Words by Khayil Sorima
In recent years, films and series featuring anti-heroes have risen in popularity, especially comic adaptations such as The Suicide Squad, The Punisher, and Deadpool. This new array of entertainment offers a breath of fresh air for viewers who want to explore films with dark humor and narratives.
Though the hero narrative will probably never lose its touch, anti-heroes are here to stay – especially for the people tired of the predictable loop: hero defeats villain, villain escapes, repeat.
Anti-heroes are set apart from the hero archetype because they are ready to commit atrocities to advance their goal. Their ulterior motives usually revolve around bloody vengeance, insanity, personal gain, or a twisted interpretation of morality. The charm of anti-heroes is that they are entertainingly unpredictable, and they tend to finish what the hero types fail to resolve. Arguably, viewers can be enticed by this concept on-screen and reality, maybe because we are tired of band-aid solutions and want permanent change. Sometimes our desire to do so is even in line with the darkness of an anti-hero character.
Despite their apparent villainous traits, they are well-loved by the general audience, and it is not a mystery why. After all, the goal of popular media is to profit; to do so, they touch up traits that are usually detestable with elements that we can attribute to good. They typically provide the protagonist a companion who acts as the moral compass — like how Deadpool has Colossus, The Punisher has Daredevil, and Venom has Eddie Brock. This way, they balance the dynamics of good and evil.
They also sell a character by creating an empathetic or tragic story. A narrative proved effective in the latest reimaginings of Loki, Maleficent, and Cruella. Though most of us hated these characters in our childhood, their recent series or films paint a somewhat human struggle.
However, the most common anti-hero narrative portrays the protagonist as a vigilante willing to cross the line for justice. Criminal justice theories suggest that civil unrest may lead to the justification and support for vigilantism. Given the state of injustice in our country, some viewers of anti-hero narratives might relate themselves with an anti-hero’s radical sense of justice.
Assimilating Anti-heroes and Reality
As good as they may seem, anti-heroes are not a good role model. Even characters acting out of their sense of justice, like Frank Castle, aka ‘Punisher,’ and Suicide Squad’s Amanda Waller should never be idolized. Frank and Waller’s persona initiate a sense of justice at the expense of the lives of innocent individuals.
For instance, in The Suicide Squad, Waller ordered the protagonists to abandon and allow the Corto Maltese government to collapse along with its people, in an attempt to cover up a grievance of the United States. Obviously, the lives of innocent civilians do not matter to Waller as she only cares about the objective of her military unit. On the other hand, Frank has the habit of killing unnecessarily, putting down henchmen and goons who were probably just victims of syndicates and an unjust system — individuals who could have been rehabilitated under proper legal measures.
In many ways, the manner in which popular media sell anti-hero justice is a lie that may cause delusionary concepts — a madman is still a madman no matter how much justification is used in his insanity-guided crusade. This promotional strategy is something to be wary about, especially in politics. A prime example of such was President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign back in the 2016 elections. His campaign promoted Duterte in a manner very similar to an anti-hero. He promised an iron-clad rule as he expressed his intent to kill for the sake of protecting the nation, earning him the nickname, ‘The Punisher.’
But six years into the anti-drug campaign, all we have are broken promises and a fascist system full of crimes against humanity. Human rights groups state that there have been at least 7,000 vigilante-style killings and 3,000 deaths in the hands of police since the beginning of the campaign. In many aspects, Duterte has the same twisted sense of justice as Amanda Waller and Frank Castle — they all act as if their moral compass is better than everyone else, even thinking that they are above the law.
Until now, Duterte’s enablers continue to paint him as a vigilante leader. They forge a narrative that appeals greatly to the general audience by painting the masses as undisciplined and in need of some personality to serve as their savior.
Another aspect to point out is that the masses are subject to an unjust system. This typically breeds anger which tends to lead to irrationality. In the case of Duterte’s supporters, they believe that bloodshed for the sake of justice is inevitable. But the truth is, there is no justice — there is just bloodshed. Unlike fictional anti-hero narratives, no amount of drama and scheme to garner empathy towards the administration can change that.
As enticing as it may seem, anti-hero-like vigilante justice should remain on the big screen. Such interpretation of justice tends to cast aside the fact that nobody is above the law; nobody has the right to play god and take lives without thinking of the repercussions. The anti-hero character type reminds us to have a critical perspective of the content that we view, and the reality we have to face. While we can enjoy our favorite popular films, we are responsible for the concepts that we take in and apply to reality. [P]