"This year, the real supervillain was social injustice": Paying tribute to the summer of the wokebuster
'Avengers', 'Black Panther' and even 'Jurassic World' showed that big doesn't have to mean dumb
At the end of this year’s enormous Marvel ensemble Avengers: Infinity War, white text on a black screen promised the reappearance of the film’s unexpected breakout star. So, who was it? Captain Marvel? Doctor Strange? Peter Dinklage’s unnerving and enormous 12-foot dwarf?
Nope. ‘Thanos will return’, the text said, to a mixture of boos, hisses and – strangely - quite a lot of overjoyed cheers.
Thanos, after all, wasn’t what you’d call a villain’s villain. He was big, he was moody, and he may have crushed your favourite superhero’s skull in his giant purple fist, but there was something far scarier about him than his baritone voice or his imposing physique: he was right. He may have been a little heavy-handed in his plans to eradicate half of the universe’s population, but Thanos’ key arguments weren’t that different to the sh*t you probably spew down the pub after two pints on a Thursday night.
We need to do something about overpopulation, he said; the way we’re living isn’t sustainable, and whatever the solution to all this, it should be blind to class, race and gender. Thanos, terrifyingly, was pretty woke.
The big guy isn’t alone in the Marvel universe – the comic book movie overlords have been front and centre during a year in which the bad guys have actually sort of been the good guys. Just look at Black Panther’s furious Killmonger, who was so right-on about his plans to arm and assist the world’s oppressed black population that he spawned the wildly popular hashtag #KillmongerWasRight.
Outside of Marvel, Rampage saw Dwayne Johnson face off against a gorilla who’d fallen foul of medical testing, while Mission: Impossible – Fallout’s John Lark only wanted to fix a system of world government he saw as infested and corrupt. That he wanted to do it by inciting nuclear war was not important – what mattered is that he cared enough to try.
It’d be easy to see this as a trend towards the sympathetic Hollywood villain; after all, no-one was saying #DarthMaulWasRight after the Phantom Menace. The truth is, though, it’s the movies themselves that are skewing towards social justice – even Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom had a point to prove about what we’re doing to the planet, while Tag took a fairly dumb premise and turned it into a tale of male bonding, outdated masculinity and the importance of men breaking down boundaries and actually connecting with each other.
Ever since Get Out blew a Daniel Kaluuya-sized hole in Hollywood, blockbusters have begun to realise that ‘saying something important’ and ‘making a sh*t ton of money’ aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. The movie marketplace has suddenly becoming a stomping ground for an entirely new breed of intelligent, ardent and unashamedly woke big-budget films.
Consider some of this year’s big hitters: Crazy Rich Asians took representation seriously for once, while Love, Simon finally gave us a mainstream gay romance which was unapologetic and upbeat. Sorry To Bother You caused a splash with its unflinching take on the nuances of everyday prejudice, while BlacKkKlansman offered up a blistering (and timely) take on the virulent racism of middle-America. And guess what? Despite what the doubters said, these movies all made serious money.
It figures. We’re well into the age of woke now. We’re ditching meat and giving up plastic and marching for what we believe in. It’s no surprise that we want more from a blockbuster nowadays than Sylvester Stallone mowing down Vietnamese people with a minigun, or Sean Connery backhanding women for speaking out of turn.
Sure, we have space for films like Skyscraper, The Meg or whatever Gerard Butler’s blowing up at the moment, but we’re way keener on movies which speak to us intelligently, rather than screaming in our ears and punching us in our faces.
Take it from us: even though the summer is over, the era of the wokebuster has only just begun.