Dark and Gritty Power Rangers and the Hero vs. Hero problem

So, most people will know that I was part of the pop culture phenomenon that is The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

As such, I find myself steeped in superhero mythology and lore pretty much on a daily basis, answering questions about the show, my time on it or for my opinion about this or that aspect of the series and other franchises — and I am perfectly fine with this. I enjoy those types of discussions immensely, considering I grew up infatuated with myths about heroes and demigods, knights of the round table, superheroes, comic books and just about anything having to do with good guys vs. bad guys.

Most of my friends will also know that I am a big fan of cinematic soundtracks and scores, as a matter of fact, it is the primary type of music I listen to when I have my earbuds in and am working, writing or just relaxing. And it’s that type of music that inspired this post. I was in the car, returning from an errand and my ipod was playing the Captain America: The Winter Soldier score (naturally ;)) – more specifically the fifth track, which is entitled “Fury” and is the music that plays under the scene when Hydra attacks Nick Fury on the streets of Washington DC.

The scene is basically one that involves Fury being assaulted by a small army of Hydra goons leading to a violent and frightening car chase that ends when The Winter Soldier destroys Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. SUV with a magnetic sticky bomb.

And as dramatic and exciting as that scene plays and as energizing as the music that enhances it is – it got me thinking.

Pretty much all of our human experience is going to be an us vs. them situation – it happens all the way down to a cellular level. White blood cells will viciously attack foreign bodies to defend against infection or harm. Conflict and battle seem to be inevitable scenarios even in the simplest of things. At this point you are probably saying to yourself, ‘well, duh!’ But stay with me here…

As I was listening to the track and replaying the scene in my head, I thought – huh. If HYDRA was operating with SHIELD for all those years, that implies that at least half, if not more of those people within the organization chose to be bad guys – or at least what we are told, are the bad guys.

So, here’s where things get messy.

In a lot of media where there are good guys vs. bad guys (and especially in comic books or super spy type books, comics and films) there’s always an evil organization that is bent on world domination, or at least on causing a global crisis – or a regime change. And they are labelled the “BAD GUYS”. In this type of fiction – the likes of the Avengers or The Justice League or the Venture Bros., the James Bond series or even tongue-in-cheek spoofs like Austin Powers or Our Man Flint – these “BAD GUYS” have a seemingly endless supply of goons and henchmen that make up their ranks. They are well equipped, well organized and committed.

What’s my point? They’re also human. meaning that they are no different than you or I – they are no one special, and in this sense I’m talking about how in fiction, you have main and secondary characters and possibly some important tertiary or peripheral characters, but after that, everyone else is just background. And almost without fail, those background folks are simply there to run, hide, scream, react, or get wiped out by some disaster or act of violence or battle. They are nameless and faceless, and very rarely are they acknowledged as part of the story being told.  **In deleted scenes from the Austin Powers movie there was even a scene that skewers this part of the genre that the serious ones never address – that of the goons or mooks or henchmen’s humanity — the scene shows the news of a henchman’s demise being delivered via a telephone call to a shocked widow. And let’s not forget Randall’s rant in Clerks about all the contractors and engineers etc who were killed when the Rebels blew up the second Death Star.

So, HYDRA’s army of underlings are human beings – with feelings, and lives outside of work, they are just like you and me. Which – as I said before – implies that at some point in their career they made the conscious choice to take the up the cause of the villain or villains that run the organization – they signed up, pledged allegiance or swore an oath – whatever. In the end they chose to be BAD GUYS. You could argue that they were brain-washed or coerced, but for argument’s sake – let’s just stick with the premise that they made the choice to be on the side of evil.

And that’s were my brain tangent-ed off into the following  thought process (which to be honest had been formulating in the back of my mind since the deboot fan film was released last week – see below) – that means that on some level, if given the right motivation or opportunity, perhaps each and every one of us – would choose to be on the side of the BAD GUYS.

And why not – the bad guys always have the coolest uniforms, the sweet high tech gear and bad-ass looking symbol. Being evil is attractive and fun – you get to do things that normal people wouldn’t do or dare. Why else do we have such a fascination with anything criminal?

