August 30, 2013 6:27pm PT by Graeme McMillan
Kick-Ass to Stacker Pentecost: Who Was This Summer's Greatest Hero?
The summer movie season means one thing: Heroes doing ridiculous things to save the world, the universe or something else that's of a scale barely comprehensible for most people. This summer alone, Iron Man 3 took down a terrorist organization, Man of Steel stopped an alien invasion and Star Trek Into Darkness saw the prevention of intergalactic war. But, how effective were the heroes in all of these movies, really? Let's look at the evidence (Be warned: Sizable spoilers ahead).
Iron Man 3
- What Does Iron Man Actually Do? Okay, let's ignore that whole "getting blown up after needlessly engaging in macho theatrics that enrage the bad guy" thing that takes up the first half of the movie; when Tony Stark actually gets focused, he gets a lot done even outside of just fixing up his suit of armor. He manages to track down the headquarters of the Mandarin and uncover the real power behind the throne, before engaging him in a showdown. Unfortunately, he fails in two important ways: He pretty much screws up the whole "saving his girlfriend" thing, and he didn't actually stop the bad guy -- That fell to the girlfriend he'd let down, in the end.
- How Useful Was He? Well, without Iron Man, none of the events that actually ended the threat would have happened -- but, then again, without Tony Stark, none of the events that caused the threat would have happened, either. Let's call this one a wash, then.
Star Trek Into Darkness
- What Does Captain Kirk Actually Do? He dies. That's what Captain Kirk does, in Star Trek Into Darkness: He dies. Admittedly, it's a self-sacrifice because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few kind of death, which is actually quite heroic, which underscores Kirk's value in Into Darkness: He's the guy whose gut instinct and acting without forethought saves the day in the short term, while other people -- Carol Marcus, Spock -- are the ones who actually manage to keep everything fine in the long-term by trying to out-think the bad guys.
- How Useful Was He? Again, in the short-term, Kirk did the job -- He shot himself between space-ships with Benedict Cumberbatch and re-aligned the warp core heads. But when it came to the really useful stuff, that was Spock, McCoy and the rest of the Enterprise crew. On the one hand, yay teamwork, but on the other, you have to wonder why it's Kirk that gets to stay in charge.
Man of Steel
- What Does Superman Actually Do? When the chips are down, Superman actually does a lot. Not everything -- there were, after all, two different elements to the World Engine that needed to be dealt with, and even someone with super speed can only be in one place at any one time -- but when it came to the big things, that was all Superman's doing. Destroying the World Engine? Check. Destroying the Genesis chamber? Yup. Killing Zod? That, too -- even if many would argue that that was particularly heroic. Unfortunately, he didn't really manage to save Metropolis, or the many, many people in the city in the process, which was a pretty big entry in the "Lose" column.
- How Useful Was He? Without Superman, we would all be speaking Kryptonian right now and wondering just what horrible slave work or death awaited us in the near future, so he was pretty useful even if he's not quite the Superman that manages to save everyone -- and does so without killing the villain -- that we might have hoped for. It's tempting to argue that he falls prey to the "Of course, without Superman, Zod et al wouldn't have attacked Earth at all" thinking that balanced Iron Man's karmic account, but I'm not sure that's necessarily true in this case. After all, it was Jor-El that sent him to Earth, it's not as if he had any say in the matter. Superman, then: Handy to have around, in the grand scheme of things.
The Lone Ranger
- What Did The Lone Ranger Actually Do? John Reid got vengeance for his dead brother, which was -- of course -- what he was primarily after. But in the process, he also managed to prevent the rise to power of railroad tycoon Latham Cole, who has nefarious designs on the future of America. It's one of those victories that is simultaneously small -- seriously, stopping a railroad tycoon from becoming more of a railroad tycoon? -- and potentially massive, considering the ramifications had he not been stopped. All things considered, though, this was a pretty small scale victory in summer blockbuster terms.
- How Useful Was He? Let's just be polite and say "He was useful enough for his own purposes." If he'd managed to prevent the Commanche/Cavalry clash, that might have been something a little more useful, but things were different back in those days. Simpler, less pyrotechnic and, judging by the success of the movie, far less exciting for the majority of people who went to the theater this summer.
- What Did Stacker Pentecost Actually Do? Stacker has it all, when it comes to heroism tho summer. He's literally the man with the plan, he sacrifices himself in order to ensure the plan's success, and most importantly, he's called Stacker Pentecost. Sure, some people might think that using a nuclear weapon to destroy a portal on the floor of the Pacific Ocean would be unsafe, environmentally dangerous and a terrible, terrible idea that could ultimately be as bad for Earth as the marauding kaiju attacking major metropolitan areas -- but those people would never have made it far into life with a name like Stacker Pentecost.
- How Useful Was He? It depends how you define useful. Sure, his plan technically failed when he was forced to detonate the device too early to deal with kaijus even before his Jaeger had reached the portal, but he wasn't entirely wrong -- a nuclear detonation did, in the end, do the trick even if it wasn't the nuclear detonation he'd originally intended. Plus, his sacrifice showed just how devoted he was to the cause, and without (a) his plan and (b) his death, the world would have been overrun by giant lizard monsters of indeterminate origin. Stacker Pentecost, we owe it all to you.
- What Did Wolverine Actually Do? It's time to address the adamantium-covered elephant in the room: Wolverine is actually kind of a terrible superhero. The Wolverine is a story about things that happen to him, as opposed to any real kind of heroic quest or adventure.Sure, Logan fights ninjas and the Silver Samurai and even Viper, but it's pretty much all because he's in the wrong place at the wrong time, and just happens to be a mutant with adamantium bones. Wolverine's heroism is a strange by-product of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's a self-healing Zelig, only with better hair.
- How Useful Was He? The answer to that question likely depends on who you asked. To Mariko, the answer is undoubtedly "Very," as he kept her alive and his actions resulted in her becoming the boss of the Yashida Corporation. To Yashida, the answer would undoubtedly be less favorable, considering he refused to help his friend escape death. For Fox and Hugh Jackman, of course, Wolverine couldn't really have been much more useful; without him, there would have been a three-year gap between X-Men movies with nothing to fill it.
- What Did Kick-Ass Actually Do? Arguably the least-effective superhero in cinematic history, Kick-Ass spends his second movie giving up and being essentially guilted into taking action by friends and peers. Even the death of his father prompts him to promise to never become Kick-Ass again just before he's kidnapped by his former best friend, turned arch nemesis. Despite the title of the movie, the true hero of Kick-Ass 2 is, once again, Hit-Girl. Kick-Ass himself? He's pretty much destined to not really do anything of note, aside from fail to save his former friend-turned-villain from being mauled by a shark. When it comes down to it, that's a pretty lousy record for any titular character.
- How Useful Was He? "Not at all" feels a little harsh, but it's entirely true. The entire movie is Kick-Ass causing trouble accidentally that other people have to deal with the consequences of. The worst decision Hit-Girl makes in the entire movie is telling him that he's the superhero the city deserves at the end. No city deserves someone like Kick-Ass defending them. We can only hope that New York is still in one piece by the time the inevitable Kick-Ass 3 begins.