In Praise of Dark: In Superhero Films

Every superhero film doesn't have to be dark. Imagine that in the Ant-Man film. In any case as long as it may enhance the story and gives credence to the hero, then by all means pull the pin and blow the lid off!

Every so often someone carps and asks, why can't superhero films be fun? The answer, some weren't meant to be fun. And that's a good thing. Yet when those lament about certain superhero films being dark, it helps to honestly stop and ask, define dark?

In other words, doses of realism is often mistaken for dark in some superhero films, as dark is welcomed in other films. For example, the Scorsese-DiCaprio film, Shutter Island, is definitely a dark film. For dark is often creepy, ghastly, unsettling, all that is Shutter Island. While Leonardo DiCaprio's newest film, The Revenant, was all realism. And man did he deserve that Oscar.

The DC films, the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice have all been said by most to be dark films. As if dark as in a dose of realism, is a bad thing. Whereas most Marvel films are deemed fun. Not a bad thing either, for there was also some "dark" in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and is indeed a top notch Marvel film. For in that Cap film, which I wrote about in my April 9, 2014 Huffpost article, in the opening I stated, "This second Captain America film centers on one basic premise as a question actually. As important as freedom is, should freedom be sacrificed for security? By showing this in a thought provoking and entertaining way, this film succeeds in both script and action brilliantly." It was about government overreach, a theme that will carry into Captain America: Civil War.

Now lets' go over those so called dark DC films. What's great about the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy is the social themes throughout. There's a scene in Batman Begins when Bruce Wayne meets crime lord Carmine Falcone in a swanky restaurant. It's now fourteen years after Wayne's parent's death by Joe Chill, whom Falcone had killed, preventing Chill from testifying. There's a face off. Wayne tells Falcone he's not scared of him, while Falcone reminds Wayne about his childhood friend Rachel Dawes, now an assistant D.A., and Alfred his butler. And then Falcone explains, "People from your world, have so much to lose. Now you think, because your mommy and your daddy got shot... you know about the ugly side of life, but you don't. You've never tasted desperate. You're Bruce Wayne the prince of Gotham."

Falcone hammers upon Wayne, before the crime lord concludes, "So don't come down here with your anger, trying to prove something to yourself. This is a world you'll never understand. And you'll always fear, what you don't understand." For as corrupt as he is, Falcone was right.

Bruce Wayne, heir to Wayne Enterprises, afterwards gets a tad roughed up by Falcone's men and thrown out of the restaurant. And who does he meet next? He sees a homeless man warming his hands over a fire in an oil drum. Wayne then meets the man and does a few things. He takes off his scarf and throws it into the fire. He then takes all the money out of his wallet to give to the man for his shabby jacket, before also throwing his wallet into the fire. And just as Wayne was about to also throw his nice coat into the fire, he's stopped by the man.

"Let me have it. It's a nice coat," says the man. "Be careful who sees you with that. They're gonna come looking for me," says Wayne. "Who?" the man asks. "Everyone," Wayne replies, before he stows away on a cargo ship leaving Gotham. That night Bruce Wayne became Batman, a period to taste desperate as Falcone had said, before becoming a trained weapon to fight crime.

Another great scene is in The Dark Knight. The Joker terrorizes Gotham, whose people flee the city on two ferries, the Spirit, filled with inmates from Blackgate Prison, and Liberty, filled with citizens. A half hour before midnight both ferries suddenly stop, then the Joker's voice is heard on loudspeakers. He tells the ferries about his social experiment, that each have a bomb aboard, each has a detonator to the bomb at the other ferry, and each must decide to blow up the other first before midnight. Or else at midnight if they haven't done so, he'll detonate both.

On the Liberty, filled with a broad social class of citizens, they vote. On the Spirit, the warden of Blackgate has the detonator, struggling with the decision. Finally, a mere two minutes before midnight, a tall formidable looking inmate walks up to the warden, and he says, "You don't want to die, but you don't know how to take a life. Give it to me. These men would kill you and take it anyway. Give it to me," he says softly, yet firm, then he adds, "You can tell em I took it by force. Give it to me, and I'll do what you shoulda did ten minutes ago." Whereas on the Liberty, a man in a suit, perhaps a white-collar professional, decides to take the detonator, and says, "Fine, I'll do it. Those men on that boat. They made their choices. They chose to murder and steal." Yet on the Spirit, the inmate throws the detonator out the ferry window. While on the Liberty, the man in a suit, his hands on the detonator, then withdraws. A very powerfully crafted and acted scene!

Finally, there's a great scene in The Dark Knight Rises. Bruce Wayne's back was broken after his first fight with Bane, and sent to a foreign subterranean prison called Hell on Earth. After watching the dead bodies of three police officers hanged at a Gotham bridge by Bane's men on TV, Wayne is enraged, and gets his back healed by a prisoner. Wayne then makes two attempts to climb up a shaft with a safety rope, and make a daring jump at a ledge to grant escape. Both times he fails to clear the jump, and later becomes dispirited. Then a helpful conversation begins.

"Fear is why you fail," says the blind prisoner. "No, I'm not afraid. I'm angry," says Bruce Wayne. "You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak," says the blind prisoner. "Why?" asks Wayne. "How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible, without the most powerful impulse of the spirit? The fear of death," replies the blind prisoner. Wayne is getting reached. "I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns... with no one there to save it," says Wayne. "Then make the climb," the blind prisoner replies quickly after. "How?" asks Wayne. "As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again," the blind prisoner concludes. For much later, the child is revealed to have been a girl.

Bruce Wayne's third attempt is without a rope while only carrying supplies. Loud chanting is heard from a large gathering of men below, shouting, "Deshi-Basara," Arabic for, "Rise." Wayne leaps, makes the ledge, and he's rewarded by a thunderous roar of joyous shouting from below. Reaching the top, he also didn't neglect the men below, and casts down a rope for their escape.

The message from the blind prisoner was this. So often we're told to be fearless. While on the other hand, what is that definition of courage that's been said? To act during fear. Is this not why Medal of Honor, silver-star, bronze-star, and purple-heart award winners are to be revered?

Bruce Wayne/Batman is the epitome of the warrior ethos, captured brilliantly in The Dark Knight trilogy, of which the British actor Christian Bale in the title role was superb. Known for his zeal in diving into roles, he goes skeletal for The Machinist (2004), gets muscular in Batman Begins (2005), goes skeletal again in the Vietnam War true story film Rescue Dawn (2007), gets muscular again for The Dark Knight (2008), and gets skeletal a third time for The Fighter (2010), winning an Oscar in that film. Then he gains muscle again for The Dark Knight Rises (2012). And praise goes also to Christopher Nolan, who elevated the iconic superhero to urban realism.

Message to DC Entertainment and Marvel Studios, again not every superhero film have to be dark (realism). Even so, if you have to use it, pull the pin, blow the lid off and don't look back.