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 Life Skills for Fanboys:  Superhero Movie Moral Compass

 written by Tony DiGerolamo, Copyright 2016

To further my goal of helping fellow fanboys, I have included an index of links of previous columns with their topics.  Don’t take it personal, I’m just trying to help.  Previous columns are indexed at the end.

Comic Book Purists

A comic book purist would definitely bristle at the new Superman and Superman vs. Batman movies.  Batman killing people with guns?  Superman wrecking a city and barely caring?  Killing Zod and killing of Jimmy Olsen of all people.  I’ve been check out of the whole new DC franchise because of it.  It’s not because I abhor characters in movies killing.  In fact, go see The Raid: Redemption, it’s amazing and tons of people die in all kinds of ways.  In fact, unless you’re talking about the Saw franchise, violence is A-Okay with me.

But recently I got to see Kingsman: The Secret Service on HBO.  For those of you that don’t know, it was created by the Kickass guy.  It’s basically a version of James Bond, only it’s Team James Bond where the agents are named after the Knights of the Round table.  The interesting thing about the movie is that the spy agency is privately run, totally independent of any government, including the UK.  The problem with it is there’s not really a story or rather, there’s enough of a story to get you from point A to B, but when you take time to analyze it you realize it doesn’t work.

The Kingsmen Problem

So, spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen it.  The Kingsmen begins with Agent Galahad on a generic mission to the Middle East.  Things go wrong and an agent dies.  His son, several years later, becomes Galahad’s protégé as he seeks to redeem himself because the mistake on the mission was his fault.  Galahad gets the kid, Eggsy, into the Kingsman training program.  They go through a series of tests that, at first, seem kinda cruel.  The barracks suddenly flood and one of the trainees drown.  The tests are dangerous and they have to work as a team, even though the agents seem to work alone.  One of the tests sorta made sense and that’s when they are tied to train tracks, made to believe that they will be hit by a train and have to choose to “die” rather than betray the agency.  Problem is, the guy who fails (plus all the other recruits that failed) would still know about the agency.

The final test, however, is when the movie loses it’s moral compasses.  The trainees are each given a dog to train.  The final test is that they are given a gun and asked to shoot the dog.  Eggsy refuses to do so, which I thought showed character.  After all, wouldn’t a guy want his teammate to survive?  But no, turns out the winner actually shot her dog.  Later, it’s revealed the gun had blanks and the drowning was faked.  This undermines the entire test.  Not only that, is it really so desirable that a privately run spy agency have spies that blindly follow orders?

But getting past all that, the villain in the movie (played by Samuel L. Jackson) has some super weapon he uses through cellphones.  He decides to test the weapon on a “racist church” in Kentucky.  Up until that point in the movie the locations had been Middle East and London.  Now suddenly we go to Kentucky in a church where the members are so cartoony and racist as to be unbelievable.  There is a shot of proper English Galahad (played by Colin Firth btw) looking dashing as he sits in the middle of a group of yammering, screaming, racist maniacs.  The line in the movie is something like, “I don’t see Valentine.”  This is Samuel L. Jackson’s character.  Now, these racists are dropping the N-Bomb along with lots of other bombs, why would Galahad expect to see Valentine in the church?  Additionally, he’s already met Galahad in two previous scenes, why not sit outside the church and observe?

The answer becomes obvious when the weapon is tested.

Violence for Violence’s Sake

A few blocks away, Valentine turns on his weapon and everyone in the church (including Galahad) goes berserk and starts killing each other.  It’s not painfully obvious why the writers had Galahad walk into the church.  They wanted the character to murder a bunch of people in interesting ways.  I saw the scene on YouTube ahead of time and even then, I said to myself “How are they going to justify this?”  They answer is, they don’t really.  The writers avoid dealing with the consequences of Galahad, a super, highly trained murder machine who becomes the only survivor.  Now you might say, “Well, aren’t the church people a bunch of racists that deserved to die?”  Well, think about that.  Do people deserve to be murdered just because they are racists?  And in any church, aren’t there always members of the congregation who are in attendance but maybe don’t agree with everything the preacher or the rest of the flock believes?  The whole scene just comes off as a clumsy slam against Southerners and religion, plus it’s way too cartoony.

