The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, July 26, 2004

WHY UNMASK THE SUPERHEROES?
de-faced
The following post contains some minor spoilers for Spider-Man 2, now in theaters. None of them are essential to the plot, so they won't give anything important away. Furthermore, the movie's been out for a month now, so I'm going to assume that most readers have already seen it, or else have no intention of seeing it (at least until it comes out on video or cable, in which case you should expect to have several details revealed to you).

Read on:
Why do the writers/directors of today's superhero movies insist on having their heroes reveal their secret identities? In Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker pulls off the Spidey mask in front of, literally, a whole trainload of people (which includes a little kid from his Queens neighborhood, who knows him), his nemesis Doctor Octopus, his nascent enemy Harry Osborne, and Mary Jane Parker. About the only people he doesn't blow his secret to is Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson!

This isn't the only superhero movie, nor even the only superhero sequel, to do this. Batman Returns, which I otherwise love for its delving into identity crisis and duality, took the same willy-nilly approach toward keeping the Batman identity secret. It pissed me off then, and Spider-Man 2 succeeded in pissing me off on this again.

I don't get it. One of the basic story principles in the comics is that these dual identity situations are maintained at all costs, for years/decades on end. I realize that in the age of surveillance cameras, satellite photography, voice analysis and DNA detection, the idea of someone like Spider-Man keeping a secret identity truly secret is highly unlikely. Still, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief in order to let the premise move forward.

Yet in the movies, the hero seems to be aching to tell anyone and everyone about his supposedly crucial secret. The motivation behind keeping that identity under wraps--to protect loved ones, as well as to keep a functional private life--is quickly forgotten.

What is it about the celluloid medium that brings this on? Obviously, the director and/or writers seems to feel it's important to introduce this element into the story. But why? Is it that hard for them to keep the two identities distinct during storytelling? If it's possible in the comic books, it's possible in the movies.

Note that all this face-time for the non-heroic alter-egos for both Spider-Man and Batman took place in the sequels, after super-successful first editions. Given this, I half-suspect that the stars in both cases lobbied hard and long to get more of their unmasked visages onscreen in the follow-up movies. I'd think this would be accomplished in scenes where Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne are going about their everyday lives. But if you consider that the maximum amount of time in these action films go to the costumed-hero sequences, it makes sense that the stars' wishes would have to be accomodated by having them show off their mugs while partially clad in their superhero duds.

In sum, I'm tired of it. Tell the stars to screw themselves and make them keep their masks on. Doing so might keep them from being typecast for the rest of their careers, so they should be thankful.