In general, movies depend on an audience that wants the hero to succeed. Most of the time they do this by making the hero an all-round good guy, one that we can hopefully see ourselves in. The hero’s basic goodness makes us want him to triumph over the bad guys that aren’t above killing humans, destroying property, and endangering adorable kittens to get what they want.
But sometimes, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work out that way. Occasionally, movie heroes do things that make us say “God, what a dick.”
Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins
It could be argued that Batman is King of the Dick Moves. After all, the Dark Knight has often been portrayed as more of an anti-hero than a classic superhero. He makes human decisions. He occasionally slips up and lets people he loves suffer. He agonizes over the morality of his work and the limits of traditional justice.
This dick move, however, takes place long before he is even Batman. And it’s one that the audience is apparently meant to go right along with.
At the start of Batman Begins, Liam Neeson takes in the young Bruce Wayne, training him, mentoring him, and giving him all of the coolest ideas about becoming Batman. “Become one with the darkness” he says, along with a bunch of other cool stuff. Liam is assisted in his mission by groups of ninjas who call themselves the League of Shadows, but in reality seem to be dudes that have nothing better to do than hang around in the mountains waiting for people to ask them for help with their personal vengeance journeys.
At the end of his training, Liam and his purported boss ask Bruce to commit a killing himself as a test of his commitment. Do they order him to kill an innocent dog, like the military guys do to the hero in Dog Soldiers? No. They ask him to execute a local murderer. You know, the same thing that the government does in the country Bruce is from.
“So it turns out masked ninjas hiding in the mountains sometimes aren’t trustworthy after all. Who would have thought?”
Bruce disagrees, arguing that ‘compassion’ is what separates him from the evil he fights. Then, in a display of pacifistic compassion that would make Gandhi weep with joy, he sets alight a nearby pile of gunpowder, setting off a string of explosions that kill pretty much everyone in the building except for Liam Neeson and himself.
He totally smashed those ninja’s f-king lights. Oh, and their house.
The people that fed, clothed, sheltered and trained him are torn apart into burning chunks or left to die from their horrific injuries in the cold.
But wait, you say. The League of Shadows wanted to destroy Gotham. They came right out and said it! Of course Bruce had to kill them! Well, maybe, although surely it would have been better for someone as ‘compassionate’ as him to try to reason with them first. But that doesn’t change the fact that the murderer guy who Wayne was so concerned about not killing was also clearly killed in the explosion.
So, instead of killing one man and dealing with the ‘secret shady organization who want to destroy your city’ part afterwards, he killed fifty, including the one he was trying to save. Good going, Batman.
Constance Spano, Independence Day
For those who don’t attend weekly celebratory viewings of this classic American film, Constance Spano is President Bill Pullman’s advisor in ID4. She’s a minor but important heroine of the story, providing moral support for Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum’s heroic actions. She’s also recognizable as the chick that looks eerily like an older version of Katie Holmes:
Seriously, it’s uncanny.
Constance spends most of the first half of Independence Day ignoring ex-husband Jeff Goldblum’s repeated attempts to tell her by phone that the alien spaceships hovering above earth are set to blow up America’s major cities. Frustrated, Jeff is forced to drive all the way from New York City to Washington DC to tell her this in person. When she finally grants her ex audience and figures out that he is right, she and the President only have thirty minutes to act before the alien detonation. The government is then forced to try to evacuate DC and other major cities within that time. Seeing as if often takes longer than that to evacuate drunken people from a house party at 4am when you want to get some sleep, they don’t do very well.
So far, Ms. Spano’s actions could be excused an as accident. Clearly this woman never saw Jurassic Park, and so was not aware of the fact that Jeff Goldblum is always right. But hey, everyone makes mistakes. Once I forgot to refill my kitten’s waterbowl on a really hot day, and didn’t realize what I’d done until she came up and bit me. It didn’t result in the deaths of tens of millions of people, but hey, it was a mistake.
But the true dick-ness comes after Constance realizes what she’s done, and finally grasps the unknown depths of human death and suffering she has caused. Or rather, after she doesn’t realize it. Because even after the devastation, Constance displays no sign at all of guilt, let alone trauma. She instead spends most of the latter half of the movie discussing her relationship with Jeff Goldblum. Even when the President’s wife is killed as a direct result of her inaction, she shows not the slightest amount of remorse, instead staying focused on arguing with Jeff about which one of them caused their divorce. A truly chilling vision into the mind of a psychopath.
David Rice, Jumper
In the 2008 film Jumper, David Rice is a young man blessed with a rare but hereditable gift that allows him to instantly teleport himself (and his clothes, fortunately) wherever he wants in the world. This power also allows him to carry others with him: for example, David can grab another person from the path of an oncoming avalanche, and ‘jump’ them both to safety in the middle of Disneyworld.
Above: slightly better than death.
At the beginning of the movie, when the audience is still being introduced to his character, we see David watching a TV news story about a flood. People are trapped on top of the rooftops, and the newscaster tells his audience that it will take a ‘miracle’ to save them. It’s perfectly clear to the audience what David must do.
Except that David doesn’t do it. He switches off the TV and heads off to London, where he picks up a chick in a bar.
“Well, at least they’re not being killed by sand. I hate sand.”