You might also say, “Well, that’s the movie, right?  It’s supposed to be over the top.”  Well, no.  Because in the very next scene, Valentine confronts Galahad at gun point.  They talk about how in a James Bond movie, as the villain, he might have some elaborate death trap that he escapes, but then says, “but this isn’t that kind of movie.”

At that moment, I was glad I got to see this movie for free on cable because I would’ve been furious had I paid twelve dollars.  This is the weakest kind of callback and it exposes the motivation of the movie.  Characters do things, not because their traits, backgrounds or moral codes tell them to do, but because the film makers are making a clumsy point.  This isn’t story telling, this is terribly done one-upmanship.  See?  James Bond would do something clever and escape.  I’m going to kill off this character because I’m so clever!

Meanwhile, it turns Galahad’s character into an utter failure.  He doesn’t redeem himself, doesn’t live to see Eggsy become a Kingsman and compounds his mistakes by mass-murdering a church full of people.  This could’ve been avoided with some clever spy device so that Galahad, trapped in the church, is forced to kill all the people driven insane by the weapon.  Maybe he tries to save them at first, only to get stabbed and then realizes there’s no other way.  This would’ve at least shown that Galahad is a noble guy, willing to risk himself even for a group of racists that had been turned into murderous maniacs by Valentine.

But no.  So, emotionally, why care about Galahad at all?  He is a failure.  But wait, it gets worse.  The Kingsmen too have become failures.  Late in the movie, it’s revealed that the head of the agency, King Arthur, played by Michael Caine, has been compromised by Valentine.  After the church scene, this incredibly lazy twist made the movie even worse.  It undermined everything the entire concept.  If you have a privately run spy agency that answers to no government (since the early 1900’s) and you go to incredible lengths to pick and train your agents, then you must have an incredibly powerful mission statement of core beliefs, right?  Alas, no.  Again, it’s all about the writers one-upping James Bond.  Their egos are such that they see nothing else of value.  MI6 is topped by the fact the Kingsmen are older and don’t answer to governments.  Instead of one James Bond, you have a dozen.  Instead of a few people being killed, about hundreds and thousands.

King Arthur betrays Eggsy and the Kingsmen, then is killed by Eggsy in another derivative bit where the poison drink is switched at the last second.  So not only is Galahad a failure, the Kingsmen are pointless because they allowed themselves to be led by Michael Caine, who had no problem selling them down the river to Valentine, who intends to “cull” the population of Earth.

The Final Insult

In the last act of what was a very long movie, Eggsy storms Valentine’s castle.  To save the day, their only recourse is to hack Valentine’s computer and set off a computer chip in his followers’ neck that will instantly cause their head to explode.  (This was set up earlier in the movie.)  The only problem with this concept is that Valentine’s followers are the titans of industry and world leaders, AKA: The people who’d be shrewd enough to remove the chip and/or disable the head-exploding part of it all.

So in the climax of the film, Valentine sets off his device and the people of the world go bananas and start killing each other.  Eggsy own mother (to make it personal) locks her baby in the bathroom right before the weapon is turned on, but then takes a meat cleaver to the door in an attempt to get at the baby and kill her.  Several things wrong with this:  If the weapon is that immediate and that strong, then millions of people all over the world have done the same thing, only they didn’t get a phone call like Eggsy’s mom did.  In fact, the entire sequence goes on forever where you see the entire population of Yankee stadium attacking one another along with other public spaces around the globe.

Very flippantly, Eggsy says to another character, “I’m off to save the world.”  Thing is, he didn’t really.  The world must be pretty fucked up after the weapon came on several times and stayed on for what seemed tens of minutes.  Logic says a lot of people would be dead.  And, in fact, all the world leaders are dead because Eggsy and friends manage to hack the computer and set off the chips.  In another long sequence, the heads of all the bad guys except Valentine explode.  It goes on for what seems like several minutes.

