Friday, 30 May 2014

Superheroes Kill In Movies

With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice coming out in 2016, the big question everyone is asking, aside from why Wonder Woman isn't allowed her own film, is which super villains will Bats and Supes kill. Because superheroes kill in movies. I mean, they kill in the comics too, but let's limit this to one medium otherwise we'll never get through all the killing superheroes do.

And superheroes do kill. It's just part of the gig. It's often not their first, second, or even third option, but they do do it. Repeatedly. And that's okay. This isn't about the morality of whether superheroes should kill or not. That's for philosophizers to figure out and in any case, this blog is only 22 and half minutes long, so it doesn't have the time to get into that and has to be wrapped up nicely by the end.

People assume that because superheroes are good and true, they don't kill. It is their utmost moral rule, the line that separates them from the criminals. It is the distinguishing feature that elevates them beyond being simple vigilantes to vigilantes that dress up in tights and a cape beating criminals to a bloody pup but DON'T kill them, because murder is bad but viciously crippling people for life is okay.
This page of Young Batman beating up a bear is presented completely out of context and with little relevance to my point.

For example, it is because he straddles this fine line between vigilantism and criminality, and follows this moral code of no killing (not ever, seriously, just don't) that convinces Commissioner Gordan not to prosecute Batman but to help him. The sole reason Gordan doesn't take Batman in although he works outside of the law is because he doesn't kill, which makes him a good guy.

However, in reality, the moral code against superheroes killing was only introduced in the 1950s with the Comics Code. Before then, superheroes killed in comics all the time. Captain America and Superman both punched Hitler. Batman used a gun. It was a different time.
My mistake. Superman didn't punch Hitler. He only strangled him.

So superheroes took up a code of non-killing, a code of honour which still influences how people view them today. Superheroes are judged by how much they resist killing people who they probably should kill.

But that is not actually how it works. Superheroes still kill people in comics occasionally, or they do worse, so much worse. Some writers, so enslaved to this notion that superheroes shouldn't kill ever for no reason whatsoever, that they make superheroes like Batman devise horrific punishments that would be considered torture if they weren't so terrifying. However, because they're perpetrated by people in brightly coloured costumes deemed to be good guys because they don't kill, it's okay.
This is a good guy, kids. See the brightly coloured costume? Good guy.

Movie-makers realised that this was a little bit stupid. Why wouldn't superheroes kill a psycho like the Joker if there was no other alternative and they would just keep on killing and killing? That's why Batman kills the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman. And don't tell me that he didn't 'mean' to kill him, Batman tied a gargoyle to the Joker's leg and let gravity do the rest.
Also, in the fictional universe of this movie, the Joker killed Batman's parents.
Here's where he realises that was probably a bad move on his part.

But maybe that gets a pass, because Batman didn't necessarily know that tying the Joker's leg to a heavy gargoyle would weigh the Joker down so much that he couldn't hold on to the ladder dangling from the helicopter and fall to his death. Batman, the world's finest detective and one of the smartest superheroes ever, could never have predicted or anticipated that outcome.

That excuse doesn't quite hold water in this next example from Batman Returns where Batman straight up kills one of Penguin's crew with a bomb and a smile on his face.

That's him walking away from an explosion without looking back like a boss.
A boss who just killed a dude in said explosion.

Alright, but then there was a lot of killing, a lot, in Burton's Batman movies, so maybe he got the character wrong. Fair enough, that happens in adaptions from one media to another. It's not like Batman purposefully let Ra's al Ghul die (which could be considered tantamount to murder) when he didn't save him from dying horribly in a train crash in Batman Begins.
"I'll just glide out all cool and Bat-like. This definitely doesn't count as manslaughter." - Batman

He didn't kill the bad guy, he just let him die. Because of a train crash. That he planned and knew was going to happen. Fully aware it would kill anyone still on board... 

Okay but that one's just toeing the line, it's not like Batman tackled Harvey "Two-Face" Dent off a building in The Dark Knight, killing him, letting another bad guy fall to his death because of his accomplice in murder, gravity?

That's quite a bit of superhero killing just from Batman and we haven't even got onto the anti-heroes like Wolverine yet. Wolverine gets a pass from most people on the whole killing thing because that is his thing. He's the best at what he does, and what he does, isn't very nice and all that.

But he really kills a lot of people in X2. Case in point, during the attack on the X-Mansion, when Stryker's soldiers invade the school and Wolverine, befitting a superhero who is also acting as a role model to the students left under his care, goes completely feral and kills anything that moves.
"There is no beer! This is a school"

He literally flings himself at people to get more killing done.
I wasn't joking, here he is flinging himself through the air to savagely kill all of those guys.
But don't worry. He's a superhero, so it's cool.

It plays up the savage side of Wolverine really well and is a pretty awesome scene but doesn't quite hold up the whole 'superheroes don't kill' side of things all that well.
"I'm ready for more killing, Mr Director. Yes, I know I'm playing the good guy, why'd you ask?"

But Wolverine is an anti-hero. A conflicted man haunted by his violent past, tortured by a beserker rage he has to constantly suppress.

That isn't really the case for Iron Man, who killed a bunch of terrorists without a second thought in the first Iron Man movie.
Those targets are where the bullets are going to go. Notice how they're all head shots?

Now, some might say that Iron Man was using darts or rubber bullets or something that looks like a bullet but isn't a bullet because Iron Man would never kill because superheroes don't kill. Okay. If you say so.

But of all superheroes, it is Superman that is the paragon of this moral stance against killing. It is considered a core aspect of his character. Superman stands for truth, justice, and not killing mass murderers who will totally kill again once they break out of prison which they inevitably will because prison security in superhero universes sucks. Superman knows that nobody has the right to kill. Nobody. Under any circumstances.
"Especially not Superman. Who is me. So, I could have said 'ESPECIALLY NOT ME!' but that wouldn't have quite the same gravitas now, would it?"

Which is why people got so upset about Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel (Spoiler: Superman totally breaks Zod's neck), saying it was not in line with the Superman we know and love.

Which is itself was kinda weird because when Christopher Reeve's Superman, the one we know and love, killed Zod by stripping him of his powers and throwing him into a crevice, everyone was really chill about that. This is despite Superman breaking his super-strict no-killing-under-any-circumstances code that is apparently so integral to his character except for those times when it isn't for some reason.
"No, I'm sure he survived, Louis. Even though I stripped him of his powers and threw him into a icy pit of death.
Stop hassling me about it."

People complained that Superman killed Zod in Man of Steel as though it was no big thing, but it was a big thing. It was the biggest thing. Superman didn't want to kill Zod, he begged Zod to stop. Repeatedly. He tried his hardest to avoid killing him, endangering other people because of it. And then he made a choice, perhaps the most difficult choice he ever had to make and killed Zod, the only other remaining survivor from his home planet, one of the few links to his planet's people, the only other member of his species.
This is not the face of a man who does not give a damn. He gives all the damns.

Superman killed Zod in Man of Steel because there was no other choice. No other alternative. He wasn't casually mowing down henchmen like Burton's Batman, letting people die in circumstances he set up like Nolan's Batman, stabbing everything in sight because he's Wolverine, or killing terrorists without a care in the world like Iron Man.

He killed as a last resort. The final and only option available to him that would stop Zod, who by the way was trying to heat-beam a family to death as he struggled with Superman. He severed one of the only links to his home world he had and the only other surviving member of his species, for us. Because he had to. Because he's a superhero. And that's what superheroes do. Sacrifice their happiness and lives to save others.

And people gave him shit for it.


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