Are Superheroes Whiny Little B***hes?
July 2, 2013
(The shortened opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to. Well, people seem to have very strong feelings about Man of Steel.
(Cut to footage of Man of Steel)
NC (vo): Audiences enjoy defending it, critics enjoy obliterating it.
NC: Trust me, I'll have my own words to say when...
(A shot of the DVD disc of the movie comes up)
NC (vo): ...it finally comes to DVD.
(Cut to more footage of Man of Steel)
NC (vo): But there is one criticism that seems to carry over for many people, and that is that Superman does too much moping. The funny thing is, out of all the problems with this film, I find this one didn't really bother me so much. I mean, I don't think it was done well, but people argued that Superman should not be a character who questions his purpose or his identity. He should be simple and fun.
NC: It then started to hit me that this wasn't the first time I heard this argument.
(Cut to footage of the first Spider-Man movie)
NC (vo): I remember when Spider-Man came out. It had very similar criticism: too much angst, too much drama, too much (mocking Peter Parker's whiny voice) "UNCLE BEN!"
(Cut to footage of an X-Men movie)
NC (vo): And as I started to go through the reviews and critiques of a lot of comic book movies, I found that even the ones that got good reviews still listed the emotional scenes as too whiny.
NC: Which begs the question: "Are superheroes just whiny bitches?" (bats his eyes)
(Cut to a montage of posters of superhero movies, all of which show the superhero in question standing alone with his head hanging or otherwise feeling unhappy: Batman Begins, Superman Returns, Spider-Man 3)
NC (vo): I think about how many of them (exaggerated voice) stand alone with their head down and brooding in frustration. (normal voice) A single tear or a fuckload of tears always seems to follow.
(Cut to a clip of a Spider-Man movie with Peter Parker sitting and sighing as Aunt May walks in)
NC (vo): (mocking Parker's whiny voice) UNCLE BEN!
(Cut to clips of more Marvel movies)
NC (vo): So, is this the way superheroes should be, or are we transforming them into something they're not?
NC: Again, it might make sense to connect these incredibly famous comic book characters to the great Greek myths.
(Cut to a montage of art of various Greek myths)
NC (vo): When their stories were told, their powers and abilities are what ultimately drew people to them. But as these gods and heroes stayed longer and longer, people wanted to know more and more about who they really are, about their stories and their turmoil, all in the hopes of maybe learning more about themselves. Thus, many of the Greek myths turned into cautionary tales: flying too close to the sun, pushing the boulder up the hill, teaching life lessons and tough morals without many people even realizing it. At least probably at the time. Thus, their stories are still told even today.
(Cut to a montage of images from the Superman comic books)
NC (vo): In many respects, the evolution of the superhero is much the same. Kids didn't pick up a Superman comic because they didn't want to know about his psychological journey. They picked it up because they wanted to see him fly and hit shit. They wanted to see him do all the things we couldn't do, but wish we could do.
(Cut to alternating footage of the old Superman TV show and the old Batman series)
NC (vo): The movies and serials that followed soon after reflected this, too. People would tune in to watch Superman on TV or Batman on the big screen to see them fight crime and look cool doing it. There wasn't really much analysis of what was going on inside their heads. While these serials do have a charm on their own, I think many can admit that they don't hold up phenomenally well. The formula was often the same: villain causes trouble, hero saves the day, hero looks cool while doing it. If both the serials and the comics stuck to this formula, chances are neither would last very long.
(Cut to two shots of Superman and Batman from their respective animated series)
NC (vo): But both of them made the connection that superheroes represent everything we want to be, so it made sense to show how we could be like them.
(Cut to a montage of superhero comic books)
NC (vo): The goal was no longer to make them look strong and invulnerable, but instead relatable and even fragile. I mean, hey, it's much easier to pretend we're these characters if they're made more human. And whether by accident or not, they reflected the responsibility of what it means to do the right thing. But if the superhero is gonna be more relatable, the enemies have to be more realistic. And even as something that seems as simple as "the right thing" can be a very complicated issue in the real world. A supervillain or a robber in a mask is very easy to figure out. But wars, politics, prejudice and so forth, these are a bit more complex. So for a superhero to always know or do the right thing is not always easy, and the stories, logically, have to reflect that. So, just like the Greek myths, the superhero knew that if it wanted to last and be timeless, it would have to reflect the most important human needs at its core. It would need to adapt with time, become more personal, make changes that would create more interesting characters and dilemmas.
NC: This got me thinking about the superhero films that did this right. As much as we like to make fun of the campiness of the original Superman...
(Cut to footage of the original Superman movie)
NC (vo): ...it does address several heavy elements: mortality, responsibility, gaining great power, losing great power, what you have control over, and what you don't have control over. It played with the morality, the ethics, the choices of one who has so much, and the effect it has on the world around him. This wasn't written by some Saturday morning cartoon writer, either. This was written by Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, and he treated the mythos of this character very seriously. Why? Because he saw the human potential.
(Cut to alternating footage of the Batman movie and Batman Begins)
NC (vo): Even the exact same story can warrant two very different interpretations. Both Batman and Batman Begins have the same setup: child's parents are shot, grows up feeling guilty, dresses up like bat to avenge their death.
NC: (nodding) A classic logical conclusion.
(Cut back to Batman Begins)
NC (vo): But the journey of our hero in Batman Begins is dealt with in great detail, seeing every major development in his life and the impact it has in creating who he is.
Bruce Wayne: Look, flesh and blood can be ignored. I can be destroyed, but as a symbol... As a symbol, I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting, something terrifying.
(Cut to the first Batman movie)
NC (vo): The journey in the first Batman film is done more in the shadows of off-screen, leading the development to a very simple choice of select words.