But here’s the thing. Its just at that at that point, the crucial moment when they make the decision to follow the “villain”, they actually stop being the bad guys. And all the other henchmen and cronies that work for the “villain” – they aren’t bad guys either. They are your guys – they are the good guys, the right guys.

incrediblegoonThe people who comprise the bulk of whatever “villainous” organization you might have (HYDRA, SPECTRE, or the goons Syndrome hires in The Incredibles) must believe that they are on the side of RIGHT, not WRONG. And given the way that little chase scene plays out – with Dash partially if not outright responsible for several goons death’s – whose to say the goons are on the wrong side? So the crux of all this is – who are the bad guys? The bad guys are just those people who take the side that isn’t yours. But that’s too simplistic really.

I’m sure this isn’t a new revelation to anyone – but it is something that we just generally accept as a given. We don’t question it, wonder about the logic of it or actually ever say “…wait a minute…” we just sit in our seats and read or observe and accept that those folks there with the dark uniforms and sneers and cackles are the folks on the wrong side. And calmly and unemotionally accept that they should suffer and die for choosing to take one side over another.

I guess it’s really just an outward display of our own duality, the constant war that goes on inside all of us about – should I or shouldn’t I?

We have a tendency or a need, hard-wired on a chemical or spiritual level, to have one side versus the other – the eternal struggle to better ourselves is played out again and again through the cliche of hero against villain, dark against light, us against them.

Which leads us back to Power Rangers.

Power Rangers at its core, is about a group of teenagers, who are given the choice to become superheroes to defend the planet from the machinations of a super villain.

Recently, a satirical “fan” film was released online. Entitled Power/Rangers – it was a dark and gritty take on the basic premise of the show – that the character I played recruited children to fight an intergalactic war, the result of which, according to the film, ruins their lives. The film was extremely well made. The producer released a video explaining the thought process behind the ‘deboot’ and expressed what I took to be a great affection for the series, while at the same time expressing a need to skewer it’s silliness – and I think, also (in a offhand way) to rail against the plethora of “dark and gritty” takes on other comic book or super hero franchises that have filled the screen the last decade or so.

I’ve had a number of fans ask me what I think about it and I’ve seen the debate raging about those who say it stinks and those who say it is exactly what the Power Rangers needs to be in order to be relevant and everything else in between.

So what do I think about it? It’s just a “what if” take on the tropes of the franchise. It’s a cynical look at something that was goofy and fun. It’s a reflection of the world we live in.

It’s a perpetuation of the us vs. them mentality.

We are doomed or we are fated (take your pick) to engage in conflict, and that the best and seemingly only solution is to respond in kind – or at least to prepare yourself to respond in a violent and aggressive manner. The martial arts that was such a focus of the show, is the art of self defense. I’m not an expert, nor have I studied the art and so can’t really speak to the intent for the practice of martial arts or its history. However, by the definition, the art of self-defense implies you have to defend against an aggressor… because, inevitably, someone or something will come along to try and take something from you or harm you in some way.

Just look at the debate about guns, and how passionate people are on the subject. It speaks to the deep-seated fear that our fellow human beings are just one step away from being the enemy. Forget fictional wars between intergalactic races and teenagers in primary colored uniforms battling it out to save the same city from destruction over and over again. What the deboot film illustrates is that as a society, we hunger for violence and action and visuals and stories that show us explosions, bloodshed and death. Mostly because our daily lives are devoid of those things. We fantasize about doing the things that don’t or won’t happen… it keeps us sane in a way.

As far as how I feel about the fan reaction to the film? Let me preface this by saying something right upfront. I’m a pacifist. Yet, as much as I abhor violence and war, I will continue to watch films or read books or graphic novels or comics that contain the very things that go on in the deboot film and that are present in the current crop of action adventure entertainment that is being created and distributed to us. Because I too fantasize about being a superhero, fighting the good fight, saving the day.

What troubles me, is the need or desire of fans to see Ranger versus Ranger match-ups or battles.

