Looking for a Hero

Catching up with The Batman this weekend – a film that was finally released theatrically in 2022 and promptly became the highest grossing movie so far this year with about $750,000,000 in worldwide ticket sales– was long overdue.

Ostensibly this is because I teach screenwriting and try to assign my students an old or new movie to see most weeks so storytelling and structure in different genres becomes second nature to them.

But truly – that’s merely the surface reason.

OK so this is the reason, right?

The real one is that I believe watching the top-grossing movie of any year allows you to stay informed

But also this..

What this means is that, like it or not, the film the most people go to see in any given year tells you quite a lot about our world — whether you want to know it or not.

So, here’s what I know after watching three hours of The Batman.

1. Robert Pattinson is a finer actor than you think and possesses great hair and seductively angular features.

2. Prosthetics have gotten to the point where, if Warner Bros. demanded it, the technical geniuses behind Hollywood moviemaking could make even ME look like The Batman.  Or Selena Kyle.

And, most importantly –

3. We live in a time where there are no SUPER heroes anymore.

But somehow we managed to have three Spidermans?

In writing classes we teach that no one is 100% altruistic.  Meaning every hero has a little bit of villain in them and every villain has a touch of a hero lurking somewhere in their souls.

The key to villains is they believe deep down what they’re doing is right and justified.

The path to a hero is that the vast majority of the world think their actions are right and justified. 

In our world there are no actionable super majorities to anything anymore.  Certainly not heroes.   I doubt even Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky would get a supermajority worldwide vote if we had a global lie detector.  Nor would Russian President Vladimir Putin achieve worldwide super villain status.

It’d be close for Zelensky

The 2022 probing portrait of Batman tells us everything about our lack of true SUPER HEROES.  It takes the moral ambiguities of the franchise, the conceit of most superhero franchises, and gloomily plants a barely faux hero – our hero – smack dab into heroic territory.

But because the bar is sooo low we think nothing of it.

we did finally see Batman’s makeup, so we’ll give it points for that

He’s an avenger/vigilante with a personal agenda so internal and so intense that he barely feels human.  Certainly he’d have a less than zero potential by the standards of any other era to become anything even approaching a valiant do-gooder.

More importantly, no one around him has much of a moral compass.  And the few who do are either operating with their own secret personal agenda or have not received enough screen time for any real them to properly emerge.

We think Gordon’s good??

This weekend I went to the annual TCM Film Festival in Hollywood and rewatched the 1978 classic Warren Beatty film, Heaven Can Wait.  It was a fantasy comedy remake of the 1941 movie Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which was based on a 1938 play of the same name.

And it shows – in all the best ways.

The late seventies were enough of a post Watergate time and pre-Ronald Reagan 1980s ME era for the world to still believe that a real life good guy could achieve hero status, inspiring others without giving into temptation himself. 

Classic

Sure, it helped that Warren Beatty at his most handsome played Joe Pendleton, a lifelong second-string quarterback for the L.A. Rams, who mistakenly dies and is escorted to a weigh station to heaven due to his incompetent Guardian Angel.

But when Joe is given a second chance and gets temporarily dropped into the body of a rich, unscrupulous industrialist, who among other things gleefully runs a conglomerate that thinks nothing of drilling oil and polluting entire small towns of people to slightly increase his profit margins (Note: Yes, this film was made in 1978), it seems a recipe for disaster.

Clearly, the good guy will be corrupted by all this money and power.  Because let’s face it, no believable good guy could ever be that heroic with all the oil and money in the world at his personal disposal.  At the very least he’d have to launch his own rocket ship to take him to the edge of outer space or perhaps invent his own super electronic auto before dropping back down to earth to help all the rest of us little people. 

I mean the guy already dresses like a supervillain

He’d have to become a bad guy who takes a stroll on the dark side, before rejoining the merely human race and inspiring them.

Because that’s the only way we’d believe it.

Except, well, no – not in the late 1970s.

Joe never succumbed to darkness.  In fact, he is nothing but good, well intentioned, hard working, loyal and kind, even to the two people he lives with who are trying to kill him in.

His everyman morality wins the day – a morality not born of some past traumas he has overcome but springs from the plain yet solid nice guy that Joe apparently always was.

Not sure I would consider this everyman hair #goodhair

He’s a regular fellow whose superpower is being moral.  A hopeful idea of a movie released during a time when we still had a few smidgeons of hope.

Heaven Can Wait was one of the top five grossing movies the year it was released. Among the others were Grease, National Lampoon’s Animal House and Superman.

It’s easy to sense a pattern here because there was one. 

Even in a year when two dark and raw post Vietnam War movies, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home, triumphed over Heaven Can Wait at the Academy Awards.

See, it’s not that the late 1970s were an uncynical time.  They were just, well, a little less immoral.

Bonnie Tyler – “Holding Out for a Hero”

We Need a Hero

Omicron sounds like a Marvel villain, doesn’t it?  Something like:

INT. HILLTOP HIDEAWAY – NIGHT

OMICRON, ageless, sits on a chair at a glass desk faced away from us, staring straight through a wall of windows at the luxurious skyline.   Then suddenly —

He swings around.  A tightly fitted black synthetic fabric covers his face and entire body, except for a pair of shiny white leather gloves on his hands petting a white cat sitting on his lap.

