But lately, I've been worried about the children. Sure, there's a superhero movie being optioned every other week ... but how many are really going to be for them? We're in a post-Dark Knight world now, with Watchmen and (hopefully) dark X-Men Origins: Wolverine on the horizon. We're all thrilled about the mature, edgy take superhero movies are taking. After all, grown-ups buy the tickets and the graphic novels, adults should get the movies. But what about the younger set? Are we going to leave them any superheroes to dream about?
Not that it's just superheroes. We're caught up in a massive wave of nostalgia, seeking to revive or remake everything we grew up on. Transformers! Indiana Jones! Ghostbusters! He-Man! Oh man, I loved that as a kid – I want to see it on the big screen, and live action!
Now, before you point out that many of those are kid friendly, please know that I agree wholeheartedly. I know kids saw Iron Man, and loved it. I firmly believe that kids can handle just about anything you throw at them, concentrate on the cool factor, and forget about the adult themes until they're ready. Few went home saying "Mommy, what was Tony doing with that girl on the bed?" Most were too dazzled by the glowing heart to remember the gruesome surgery that put it there, although I know one kid in my hometown theater is permanently scarred from seeing Tony pull the breathing tube out of his nose. (That kid let out more of a strangled scream than Robert Downey Jr. did!) The Dark Knight skirted the line, though. I don't think it was too dark -- Harvey Dent's mutilation and the Joker's makeup were both tamer than the melting Nazis' in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which plenty of us saw and survived. And while "What makes a hero?" is a valid discussion to have with a kid, most won't make it that far. It was talky and complex. Two ferries about to blow up is tense for adults, but boring for kids.
But when it comes to the genre, we're quickly approaching the line. I'm dying to see Wolverine hack off some limbs in his solo adventure – but am I really the audience they should be aiming for? Right now, sure, I have disposable income. Eventually, I'll have a mortgage, and I won't be able to buy issues of Wolverine, until I'm buying them for my awesome offspring. (And stealing them when they're not looking.) But if they keep writing and filming them for me, how are his young fans going to keep up? Where are his new fans going to come from? If he has no new fans, who will create his next adventures?
I suggested a few weeks ago (and admittedly, not very well) that our obsession with Marvel and DC was caused by a lack of manly men. Back when we were growing up, adults had franchises of their own – stuff like Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Rambo. They had sex, exploding heads, machine guns, and serial killers. Kids had their own franchises, ones with a hint of the ridiculous. Superman wore tights and a cape. Luke Skywalker had a lightsaber. Indiana Jones proved that X marked the spot. Martin Riggs, John McClane, or Harry Callahan may have been loose cannons, their exploits just as over-the-top, but they wouldn't have been caught dead wearing tights and a cape. That was kid stuff. They wore sunglasses if they wanted to up the costume ante.
Now our macho men are wearing capes. And while I know Marvel and DC movies are a trend, is there something odd about our incessant need for them? Why do we want Spandex and kevlar? Is it really because we needed to replace Charles Bronson with Batman? Is it because Bronson heroes don't cut it anymore, and we need larger than life heroes who originate in outer space? Or is it just desperation on our part? We have a fierce grip on our childhood memories, and we're not willing to give them up. Instead, we're rewriting it to suit our mature sensibilities, the next generation be damned. It's not fair. They need to have their fun, too, and it shouldn't come solely from Pixar, Harry Potter (which is hardly happy escapism from here on), and DreamWorks.
I'm not going to demand that Marvel and DC Studios lighten up or dumb it down. I want gritty superhero stories as much as anyone. I don't want comic book fluff, I want the movies to prove how cool and complex these stories can be. But we do have to strike a balance, and soon. We have to allow some of these movies to be sheer spectacle and adventure, with the kind of hero a child can lose themselves in. They need to see the hero discover his powers, choose to be good, and never doubt themselves. Moral ambiguity, inner demons, heroic deconstruction, violence, and sex – there's plenty of time for them to see that, and plenty of movies to see it in. That kind of forbidden fruit is the fun (and pain) of growing up. Let's give them the fantastic, and quit co-opting it all for ourselves.