Simon Pegg is taking the war to comic book and superhero movies in a recent interview with Radio Times magazine calling them “childish things.” He believes they are “taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about…whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”
Pegg goes on to call society “infantalised” by the popularity of the superhero movie genre. He believes that “before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed.”
Lucky for us, Pegg, the co-writer behind the new Star Trek film, has either gone completely off his rocker or is attempting a branding change which is quite possible as he elaborates, “I’ve become the poster child for that generation, and it’s not necessarily something I particularly want to be. I’d quite like to go off and do some serious acting.” I believe it’s more a publicity stunt to gin up attention for his upcoming projects with the Star Trek and Mission Impossible films.
Let’s look at Pegg’s claim that comic book and superhero movies do not make you walk away and re-evaluate how you feel or take you on challenging, emotional journeys. The Daily Beast has an excellent piece on how Marvel’s most recent comic book movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron provides a clear political commentary contrasting Tony Stark’s belief “in the benefits of using militaristic means to achieve global tranquility ends.” However, this belief leads to the creation of Ultron who ultimately decides the Avengers and humanity itself must be extinguished in order to achieve global tranquility. Surprisingly enough, Stark defeats Ultron with the creation of the Vision. It is definitely a grey area that can spark a conversation about the perils and benefits of military adventurism.
Guardians of the Galaxy also provides ample opportunity to explore “challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions”. The movie focuses on a ragtag group of convicted criminals whose crimes include murder and theft. However, they are the Galaxy’s only hope against the evil and psychotic Ronan the Accuser. Not only does it show that criminals are quite capable of rehabilitation, but it also examines a corrupt prison system where guards enable the murder of prisoners. The ending scene where Rhomann Dey addresses Rocket and Drax’s questions regarding crimes clearly addresses moral problems albeit with a bit of humor.
The X-Men movie franchise is an excellent example of taking you on a challenging, emotional journey. It explores a number of themes from minority persecution by the government to social stigma from parents and friends just for being different. It also explores the relationship between Magneto and Xavier and demonstrates that, despite having radically different ideological views, one can still maintain a sense of friendship and, at the very least, respect for each other.
Moving away from Marvel, DC’s Green Lantern, although critically panned, explores inner strength and how conquering one’s fears can lead to success. It also explores the reverse and clearly portrays how internal ugliness is manifested in outward appearance as Hector Hammond succumbs to fear and greed.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy examines a number of different themes including: ideas on capitalism, the privacy of citizens, a corrupt justice system, the need for different perspectives, and how good intentions can be led astray.
Simon Pegg is wrong that comic book and superhero movies are “childish things” or are “taking our focus away from real world issues.” Instead, they are doing the opposite; they are highlighting real world issues whether it is citizen privacy, economic systems, or examining the criminal justice system. They also don’t do it in a way that talks down its audience or hits you over the head with a political message. They intricately weave it into the story, combining spectacle with real-world issues and morality to create fantastic movies that millions of people across the world garner enjoyment from.