Friday, August 1, 2008
Is he good or evil? The 2 sides of questionable heroes, Part 4
Every so often there comes along a moment so iconic it leaps of the movie screen and makes its way onto posters, shirts, and other paraphernalia. One such moment was when Spiderman saw his reflection as Venom. Besides being a stunning visual, it also is a stunning visual metaphor for one of the trickiest roles in Super Hero movies. That would be taking it from hero to villain or villain to hero.
Venom is one such example of course. When he performs a symbiotic relationship with Peter Parker (Tobey McGuire) he acts for good. Yet the entire time it is a struggle that leads Parker to moves that are out of character for him such as trying to kill Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) or his strut and humiliation of Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) in the restaurant. Yet ultimately Parker is able to overcome those effects. Venom, of course, is unquestionably, undeniably and irredeemably evil in the hands of Eddie Brock (Topher Grace).
This contrast with someone such as Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhardt). He is pretty unquestioningly good at the beginning of The Dark Knight (2008). He is the White Knight to Batman's (Christian Bale) Dark Knight. Whereas Batman works with fear and terror, Dent is a symbol of hope. His courageous stand against the death threats of the gangsters and Joker (Heath Ledger) provides an example to the citizens of Gotham that there are good men among their leaders. His heroic move to take the fall for Batman when the town insists on his arrest spoke to his heroic intentions.
Yet even at the height of his heroism there were signs he had certain flaws in his character. His habit of deciding things seemingly by chance in flipping a coin showed one of those flaws. He was cheating the entire time. There was no chance whatsoever in those coin flips and that willingness or desire to take advantage in these situations showed that while he might be upright and courageous he also was willing to bend or break rules to get what he wanted.
Thus when he was physically scarred in the explosion minutes after losing Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhall) it was really just an external showing of an internal truth. His now-scarred coin became a true measure of chance. However, he was now willing to go places he was previously unwilling to go and perform actions he was previously unwilling to perform. His move from hero to villain was a long trip and certainly reversible. That is primarily true because he bought into it completely as both hero and villain. He was willing to risk his life to put the mobsters behind bars or to stand against the Joker. After the corruption, he was equally willing to give up everything to achieve his new aims.
This stands in sharp contrast to Elektra(Jennifer Garner).
She is the daughter of a gangster. Does she truly not know what he does for a living? That strains the bounds of credibility. She is in many ways the epitome of apathetic neutrality. She does not stand up against evil nor does she seek to perform good actions. She simply is. Yet it is not a lack of capability. Her fight with Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) on the teeter-totters is not only entertaining, it demonstrates a high degree of capability.
Her move into the realm of super is unclear as to whether she is hero or villain. You would argue villain based on her opponent being Daredevil and also since she is seeking vengeance on the man she believes kills her father. Yet she quickly turns and fights Bullseye (Colin Farrall) when she learns the truth. Again she is neither hero nor villain but instead falls into the nebulous realm of major players who have questionable alignments.
On the third point of the triangle is the individual who moves from evil to good. The iconic example of this is unquestionably the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones and Laurence Fishburne(voice)).
At the beginning of the movie he is clearly evil as his role consists of finding and preparing planets for destruction, even if they are inhabited. The story arc has more to do with the attempts of the Fantastic Four to stop him and then, once they learn his true role as merely the herald for Galactus, to convince him to stop the destruction.
At the end of the movie he is unquestionably a hero as he conceivably commits suicide to stop Galactus. Of course, as anyone who knows the history of the Fantastic Four knows, he is probably not dead but the fact he was willing to sacrifice everything to save the planet, the true epitome of a hero. The sacrifice does not have to take place. There simply has to be a willingness to make the sacrifice and that he unquestionably is.
Clearly, the story arcs that take characters from good to bad or vice versa can provide great value to the goal of entertaining the audience in Super Hero movies. Keep an eye on these subplots in any given movie and it might enhance your enjoyment. Go back and watch the 3 Spiderman movies and concentrate solely on the character arc of Harry Osborne (James Franco) as he goes from neutral to bad to neutral to good. It is an oft overlooked sub-plot that helped turn that series into great entertainment.