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Even Hero(man)s Sing the Blues

April 17, 2010

If you ever check out Outlaw Vern’s movie review site and you read his reviews on action movies, you’ll see that he proposes the idea that the action movie is akin to the blues. The blues is a fairly specific musical genre. With rock and classical and jazz and other genres, you have a wide range of subgenres and styles and what have you. While the blues has this too, the genre isn’t really about innovation or anything like that. Most blues songs sound the same. Similar guitar licks, similar lyrics, similar beats, and so on. It wouldn’t be far off target to say “if you’ve heard one blues song, you’ve seen them all.” It’d be pretty reductive to say that, but it’d make sense.

The blues isn’t about changing things up. Look at jazz. It’s all about improvisation and rifting off of a core tune. The blues is about playing the same exact not every time and doing it with as much feeling and emotion as possible. You aren’t playing the notes differently each time you pick up the guitar and play a certain song. You’re just trying to convey your emotions at that point in time to the best of your ability.

That’s what Vern says the action movie genre does. There’s certain set patterns and clichés that one expects to see in an action movie, and it isn’t about straying from that formula and being unique that draws viewers into these sorts of movies. Like the blues, people watch action movies to see these familiar “notes” executed with as much competence and “emotion” as possible. Basically, a well-executed, well-choreographed action scene keys in on the same appeal as a well-executed blues song: they’re both familiar but distinctive enough to enjoy on their own strength despite being “derivative.”

This is a theory that I buy into, and I think that theory applies to many other genres as well. One said genre, the super hero one, is being displayed in Heroman.

Heroman hits all of the super hero “notes” and does so with great competence. We’ve seen this story before. We’ve seen the young kid tossed into heroics against his will. We’ve seen the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” act many times over. We’ve also seen the alien invasion story told before. We know the routine. Everything that’s happening in Heroman is something that we’ve seen before. The question is whether Heroman is giving us its all through the course of its story. Is Heroman singing to us soulfully, pouring out his heart while he strums those familiar chords, or is he some poser white dude who’s only exposure to the blues is The Blues Brothers 2000?

Heroman isn’t John Goodman vainly trying to pretend he’s John Belushi. He might not be BB King or Muddy Waters, but he’s wailing away righteously.

I think it’s the details that pull everything together. Joey and Heroman nail the super her archetype well enough, but it’s the supporting cast that makes Heroman really sing. Will, Lina’s obsessive bully of a brother, is an awesome character. He’s that Flash Thompson/Eddy Brock type of character who irrationally hates the main hero not out of any true sense of villainy, but out of petty jealousy. The question remains if he’ll go down Flash’s “just a punk ass bully who is really a decent guy” route or Eddie’s “yeah, I’ll bond with this alien and become a highly marketable villain” route. It doesn’t really matter which path he takes, since he’s built to fulfill several potential niches.

Psy plays the role of the “normal” sidekick, not unlike the role Rick Jones had with The Hulk. He’s there to act as a support system for Joey, despite his lack of “powers,” much like how Rick would help Hulk when “HULK SMASH” wasn’t a viable option.

It’s these little character details that show that the creators know their shit. They know how to play the super hero game and play it well. It isn’t a glowing example of super heroic perfection, but it’s pretty damn great and doesn’ show any signs of letting up.

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