Bruce Wayne: Look, sometimes, I don't know what to think about this. It's just something I have to do.
Vicki Vale: Why?
Wayne: 'Cause nobody else can.
(Cut to alternating snippets of footage of both movies)
NC (vo): Both get across exactly what they need to get across. It's just one is more shrouded in detail, and the other is more shrouded in mystery. But they both work.
NC: And with that said, there's no doubt that the dark, harsh superhero has now become very popular over the years.
(Cut to a montage of comic book superhero movies)
NC (vo): Maybe as a means to fight against the campiness of the past or rebel against those who still see them as mere kid stuff. But the question still remains: is it warranted? Are we going too far with the adult stuff or are we evolving from the simple action-packed basics?
(Cut to footage of Superman Returns)
NC (vo): This caused me to look back at the often-hated Superman Returns. And while I can't defend it as a good film, as many of the criticisms against it I do agree with, that being that it is often boring and very clumsy, I have to acknowledge that it was doing some things very well. Like, it did address what it meant to have these powers in today's world, in a different way that the past films didn't. The simple image of Superman floating in space, hearing all the problems of the world, I still think sums up the weight and pressure in one simple image. No big speeches or direct morals, just one simple shot.
Superman: What do you hear?
Lois Lane: Nothing.
Superman: I hear everything.
NC (vo): That's all you need. I get all the anxiety and torment that can beat down on a guy just from those few lines. But, we're asking whether or not this stuff can become too heavy-handed.
NC: And nowhere is that more obvious in superhero films today than in the (spreads his arms wide and hangs his head) Jesus symbolism.
(Cut to a montage of superheroes with their arms outstretched like Jesus Christ on the cross)
NC (vo): Yeah, don't act like you haven't seen this all over the place. Why the hell do we need so much of it? Yes, they're the martyr, the saint, the everlasting guilt trip that will make you appreciate the sacrifice they make. What is the point?
(Cut to two comparison images, one of Superman and one of Jesus)
NC (vo): The way I see it, this either shows how similar superheroes are to Jesus... I guess to show how incredible they are in both power and humility... or how similar Jesus is...
(Cut to a shot of Superman wearing a crown of thorns)
NC (vo): ...to superheroes, that He had all this power and yet used it for peace and kindness.
(Cut to Superman falling through space with his arms out like Jesus)
NC (vo): Either way, I don't see why we constantly have to see these similarities.
(Cut to a montage of various art pieces of Jesus)
NC (vo): I think we have enough variations on Him already.
(Cut back to Superman falling again)
NC (vo): I don't know why these guys can't just rely on their own mythos.
(Cut to a shot of a young Doug Walker with long hair)
NC (vo): I used to have long hair, too! (a painting of Jesus appears in the corner) It doesn't mean you have to make a comparison between me and Him!
NC: (looking thoughtful) Though if He wore glasses, He would be...
(Cut to an image of a painting of Jesus Christ wearing glasses)
NC (vo): ...a pretty awesome-looking hipster.
(Cut to yet another montage of superhero movies, some of them focusing on flashback scenes)
NC (vo): But that's not the only thing that's going too far. Just like the exposing of other superpowers in the past got old, maybe the exposing of all their emotional baggage is starting to get a little old, too, at least in the sense that it's starting to become an overly-recognizable formula. We're starting to recognize certain scenes more and more, and people seem to think that just making the scene without adding anything else justifies it being there. "Oh, this is the flashback to childhood," "Oh, this is the speech about what it means to be a hero," "Oh, this is the mistake that causes injury to you and/or your closest friend," "Oh, this is when you realize you need to be more responsible," "Oh, these are the three or four dark scenes to convince the doubters that superheroes aren't just kid stuff!" Yeah, it's starting to become more and more noticeable, and maybe one or two of these films could try a little harder and throw something new in.
(Cut to an image of the poster for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2)
NC (vo): But we've seen formulas badly repeated in other film genres, too.
(Cut back to the superhero film montage, with an emphasis on emotion)
NC (vo): And just because the emotional weight in a superhero film can be done bad, doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. And to many filmmakers' credit, I think for the most part, they're still mixing it up enough to create new problems and new solutions in an ever-changing world. Technology, points of view, emotional understanding; we're still seeing these things evolve in our world, and our movie superheroes are doing well to keep up with it. Truth be told, if they still want to be relevant, they need to keep up with it. If superheroes want to represent who we want to be, they must first understand who we are, and the more our heroes can see that in themselves, the more they can understand who they're fighting for, and the more we'll cheer them on because of it.
NC: So, the people who are seeing superheroes as whiners nowadays, I think, are more confusing whining for drama.
(Cut to a montage of drama in superhero films)
NC (vo): And drama obviously is an essential part in making something interesting. Like anything, we need investment in order to care. We need to relate our heroes in order to get behind them. But yes, they need to actually to do superhero-y stuff, too: throw a punch, show off their powers. Don't just fly around the world, questioning your identity, do things! So in the end, it all comes down to balance. You can't cheer for a hero you know nothing about, but you also can't cheer for a hero who doesn't do anything but mope. Both good action and good character are needed to keep the people cheering for more. So, superheroes of the future, continue standing up for what you believe in, but never shy away from expressing why.
(Cut to a clip of a Spider-Man film with Tobey Maguire as an emotional Peter Parker)
NC (vo): Just... don't express too much. (mocking Parker's whiny voice) UNCLE BEEEEEEEN!
(Cut back to the NC; while offscreen, NC is heard still whining Ben's name)
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic, and... (hearing his own voice whining from offscreen; looks annoyed) I can't wait for another Andrew Garfield movie. (gets up from his chair and leaves, while the NC's voice still keeps whining exaggeratedly)