What I’ve Been Watching: Summer Blockbusters (Dragons, Apes and Mutants)

how-to-train-your-dragon-2-posterThis summer has left me somewhat busier than usual due to finding myself a Mrs Observealot to share my adventures in time and space with. Because of this I’ve not had the time to write up my thoughts and insights into many of the summer’s films I’ve been fortunate enough to catch.

Three of these films are X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and How to Train Your Dragon 2. All are big budget, high quality films, but more importantly thematically they actually have a surprising amount in common.

More so than most other big budget franchises, X-Men, Planet of the Apes, and How to Train Your Dragon are all about two rival groups and the struggle to find peace between them.

For this reason, all three films appealed to me as someone who grew up in Northern Ireland in the midst of such a struggle. Whether the ‘other’ are mutants, apes, or dragons there is a sense in these films that peace is a possible, if difficult, outcome, and the protagonists in all these films are all doing their hardest to bring reconciliation to their worlds.

It is of course merely coincidence that this summer we are also seeing the horrific consequences of real-life conflict between two sides in Gaza. It would be much easier to view the conflict in the light of films like Transformers where the evil Decepticons are clearly thus and must be destroyed. However, real-life is rarely so simple, and evil never so easy to identify.

In X-Men: Days of Future Past we see Wolverine travelling back in time to try and prevent the assassination of Trask, a scientist determined to wipe out the mutants with his robotic sentinels. The message of the film seems to be that while violence can appear to do good in the short-term, its long-term impact is often messy and lead to consequences much worse than the alternative.

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a war between what remains of the humans and a newly formed ape community is almost inevitable. However, fear, distrust and the reality that war is often a popular option with community’s citizens, lead to conflict in the final act.

Finally, How to Train Your Dragon 2 sees Hiccup continue to try and create a world where dragons and humans work together. Unfortunately, in his way is Drago, someone who sees dragons as a means to his end. Unlike his father, Stoic, Hiccup believes there is a peaceful solution to the conflict with Drago and is prepared to put himself in great danger for the sake of reconciliation.

If there is a problem with these three films it’s that despite all revolving around plots and protagonists who want to avoid war all three films (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) end with big budget, dazzling, impressive fight sequences. It’s as though these films are saying: “we’ve paid enough lip service to peace, it’s time to give the audience what they paid for.” This is problematic, since it requires all the main characters to be strong in battles, and they all use violence to prove their worth.

In the real world of course peacemakers are not known for their mad fighting skills, rather they are known for going through immense personal sacrifice to achieve their aims. Where as in these three films, respect is gained through the protagonists’ use of violence.

Perhaps I am expecting too much of films to deal with their stories in a more consistent ethical manner. Films after all are attempting to entertain, challenge, and inspire us – and these three films broadly succeed on these fronts. However, the ethics they choose to portray are, more often than not, those they consider palatable to the audience. These films’ characters use violence because, for whatever reason, we allow them to do so – it makes sense to us. Perhaps the only way they will change is if our attitude changes first?

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