I know that this isn’t a new concept – we’ve had heroes battling heroes as far back as ancient times. Because inevitably, you run out of monsters. In a lot of superhero fiction, the good guys win so often that it becomes stale, boring and dull. So, you will always get a Superman vs. Batman or Captain America vs. Iron Man or Green Ranger vs. Red Ranger.MMPR_Duel_JasonvsTommy

But for my own part – and speaking as the character I portrayed on the show? I don’t think Zordon would condone having one Ranger battle another, for any reason.

Say what you will about Zordon’s motivations, from my perspective and from what I remember of the character and what I saw on the show – Zordon was primarily concerned with defense. He was unable (perhaps unwilling) to battle Rita or Zedd or other villains himself. Mainly because he was prevented from actually doing so – he was “trapped” in an inter-dimensional time warp. He couldn’t take an active role in said defense, and so recruited young fighters to take up the challenge.

As far as the notion that the teenagers in question (and I’m speaking about the original series here, I’m not that familiar with later series) were coerced or forced or drafted – this isn’t the case. They were offered the chance to become Power Rangers – but refused that offer initially. It was only after they themselves were attacked and they realized the severity of the situation did they choose a side.

I could be completely wrong about that. Perhaps there is some canon information in the script bible for the show that had Zordon being OK with having Rangers battle one another ala the Danger Room in the X-Men comics.

But honestly, what’s the point? Bragging rights? Team Green vs. Team Red? My guy is better than your guy? In the grand scheme of things — who cares?

From Zordon’s point of view, they were chosen to be Rangers because they were different, because each of them had strengths that the others didn’t, that only by working together – by being as one – could they rise to the challenge and save the day. Having them battle one another to see who wins defeats the entire purpose they were created.

They are a team. Together they stand, divided they fall — which is exactly what happens in the deboot film. They were separated or corrupted and defeated precisely because they had ceased acting as a team.

I’ve had fans ask me – are you Team Tommy or Team Jason?

I’m neither. There is only one team – and that’s Team Power Rangers. Sure on Instagram or Facebook there are factions in support of this character or that character – #TeamZordon for example. But in the end, the #TeamRocky, #TeamJason, or the #TeamMastadon fan or the #TeamJDF fan — they are really just fans of the franchise as a whole – at least that’s how I choose to look at it.

Here’s the thing – there is good and there is evil. Just turn on the news if you want to see the daily battle we have with not only enemies abroad but here in our own streets. It’s not anything new and its not anything that is ever going to change – unfortunately.

But the conflict we see in our entertainment is supposed to be something we learn from – its there to illustrate for us the consequences of violence. I guess that’s why its a popular theme. One might argue that we haven’t learned a thing from this type of entertainment – what we should realize is that war and conflict are something we should avoid. But all the evidence seems to be to the contrary, given the plethora of celluloid violence thrown at us on a weekly basis. We have more guns in our homes and on the streets than at any other point in history, and more and more acts of violence are taking place in those homes and on the streets than ever before and we are reminded on every news broadcast to be on guard for those that might seek to do us harm.

Is it any wonder why we seek that dark and grim view in our entertainment? Because it is a simply a reflection of the time we live in… we are not less violent than our ancestors, in fact we are not really any more advanced than they were in ancient Rome. Oh sure we have more conveniences and technological tools and methods for making our lives easier – but in the end, we still lust after gore and blood just as much as they did.

Maybe I’m just of the school of thought that heroes vs. heroes isn’t really all that compelling. To me that’s just ego and blustering, which is boring and one note. But each of us has different tastes and that’s what makes life interesting.

I like my entertainment to be epic struggles of dark vs. light. Boring and one note to some I guess, but that’s just how I like it. The gray areas are great for passionate debates about morality and meaning, but when it comes to heroes and villains — I’d much rather be entertained by giant robots fighting giant monsters than kids in spandex executing one another with glocks and combat knives.

So in the end, as long as the violence and blood and gore stays on the screen – I’ll continue to watch those examples that appeal to me and discard the rest. And hope that in our real lives we continue to push through to a time when that type of entertainment is the only time we will see someone suffer harm or death from a weapon or from another person.

In the real world, we have had enough of that… don’t you think?

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2 thoughts on “Dark and Gritty Power Rangers and the Hero vs. Hero problem

  1. Pingback: “X Vs. Y” | The Tao of Zordon

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