Somehow the word “dark” became synonymous to praise and critical acclaim when it comes to the world of film and television, especially in the science fiction and fantasy genre. The definition for dark as an adjective is “with little or no light” yet many critics and audiences use the word as a description of high-brow sophistication, believing it as an automatic indicator that it will be better.
Image Source: Media Stinger
Take for example the latest superhero flick, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Yes, critical reaction to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has been high, and of course Warner Brothers would want to cash in on the success of the series. But when does a sequel turn from something such as Superman, which was optimistic and hopeful, to a desaturated, depressing mess? I personally don’t think audiences need a depressed Superman mumbling to himself, nor do we need to see the Power Rangers murdered in cold blood. However, many others seem to believe that movies need Game of Thrones level violence and gratuitous darkness to be worthy of viewing. Anything light-hearted and is viewed as camp, even when it isn’t.
I certainly see the appeal of a gritty drama. But I disagree with the notion that the addition of dark elements makes a film inherently better. Female characters should not be walking allegories for the numerous atrocities committed against them in order to make a film relevant or good, just as curse words do not automatically make a film or TV show better. I think there is a belief that darkness drive the stakes higher and make a film more emotionally compelling. However, melodrama accomplishes the exact same, yet it is quite rare to find someone who ranks melodrama above other genres. If so, why value dark films so highly, then?
It’s truly bizarre how out-of-hand this is getting because content creators are almost pressured to adapt this tone for the sake of it. There can be many positive attributes to stories that are bleaker in tone, but the darkness should service the story, not be shoehorned in for the sake of it. I’m totally okay with Superwoman being a happy go-getter whose biggest problem other than saving the world is keeping track of her boss’ latte order. Not everyone is Batman, nor should we want everyone — or anyone for that matter — to be.
Written by Henry Wong for Toronto Youth Shorts.