COMMENTARY | A friend and I saw “G.I. Joe: Retaliation ” yesterday. She wanted to see the movie because she enjoyed the first in the franchise; I was mostly motivated by Dwayne Johnson, as I freely admit.
It was strange to watch a film like that one through the lens of the events of the past week. In “G.I. Joe,” even when disguised, the bad guys are easy to pick out. They have “tells.” They are fundamentally different than the good guys. Even their clothes can set them apart, make them a cinch to spot in the crowd, and when all else fails, you have a lapel pin.
The real world, as we saw, doesn’t work that way.
You can have two apparently adjusted, normal young men who allegedly leave bombs in bags at the Boston Marathon. You can have two regular-looking guys allegedly walk up to MIT police officer Sean Collier and coldly shoot him dead. These same two men can then lead police on a gun and explosive-filled chase, never looking like anyone other than the guy down the street.
That’s a very frightening reality.
We want the “bad guys” to stick out of the masses, we want them to give us an unavoidable, unambiguous sign that we should steer clear. But while that’s an action movie’s bread and butter, real life rarely works that way.
Real life is full of questions left unanswered, unsatisfying endings. Even if the surviving suspect talks — I choose not to use his name, as I prefer we focus on Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and Sean Collier, as those are the names we should remember — we won’t get resolution.
Nothing he can say about his motivation or his brother’s motivation will make the injured less injured, or change the grieving state of the families who lost loved ones. For we rational people, there is no justification, no means of making his alleged acts any less horrific.
We don’t seem to need that from the bad guys in movies. We accept that being a bad guy is motivation enough, that being evil is its own beginning and end. In “G.I. Joe,” the Cobra Command is bad because toymaker Hasbro made it that way. Bad is bad.
Moral ambiguity is for movies with fewer action figures.
The alleged Boston bombers didn’t put on their unmistakable bad guy gear and leap into the diabolical plans they were die-cast to dream up. There’s no origin story.
It would be so much easier if all we needed was a movie-like hint to separate the good from the bad, the dangerous from everyone else. If well-designed wardrobe and makeup could make it clear who harbors evil intentions below the surface.
But, like so many other things, that only works in the movies. Real life is another story.