I get the objections to Sucker Punch, though I think people seem to forget that Zack Snyder’s wife, Deborah, is producing the movie—this gets to be her fantasy as well as his. But more to the point, Amber is exactly right about this: it can be a feminist fantasy to look however you want while you’re kicking ass and solving quests. I will buy the popcorn, and the leather bustier.
At least, that seems to be the plot of the next Transformers movie, in which the Decepticons are apparently going to try to undermine the American government by revealing official secrets. Anything has to be better than the nonsense Michael Bay fed audiences in the last Transformers flick, a movie so bad that Bay’s actually apologized for it, so dreadful that it’s inspired some of the great outrage criticism of the last decade. But I’m not sure how juiced audiences are going to get over this plot.
Sure, there’s Fox News polling that suggests that two-thirds of Americans would like to see Julian Assange in jail. But I don’t know how high up Wikileaks and government leaks rank on anybody’s priority list. The furor over the major document dumps seems to have mostly subsided. The secrets Wikileaks revealed say important things about trends in American military and diplomatic culture, but the only person in government Assange is even close to bringing down is Bradley Manning.
When you’re not restricted by facts, though, I’m sure it’s possible to come up with something more explosive than world dictators’ taste in hot nurses, something more genuinely damaging than the helicopter attack on civilians in Iraq. I’m just not sure Michael Bay is the person with the imagination and the appropriate sense of the gravely serious to do it. Unless he’s gone through a profound aesthetic renewal that leaves him wanting to do actual creative things with giant robots, I’m not sure WikiLeaks will still be significantly resonant to hang an enormous, clanking plot on come summer.
Superheroes may have their origins in America’s urban centers, but our recent superhero movie revival has tended to take a broader perspective on supervillains. Whether plots are driven by international arms deals in Iron Man, space goo in Spider-Man 3, or forces of anarchy in The Dark Knight, urban crime tends to get treated like small potatoes, a catalyst for someone to become a hero, but an unworthy foe once they’ve fully grown into their powers. I don’t think that’s particularly surprising: crime’s been receding as both an actual phenomenon and as a political concern since the Clinton administration, and terrorism is the kind of intractable, unpredictable problem it takes unusual forces to defeat.
But crime seems to be making a bit of a comeback. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s been cast as Albert Falcone, the heir to classic crime boss Carmine Falcone, in the next Batman movie. And Marvel’s rebooting Daredevil, another superhero franchise that’s rooted in the problems of the American city rather than in international concerns. I’m not sure if that’s a reaction to how baroque superhero plots have become—as Marvel’s creating a multi-movie storyline that will reintroduce some of the science fiction elements that are a core part of many comics stories but that have been largely absent from our current crop of superhero movies, does that mean there’s room opened up for grittier, small-scale stories that still demand people with special powers? Is there something else that’s making crime and city life more compelling as a scale for action? I’ll be curious to see what aesthetic tack the Daredevil remake chooses. Given that last time out they went for leather jumpsuits and bullseye tattoos, it’s hard to imagine the series could get less gritty and realistic.