I saw The Green Hornet this weekend. Meh. Not a terrible movie, but not very good either. Mostly forgettable. Although, once again, I have to state that it is a masterpiece compared to Tron Legacy, a movie that continues to annoy me weeks after I’ve seen it. On the other hand, Tron Legacy sticks in my brain as truly incompetent storytelling, so if one measures art’s power by its ability to be memorable then Legacy kicks the hell out of Hornet. But as a story, with fully realized characters and complex motivations, Hornet is a study in nuance and substance compared to Legacy.
Hornet’s problem is one of tone. It’s not quite sure if it’s a comedy, a buddy flick, a superhero film, or a deconstruction of a superhero film. In this way, I had the same problem with Hornet as I did with Kick-Ass. Both films wink at the audience and act like they’re cooler than the superhero genre but are just superhero flicks with more swearing. They don’t really offer anything new. Nothing that hasn’t been done better and more interesting in other films.
I don’t know. I’ll admit I just don’t get it. I don’t get deconstruction of something as ridiculous as superheroes. Saying superheroes are dumb and that, in the real world, they’d be dangerous, deranged, most likely egotistical individuals never seemed like an impressive observation. But superheroes don’t live in the real world. Putting them in it only raises too many bizarre questions. Dropping reality into fantasy is a delicate business. It ain’t easy.
It always strikes me as odd what we will accept as fantasy and what we won’t. Kick-Ass has Hit Girl, an eleven year old girl who can survive gun fights in enclosed spaces and slice off limbs with a sword, even though it’s hard to imagine a child having the necessary strength to pull that off. And, oh yeah, bones. There are bones in most human legs. Did we forget that?
Any fight scene where Hit Girl isn’t killed is pure fantasy. It’s every bit as absurd and impossible as dragons or cyborgs or magic hammers. And when The Green Hornet is able to engage in a machine gun battle in the middle of the freeway with no innocent casualties, we have crossed into an imaginary world, one were the rules as we know them no longer apply. And that’s fine. That’s necessary. All fantasy requires that leap. Otherwise, we’d have to ask ourselves all those irksome questions that fantasy raises. And if we really wanted to think about those questions, we wouldn’t bother with fantasy.
Another strange example of the limits of believability can be found in the new Thor movie. Thor is a god (well, he’s technically a magic alien in the comics), and he has a magic hammer. He lives in the same world as Iron Man. But Thor will be a harder sell on the believability scale than Iron Man. The reasons are purely superficial.
Iron Man has a technological sheen over his powers and abilities, but those abilities are so far beyond the limits of current technology that they might as well be magic. Instead of mixing potions in a cauldron, he creates circuits and forges iron. Seriously, the movies love to show Tony Stark smelting ore like some kind of modern day blacksmith. It’s enough to make you believe that your home computer was forged in fire by the fires of sacred Olympus. But it really doesn’t work that way.
Heck, the Iron Man movies (both of them) rely on a philosopher’s stone stand-in, something so rare and powerful that no one else can duplicate it. It even points this out.
As I’ve said before, I’ve always found magic more believable than sci fi. If Thor’s powers come from his innately magical abilities as well as an enchanted weapon that defies the laws of physics, then I’m on board. My questions are answered before I ask them. “How does that hammer summon lightning?” “Magic.” “Makes sense to me.”
But how does Iron Man fly? How does he not get turned into pudding when he’s knocked into a bus? Even if he has armor on, he’s still a flesh and blood man underneath that. We aren’t made to be shaken like that. So for me, the only logical explanation is that Iron Man is magic too. His magic just happens to look like technology. Where Thor’s magic looks like…well…magic.
As for Thor, I’m mildly hopeful. Thor was my first superhero comic, and he’s always been a favorite of mine. But I haven’t read anything interesting with Thor in a long while. And if the movie is more concerned with excusing its premise rather than having superpunching then I’m sure we’re in for another long, boring film that would rather not be about superheroes, but will throw in a few FX if it really has to.
The one thing the film trailer has going for it is The Destroyer, a magic robot created by Odin to destroy. In the comics, Odin created it to fight the Celestials, incredibly powerful aliens who even the gods fear. I don’t know what justification they will have for the Destroyer in this film, but I will say that he looks exactly like he stepped off the page of the comic books. And that’s pretty damn cool.
Now here’s hoping they don’t have the final fight end in two punches.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,
PS. Tron Legacy is a really, really bad movie. If I were to teach a class on basic writing technique, I would have the students watch Legacy then say, “See this? Don’t do this.”