I don’t know who told television and movie executives that “darker” is better when it comes to superhero stories. On last night’s “The Flash,” which I watched today thanks to Hulu TV, the overall tone of the story was one of death and destruction. There was more than just drama, and there were very few “campy” moments. Spoilers ahead…
Last night’s episode (titled “Out Of Time”) had two main stories. The first was about a super-powered man (a “metahuman”) who had the power to manipulate the weather. His brother was killed in the first episode of The Flash, so “The Weather Wizard” was back to seek revenge. His first victim was the innocent medical examiner. Later, he goes after Joe West, The Flash’s adoptive father and cop… And the one who shot The Wizard’s brother.
The other story was about Dr. Wells, a mysterious man who has so far been a mentor to Barry “The Flash” Allen. Dr. Wells’ assistant, Cisco, finds out that Dr. Wells is the bad guy of the series, “The Reverse Flash”. Dr. Wells kills Cisco in a scene that was too sad to even describe. Dr. Wells tells Cisco that he loved him like a son, and then just kills him. The whole time, Cisco just stands there and cries, perhaps knowing that there is nothing he could do to stop Dr. Wells.
Towards the end of the episode, The Weather Wizard is holding Joe hostage and is also about to destroy Central City with a tsunami. Joe is beaten and bloodied, and the whole city is about to be destroyed. In typical superhero story fashion, Barry kisses Iris West (Joe’s daughter and Barry’s lifelong love interest) and reveals to her that he is The Flash. He then runs back and forth along the coast to try and create a counter wave to the tsunami. The Flash runs so fast that he travels back in time and ends up at a point we previously saw in the episode. In an homage to a 90’s TV show about time travel called “Quantum Leap,” Barry says “Oh, boy.”
Look, I’ve come to expect almost anything from television shows that I like. There was even a reference to gay rights in this episode which was done very well and very subtly. So I understand if writers want to mix in social commentary into shows like these. But this episode was downright dark. I had almost lost all my hopes for a good ending until the moment when The Flash traveled back in time. Now I see that they’re going to fix everything with time travel, which is okay in science fiction. That’s how fantasy worlds work. But do they need to inject the darkness and evil that lurks out here in the big bad and very real world?
I saw the same thing when I watched “The Man of Steel” a couple of years ago. The whole ending was not very satisfying because so much was destroyed. You couldn’t help but know that a ton of people died in the final battle scene. Max Landis explained it better:
“At the end a hero stands tall as all of society has crumbled behind me. That isn’t a superhero to me… That’s like a rock star… I don’t want to see movies about rock stars. Put the ‘hero’ back into superhero movies, ’cause I think ‘super’ might have taken over.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Like Max, I am very confused as to why these stories, which are displayed on comics with bright colors and with crazy solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems, are now being shown in these dark tones with people getting hurt and/or dying left and right. The heroes get dragged into some horrible situations and forced to make choices that they would never make were it not for their powers. Barry Allen is a total geek at the beginning of the series. By now, he’s The Flash and he’s having to choose wether or not save people even if it is at his own expense. Even worse, as he was told by Green Arrow, he doesn’t get the girl at the end.
Instead, I need my superhero stories to be brighter. Yes, have some drama in there, but have it in the third act. Don’t keep the whole thing dark all the time. Tell me fun stories about the superhero doing mundane things without having his identity revealed. The old Superman movies did this wonderfully, and it was part of the plot whether or not Lois Lane found out who the real Clark was. Even “Smallville” did it well, and it was on for ten years.
The world is already plenty dark. The stories I watch to get away from it for a little bit should counter that.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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