Twist mustache, purrrrfect

His hands slide up and down the cat almost seductively until he slowly rises, raising the cat high in the air in a moment of victory.

Then he brings it down to his shoulders, where it wraps itself around his neck and rests comfortably, like the powerful and immovable amulet of horror it will soon turn out to be.

Okay, maybe that was more 1960s Bond than Marvel but you get the idea. 

And, sorry to demonize the cat.

Of course, you can demonize anyone and anything these days and get away with it.  Ask Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (R-CO). 

This is a good start

In the last few years she’s gone to fundraisers around the country with some D-list shtick about hijab-wearing, Somalian born Rep. Ilhan Omhar (D- Minn) being a terrorist, joking she feels safe in an airport or elevator or wherever else she slithers as long as her fellow congresswoman is not there wearing a backpack.

There was a time when this kind of thing would have ended your career instead of making you a headliner.  But there’s an old expression a lobbyist ex-boyfriend once shared with me about this:  Bedfellows make strange politics.

Meaning if you lay down with pigs long enough, before long you’ll grow to love the mud, muck and manure.  In fact, it might even turn into your life’s blood.

Nope, never

Ask aspiring Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).  He sees Rep. B’s Islamaphobic remarks, as well as the hard right wing racist taunts from the likes of Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-GA) and Madison Cawthorne (R-NC) as merely a messaging problem rather than the unearthing of a gaggle of mice and cockroaches bent on eating their way through the support beam barely holding up what little structural foundation remains of his party. (Note:  That would be the Republican party, or as he likes to sometimes refer to it, the party of Lincoln.  The latter would be the man who freed the Civil War slaves, the same one that several noted psychics claim to have literally seen turning over in his grave in the last few years)

Not that I’m partial or anything. 

Reality check

But once we get into people like Rep. Cawthorn, who says his trip to the Fuhrer’s vacation home (Note: That would be Hitler’s pied-a-terre) was a memorable sojourn that was on his bucket list, all bets are off.

I mean, there is no prose purple enough you can use to describe that.  Hence, the Omicron excerpt above.  With more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases and 1000 plus deaths in the U.S. daily, the latter stat almost solely among the unvaccinated despite a vast surplus of vaccine, the rest of us have now become the unwitting cast, crew and extras of a new, live and ongoing superhero film missing one basic and very crucial element – a superhero.

All bat signal, no bat

Which brings us to the Supreme Court.  That once hallowed last chance savior body has this week taken up an anti-woman’s right to choose case from Mississippi that will likely end the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that gives all women the blanket federal right to seek an abortion up to 24 weeks into their pregnancy.

But in her questioning, Justice Amy Coney Barrett (Note: Whose confirmation in the during the last days of the Trump presidency was celebrated in a massive COVID-19 virus super spreader event at the White House) reasoned that pregnancy and parenthood are not part of the same burden.  In fact, she posed the idea that as long as women could give their babies up to the state for adoption, the right to terminate a pregnancy could at least be almost cut in half, or curtailed even further.

Because why shouldn’t an underage girl raped by a family member who is too scared to come forward in her first trimester be forced to have her baby?  Can’t she, like, just leave it at the firehouse as girls used to do in the old days?

It literally takes your breath away

Granted, this is my incendiary language and not hers.  But it’s essentially accurate when you read through her questioning.  See, Justice Barrett, 49, has seven children, two of whom are adopted, and a fundamentalist’s view of religious doctrine.  So much so that she once held the title of handmaiden at a small and very conservative Christian group called People of Praise. 

Not a fount of choice to be had there. 

Nope. That’s it. Moving to Canada.

Now, far be it for me to take away anyone’s freedom to live their life in their own kind of personal hell, I mean, dogma.  They are free to think of me as a sinner and try to own me as the self-admitted lib that I am, just as I am free to think of them as the misguided, willfully ignorant idiots that I know them to be.

But I’m just at the point of proclaiming what they are all NOT free to do is to refuse a vaccine against a disease that threatens the survival of life as we know it.  If you can drink a Coke, eat fast food, get your kid a small pox and polio vaccine before they enter school, you can sure as f-k be required to get this f-kin shot. 

I mean, I’ve gotten THREE so far and listen to me here.  Don’t I sound normal???

And I’d get three more shots if I had to!

Not to mention, shouldn’t there be at least an intelligence test you have to take before you get to serve in Congress or the executive branch?  (Note: Can you imagine who wouldn’t make the cut?).  How about a few geniuses get together and concoct a 2020 plus racism test that disqualifies you from serving if you score below a certain number?  The same for the basic tents of democracy (Note: Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly) with essay questions on each so you can’t just pass by memorizing a bunch of laws.

I’d volunteer to grade them because…who else could I trust?

Red pens are ready!

Now I’m just joking, but only barely.  More than ever, this feels like the part of the film where either a hero or extraordinary power swoops in and saves us or we decide to save ourselves by standing up to the likes of the Omicrons.

Whether they’re wearing robes or abusing their elected offices with stupidity.

I’m by no means suggesting storming the Capitol.   Rather, spending some more time standing up to them in strategic discourse and civil disobedience.

As well as crawling through broken glass to cast your vote and make yourself heard.

Bonnie Tyler – “Holding Out for a Hero”