The Avengers and scientist heroes
May 14, 2012
One of the movies I despise (I have a list of them — movies that make my blood burn just thinking of them) is the War of the Worlds remake starring Tom Cruise that came out several years ago. The reasons for my dislike are many: the thing made no sense (jet crashed in driveway, house still standing, huh?), too much cloying moppet, and its dedication to showing how terrible people can be to each other. Mostly, I despaired because of what the movie demonstrated about where our culture is going. The original George Pal War of the Worlds is great — it’s still scary, it still generally holds up, and the best part is the main characters are scientists trying to figure things out and solve problems. The main character of the remake? A guy who spends the whole movie running around in terror and losing his kids.
For a stretch of time, from about the early nineties on, SF movies haven’t generally featured scientist heroes. No, scientists are the villains who create monsters in labs, who deal with powers they don’t understand, who unleash horrors upon the world with their hubris. I’m thinking of Brent Spiner’s character in Independence Day, the inept alien keeper who ends up smashed on the glass. James Franco’s completely inept character in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Any number of scientist characters in late night SyFy monster movies. You know the character I’m talking about. I propose that these characters do not speak well of how the culture generally perceives scientists: they are people who create problems, rather than solving them.
Which brings me to The Avengers, and one of the things I really like about it, which is Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, in their lab, geeking out over science and solving problems with science. (Their terminology may not be one hundred percent accurate, but at least they tried.) Scientist heroes. Heroes being unabashed fans of science. And other characters listening to them. Between this and Big Bang Theory and Contagion and a couple of other examples running around, maybe we’re leaving behind the age of scientist as villain, and we’ll be seeing more scientist heroes. Speaking of which, isn’t it time for a Buckaroo Banzai remake?
I also decided that Val Kilmer’s character in Real Genius may very well be young Tony Stark, incognito. What do you think?