Afterwards and after Valentine is dead, Eggsy is happy and celebrating because he saved the world.  Did he?  I’m pretty sure hundreds of thousands of people are dead.  Every country on Earth is leaderless and the Kingsmen themselves are down to like three guys.  How is this a victory?

Oh, right.  Because the writers thinks genocide put to music is better than James Bond tricking the Man with the Golden Gun.

The Moral Compass Replaced by Ego

So, as an older fan, you might just dismiss me as an old man who can’t take the “new”.  Or a comic book purist that refuses to accept changes.  No.  What I refuse to do is like Hollywood jackoffs replace the moral compass of their characters with their egos.  I don’t pay twelve dollars for ego.  I pay to see a story.  Showing up James Bond is not a story.  Making Batman kill and Superman indifferent are not just esthetic choices.  Esthetic choices should make a story better.

If Batman uses guns and Superman doesn’t give a shit about the people on the ground, there is a whole fertile ground to explore.  The why’s.  New dialogue.  New places to go.  You could, for instance, have Superman fly to the Middle East, murder all of America’s enemies and end the War on Terror in a few hours or, at least, imply in the movie that he may have already done that.  If Batman uses guns, he’d probably be amazing it.  He could use super high tech sniper rifles to murder organized crime figures, not to mention the Joker and some of the other villains that “need killing”.   And there is a HUGE area to mine in the Kingsmen if they are a private spy agency that answers to no government and has a history going back to the 1900’s.  Some governments might be after them.  The English government might not approve of their hijinks.  The long history of the Kingsmen might provide a villain with a long history of being foiled by them.


When movies don’t mine these rich areas for story.  When they jam in another pointless action scene or death just to up the ante, they’re not doing their job.  Without a moral compass, all you have is a bunch of cool YouTube videos strung together.  There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you paid to see and expected.  But if you pay to see a story and you get something like the Kingsmen, I think you’ve been robbed.  It’s an insult to your intelligence.  It’s especially insulting if there’s no way to get your money back and you went to the trouble of going all the way to the theater to see it.

These days, I’m a much more discerning movie goer.  I only go to movies that are either A) an experience like Hardcore Henry appears to be or B) something I can’t wait to see because it looks good.  Captain America: Civil War looks pretty good, mostly because you can hear the story in the trailer.  The elements are there and it builds upon previous movies.  The Kingsman trailer doesn’t seem to have all those elements.  And after seeing the church scene, I avoided it in the theater.

Because why should I give money to filmmakers to feed their precious egos?  I demand a story and so should you.

Previous Columns
Obesity at Cons
The Art of Conversation
The Line Between Fans and Pros
Geek Elitism
Convention Panels
Convention Volunteers
Food Gifts
Women and Cons
Get Your Room Party Together
Stop Bringing Your Kids to Cons
The Face of Geek Needs Work
Fixing the Face of Geek
Franchise Worship
Presenting Your Project
The New Image?
Stop Trying to Make Geek Cool
 Rethinking the Comic Book Con
Zombie Stories Should Still Be About People
Geek Stereotypes and the Big Bang Theory
Con Locations
Traveling to Cons on the Cheap
Con Economics
Comics, Sexism and Trolling
Searching for the Words
How to Fix Comics?  Stop Reading Them
Shopping at the Con
The Hollywood Double Edged Sword
Beware the Geek Scams
Success Kills
In Response to Chuck Dixon, Paul Rivoche and Janelle Asselin
Fanboy Reporters
Dealing with Critics and Haters in the Internet Age
Who Are the Creepers?
The Cosplayer Treaty of 2014: A Proposal
Female Thor
Comics’ Non-News
Geek Feminists and DC’s T-Shirts
Cosplay Blowback
Charlie Hebdo and the Other Stuff You Should Know
Customer Service
The Intolerant Internet