedly asking how Hemsworth achieved a particular bulge...)

Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy your creative comment headers? Because I do.
Re: Flame On
I looked at "bulge" and thought, gawsh, smutty-minded witterers are going to make a lot of that, aren't they? and I thought, what the hell, and left it in. I should have guessed it would be you...
Re: Cool!
I attribute solely to my addiction to Mightygodking the fact that I don't believe it's inherently possible to make a good Doctor Strange movie.