I finally watched Riddick (rated R, for violence, language, and nudity, as it turns out). Had to take it in 20 minute chunks over a few days because Hawkgirl isn’t going to watch that rating level with me.
I’m a fan of Vin Diesel’s first Riddick movie Pitch Black (rated R for scifi violence and the word FFFFFFFudge. Many. many times.) because there’s a huge spiritual truth that is revealed at the end about redemption. I also enjoyed the rated down Chronicles of Riddick (PG-13) adventure movie about a badass in space who sets out to find and take care of the one person he cares about. Who wouldn’t want to see a man who would stop at nothing to take care of his loved ones…?
But Riddick wanted to get back to basics. A criminal who is so animal his closest friends are predators. I want to talk about this “Bad Hero.”
What is the Bad Hero?
Riddick is an escaped, convicted murderer. He’s big, strong, scary, foul-mouthed and fearless. He’s as badass as they come; his catchphrase is he’s more animal than man.
For the X-Men, it’s Wolverine. The claw-spouting, instantly regenerating killing machine; “the best at what he does, only what he does isn’t very nice.” Yet somehow he’s on the hero roster.
There’s also the Punisher, Boondock Saints, the Expendables, shall I go on…?
Seems to be a trend. ‘How bad can we get?’ seems to be the question on everyone’s mind. I picked up a book which cast a war-band of orcs as the central characters. I wanted to see how the author would do it. The question in my mind? Is this really a story all about evil? Does “protagonist” equal “hero”? (—turned out to be an amateur story, with amateur action, about a bunch of warriors who could have been human if they weren’t green; just down on their luck mercenaries with a bad reputation and actually, secretly, a moral streak. I didn’t finish the book. I didn’t really want a story about real evil baddies, and I definitely didn’t want a story about poser baddies…)
I’ve often wondered: could you write a book about Darth Vader from the Empire’s perspective, and truly spin it as he’s the hero trying to keep order in the Empire, and all those horrible Rebels are just misled troublemakers. Is it really a matter of perspective, or is there a higher moral code than just ‘the way I see it from here?’
The thing about Riddick, and most of these ‘bad heroes,’ is that actually they have a moral center which—despite the publicity—keeps them rooted, and keeps us coming back. The promotion for Pitch Black was something like, it takes true evil to defeat evil (i.e. only Riddick is bad enough to kill these flesh-eating aliens—so like it or not, hapless people, you have to rely on Riddick to get you off this infested planet…). The funny thing is, Riddick risks his life multiple times to save the others, faces off with the aliens one-on-one and sometimes one-on-dozens. He even hides the human survivors in a cave, has the opportunity to escape without them, but comes back for them at great personal risk to save them.
What’s so bad about this guy again?
But he keeps his badass publicity, because it sells better! Is that Michael Jackson’s fault? Is it that album from the 80’s that makes us call ‘bad’ ‘good?’ Because the tagline “Bad enough to kill the baddies, but good enough to care for puppies,” doesn’t really flow off the tongue?
You think I’m joking? In Riddick, the third installment of the series, he is once again marooned on a hostile planet full of awful predators. He blames himself for losing his edge—not seeing the betrayal coming—and needs to get back to his animal side. So he kidnaps this tiger-dingo puppy (after viciously slaughtering several tiger-dingos that are trying to eat him), raises it to become his loyal pet.
Later in the movie he shows compassion to a dying captive, restraint when given opportunities to kill his enemies, and the ability—if nothing else—to live and let live. Yes, he’s not at all afraid to kill the traitors, the violent, the scum of the earth, and the women abusers. He’s got his own foul mouth, can be brutal to baddies, and is a little bit of a creeper; but never harms needlessly, never takes advantage, and definitely doesn’t exploit the weak.
It’s almost like Riddick lives by a code…! (What…? Like a moral absolute…?)
Now, I definitely cannot recommend the movie because it’s rated R for a reason. I can only give it a 3 on the Nogrometer. The story suffered several violent character swings besides. I won’t be watching it again. Just like the movie tells you, it attempts to get Riddick back to the gritty, edgy nasty stuff that made the first movie a hit, only worse. Except Riddick himself comes off more pragmatic than evil. And he’s definitely more ethical than the bounty hunters who come to take him down. Riddick comes off definitively as the hero, and we think he’s super-cool!
Why do we like this Bad Hero? Why is he bad, if he’s so good?
Riddick definitely has a temper, and women issues. His moral compass is, at best, askew. We don’t know how he got his ‘murderer’ status in the first place (but we know he keeps it). But his only onscreen crimes, really, are vigilante-isms. He acts as judge, jury, and executioner. Most of the time he seems, in our eyes, to have judged correctly.
We like a tough guy who looks out for the weak. He uses his strength [mostly] for good. He is an expert at poetic justice, if not legal justice. And so to our eyes, he is a hero.
Should we like him?
Ultimately Riddick is a problem. Worse than Batman; worse than Superman— vigilantes who act as judge and jury—Riddick (Wolverine, the Punisher, Ghost Rider, etc… ) adds executioner to the list.
I don’t think we should like them. We do like them, because they provide a justice so desperately needed.
Justice is a real human need. I believe it’s a God-given need. We need order, and we crave fairness—even in a world where a mantra we learn early on is: “Life isn’t fair.” Still yearn for fairness.
And we have laws. Unfortunately many times the system fails us, and justice is perverted (or neglected). There’s injustice around us. Perhaps there’s corruption or negligence above us.
So in desperation, we turn to the Bad Hero. The Bad Hero gets the job done, assuages our righteous anger, he does it with no regrets, and looks cool at the same time.
But the problem with bad heroes, ultimately, is at the end of the day they are still bad examples. It’s the problem the Joker so keenly puts his little purple finger on in The Dark Knight. At the end of the day, the only reason we tolerate a vigilante is because we’re more afraid of the Joker. Really, the Batman is a lawbreaker. He’s illegal. At the end of the day, he can only clean up the streets so far before he has to clean himself up. He should turn himself in. But he looks cool in a cowl, so we brush our moral questions under the carpet and hope we don’t step in guano.
So what do we say? Ultimately?
Good Heroes are still better than Bad Heroes. Vader is not bad because the story is told by rebels. He’s bad because of his cruelty and crimes. Batman is not good because he stops bad guys, he’s actually a bad guy himself. We should endeavor to never let it get to the ‘Riddicks’ of the world. Bad Heroes may be better than no heroes, but they’re still not good.