Like Constance’s inaction, the extent of this move’s dick-ness is not quite apparent at first, because it appears early enough in the movie for the audience to assume that this is simply the first part of David’s journey towards becoming a true hero. Surely, during the course of the film, David will learn about the responsibility that comes with great power. After all, the same thing happened to Spiderman, right? Peter Parker decided that despite his superpowers, fighting crime just wasn’t his problem. It’s only after being touched by crime himself that he wised up and became a superhero. Of course the same thing will happen to David!
But no, it doesn’t. In the course of the story, David is threatened by some bad guys, kills a few of them, gets beat up, and fights them some more, all purely out of self-preservation. The culmination of his ‘hero’s journey’ consists mostly of David not allowing a fellow Jumper to kill his girlfriend. I guess that’s a good thing, but there’s really not much heroic about saving the life of the girl who is banging you. That’s usually just called ‘avoiding negligent homicide’.
Hang on, you say. Screw Spiderman, that spindly little geek. Superheroes shouldn’t be obliged to rescue people in peril. It’s a free country, and forcing people with superpowers to use them for good is basically condoning slave labor.
You might have a point. But that still doesn’t explain why David was watching the news channel in the first place. Those things contain pretty much nothing but superhero rescue fodder. The guy clearly makes a habit of watching people in mortal danger, and smirking over the fact that he is going to go bang a hot girl instead. What a douchebag.
Hellboy, Hellboy 2
Near the beginning of Hellboy 2, our large red hero Hellboy, sidekick Abe, and girlfriend Liz are investigating the aftermath of an attack by tiny carnivorous creatures called ‘tooth fairies’. The three split up, and Hellboy is left alone with a suited agent who Hellboy addresses as ‘Marble’. A single creature appears and bites the agent: Hellboy yells “Marble!” and pulls it off him. So far, so good.
But then more tooth fairies attack, and they seem far more interested in human flesh than whatever it is that Hellboy is made of. Dozens of them swarm past our hero and on to Agent Marble, who screams in agony as they start to eat him. Hellboy at first seems concerned, but then gets distracted by the two or three creatures attacking him. Really distracted. He takes the time to remove one of these from his head, look at it and say “Nasty little…” as the man behind him thrashes around, being excruciatingly eaten alive. As Marble falls to the ground, rolling in agony as his flesh is eaten away from the bone, Hellboy drops the single creature to the floor and carefully steps on it three separate times.
“Seriously, Marble, you should come have a look at this thing. When you’re done over there, I mean.”
You might argue that Hellboy is just defending himself first so he can rescue Marble afterward. But really, he’s not exactly a vulnerable guy. This is the dude who in the first movie survived being hit by a train, swallowed by a tentacle monster, and blown up by a bunch of grenades. It’s like swatting mosquitoes in a suit of armor while the guy next to you is getting eaten by a lion.
Hellboy’s heroic sidekicks don’t perform much better. Another anonymous agent is shown a few seconds later also being eaten alive after running out of ammunition. Abe is right next to him, and apparently still has ammo, but responds by watching as the man is slowly eaten, rolls down some stairs, and is eaten some more. Then he bravely runs away.
“Guys! A little help? Guys?”
Neither of these fallen fellow warriors is mentioned again by our heroes. This might be because of deep guilt over their inaction, or because they all just got distracted by lunch or something.
But really, Hellboy 2 is just following a long tradition of dick moves by its heroes. In the first movie, Hellboy’s girlfriend Liz Sherman blows up an entire hospital full of patients and not only expresses no remorse, but happily goes out for a date later that night.
Natasha ‘Black Widow’ Romanoff & Happy Hogan, Iron Man 2
It’s close to the finale showdown in Iron Man 2, and S.H.I.E.L.D agent Natasha Romanoff and bodyguard Happy Hogan must fight their way into a rival weapons facility to find Iron Man’s nemesis Ivan Vanko. Happy gets distracted by fighting one security guard, while behind him Natasha calmly takes down dude after dude. At the end of his long fight Happy looks up to see Natasha gone, having left a pile of unconscious security guards on the ground behind her. The audience laughs as they realize that the overconfident Happy has been seriously out-fought by a girl.
But wait. What about this guy?
There he is, suspended from the ceiling and still alive, slowly choking to death. Natasha has left him there to die.
So surely Happy, the non-shady, non-Russian character, will rescue this man? No. In the next scene, Happy reappears next to Natasha, having apparently just walked on by the gradually-suffocating man.
Now, keep in mind that the men that Happy and Natasha fought with weren’t henchmen for an obviously evil overlord. These guards worked for a weapons manufacturer that at least appeared legitimate enough to testify to the US Senate, the boss of whom appeared at parties without any sort of mask, cape, or sinister facial scar. In all likelihood, the men downed by Natasha were simply working Joes trying to do their job well – protecting their workplace from two strangers who for all they knew could have been breaking in to sell weapons secrets to North Korea.
Sure, in order to ultimately save lives, Natasha and Happy had to bring them down. But that’s not what they did to all of them. They left one guy there to die, slowly, panicking and wishing he could see his wife and children one more time, while the fat guy hurries past to catch up with the hot Russian chick that did this to him. What a total pair of dicks.