Superhero movies tend to get picked on by critics, who often berate them as mindless summer time-wasters and even view comic books themselves as entertainment for little kids. But one highly educated fellow has risen to the movies' defense—and he knows a little something about working on the films, too.
Tom Hiddleston, who plays the villainous Loki in Thor and The Avengers, has penned a passionate, highly literate defense of the superhero genre in the new issue of the Guardian. Hiddleston hardly fits the critics' stereotype of some mouth-breather living in his mom's basement; the English actor is highly trained, went to Cambridge and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
So what exactly does he say in his piece? Well, after starting out with a list of the great actors who have taken roles in such movies, he writes that the films offer a canvas on which to examine nothing less than the human condition itself:
Superhero films offer a shared, faithless, modern mythology, through which these truths can be explored. In our increasingly secular society, with so many disparate gods and different faiths, superhero films present a unique canvas upon which our shared hopes, dreams and apocalyptic nightmares can be projected and played out.
Hiddleston then touches on the idea that superhero stories are the modern equivalent of ancient myths and folktales about gods and other superhuman beings:
Ancient societies had anthropomorphic gods: a huge pantheon expanding into centuries of dynastic drama; fathers and sons, martyred heroes, star-crossed lovers, the deaths of kings—stories that taught us of the danger of hubris and the primacy of humility. It's the everyday stuff of every man's life, and we love it. It sounds cliched, but superheroes can be lonely, vain, arrogant and proud. Often they overcome these human frailties for the greater good. The possibility of redemption is right around the corner, but we have to earn it.
Are superhero characters also metaphors for our own behavior? Hiddleston seems to think so:
The Hulk is the perfect metaphor for our fear of anger; its destructive consequences, its consuming fire. There's not a soul on this earth who hasn't wanted to 'Hulk smash' something in their lives. And when the heat of rage cools, all that we are left with is shame and regret. Bruce Banner, the Hulk's humble alter ego, is as appalled by his anger as we are.
Finally, Hiddleston cites the movies as examples of the highest achievement in filmmaking itself:
Superhero movies also represent the pinnacle of cinema as 'motion picture.' I'd like to think that the Lumière brothers (film pioneers who made some of the earliest moving pictures) would thrill at the cat-and-mouse chase through the netherworld streets of Gotham in The Dark Knight, with helicopters tripping on high-tensile wires and falling from the sky, and a huge Joker-driven triple-length truck upending 180 degrees like a Russian acrobat...The spectacle is part of the fun—part of the art, part of our shared joy.
Wow. We thought Hiddleston was one of the best parts of Thor, and he does an equally fine job in The Avengers, but with this piece, he not only shows his intelligent perception of what comic books can represent, but does a damn fine job defending them as more than just "kiddie crap." Well done, sir. What do you think of Hiddleston's editorial?
(via The Hollywood Reporter)