In tough times, you need a hero. But do you need a superhero? DC Comics’ recent virtual showcase, FanDome, unveiled the trailers for Patty Jenkins’s forthcoming Wonder Woman 1984 and Matt Reeves’s The Batman, which is expected next year. Also featuring was Zack Snyder’s four-hour director’s cut of Justice League, which will air on HBO Max in hour-long instalments.
I’m exhausted just typing that. Surely superheroes and their huge, vaulting, save-the-universe narratives look laughably unimportant at this time? I mean, I love Spandex and cosmic plot-fuelling MacGuffins as much as anyone. But this slew of multimillion-dollar super-releases seems obscene. It emphasises the gap between the Hollywood hype machine and the real struggles of pretty much everyone on this pandemic-stricken planet – except a few very rich individuals.
Before all this, the gap between fantasy and reality was the point. I didn’t think Superman was a documentary about a highly skilled Kryptonian refugee who wanted to work in the media and do community outreach on the side. Superhero films are popular for a reason. They’re dynamic, imaginative and exciting; they can carry big ideas and big action simultaneously; and their stars combine the prowess of athletes with the charisma of movie idols. They enable us to sublimate our desires – for justice, for drama, for importance – in cathartic, thrilling ways.
But look at what happens when an actual world-straddling evil arrives. We bungle it, we cower, we’re uncertain and indecisive, we try our best, we endeavour to look after ourselves and the people around us. We’re changed and humbled. We rely not on chosen ones with literal names (the Silver Surfer is called the Silver Surfer because he’s silver and he surfs), but on medical research. But a movie called The Researcher wouldn’t bank at the box office.
I don’t really want another friendless caped crusader drearily putting the goth in Gotham. I’m tired of midnight grudge Batman. What about chirpy Craigslist-advertising grifter odd-jobs Batman with a batvan? Having seen all the Batman films since Tim Burton’s in 1989, what I really need now is to see all the Batmans except Ben Affleck fight then get it on in a giant cage, peeling off each other’s titanium body armour with can openers and making each other’s rubber cloaks squeak. Affleck – whose unshaven dark knight looked like a middle-aged alcoholic who cheated on his wife with the nanny – would chuntle about, sighing heavily and squirting baby oil in through the cage bars. At break time, the Batmans could compare makeup tips. I notice that Christian Bale favours a crisp edge, which I imagine he puts on with expensive, professional quality Shu Uemura brushes, while Robert Pattinson opts for a softer, more blendable smoky sheen.
If Wonder Woman really cared about the world, she would do two parallel masters degrees in climatology and election integrity – she is from ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, after all. Her Amazonian sisters could host seafood barbecues on the beach and have dawn yoga sessions that they would upload to Instagram Stories as lockdown Fomo inspiration. Instead of the Black Widow – the Avengers’ Natasha Romanoff – returning home to confront her violent past, she would just go back to cook Sunday lunch and host a talking circle where everyone voices their truth and there’s a no-interrupting rule.
As for Tenet, the other big and supposedly cinema-saving film release right now, I haven’t seen it because I don’t want to go to a cinema, sit in the dark with strangers, get Covid, kill my family, kill everyone who’s touched what I’ve touched and die. “Time isn’t the problem. Getting out alive is the problem,” says Pattinson in the trailer. So true.
Cinema heroes have always played it big, leaping across the screen in a single bound. But we don’t need vengeance now – we need voting and vaccines. We need laughs, equality, wholesome whimsy and justice of the most profound and everyday kind. Daily dedication, community and compassion matter much more than a fight on a collapsing bridge, in a hailstorm, while an army of robots zaps skyscrapers with lasers. Failing that, I’m hitting up Amazon Prime for my guilty pleasure: any romantic comedy set in New York, in which the main couple end up kissing in the rain while everyone in a nearby traffic jam honks in support.