Radical environmentalists have really been taking it on the chin at the multiplex. They are perfect villains for our times: well-intended enough to often seem somewhat reasonable, but meddlesome busybodies whose hopes and dreams are to radically reduce standards of living in order to effect some utopian scheme or another that will return the world — or worlds — to an unsullied Eden.
Thanos, the villain (and protagonist, really) of the $2 billion-grossing megahit, “Avengers: Infinity War,” was basically an omni-powered Paul Ehrlich. Whereas the comic book version of Thanos sought to kill half of the universe in order to prove his love for an anthropomorphized Death, the film version was driven insane by his home planet’s self-immolation after a series of resource wars. Determined to eliminate suffering over food and land, over clean water and clean air, Thanos used the Infinity Gauntlet not to create abundance of each but to kill half of all living things.
Again, this is Ehrlichian in its madness: The author of “The Population Bomb” argued for years that the planet is overpopulated and that famines will wipe out a significant portion of humanity. It could still happen, I suppose — global warming could inspire an “Interstellar”-style blight; the skies could go dry — but, frustratingly for the doomsayers, life on Earth keeps getting better despite the “overpopulation” our precious blue orb continues to shoulder.
“Aquaman” is the surprise hit of the winter, racking up more than $800 million worldwide so far. And while Jason Momoa’s bro-tastic turn as Arthur Curry is earning deserved plaudits from male and female audiences alike, it’s Patrick Wilson’s King Orm who caught my eye. Orm hopes to unite the underwater clans of Atlantis in order to create an unstoppable army that will destroy life on the planet’s landmasses.
But Orm is no madman. His genocidal war is not the result of personal trauma or ideological insanity. It is, rather, a version of self-defense: The surface dwellers dump their trash into the water, strangling the sea life; the surface dwellers spew their smoke into the skies, choking the ocean with particulates; the surface dwellers hunt to extinction the ocean’s animals, depriving the Atlanteans of conveyances. Humanity must die so Atlantis might live.
You saw something similar in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” a few years back. Amongst the most reactionary films of our age, “Kingsman” featured as its villain a tech guru named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). This billionaire was so disgusted by humanity’s excesses and so riled by the excretions of the masses that he engineered a plot to kill all of us in the most horribly violent manner possible. He invented a device that would cause man to turn against man, mother against child, sister against brother — with bare hands, we would tear each other apart. In so doing, the planet would be cleansed of humanity’s foul stench. Once free of the riffraff, wealthy swells and fabulous celebrities would reclaim the planet for themselves and rebuild the world in their image. Clean. Pristine. Free of the gauche hordes who have rendered our air travel unbearable and our beaches crowded messes.
Environmentalists make a useful villain because their malevolence can be obscured by a patina of reasonableness. Global warming and other manmade problems are going to end the world if we don’t do something — so just about anything is justified! But their villainy resonates with the masses because they actually do want to make life worse for people, for the most part.
There’s a reason France convulsed in recent weeks, as middle-class protesters angered by taxes pushed for by environmentalists took to the streets. Environmentalists want to increase the costs of everyday goods and services by taxing carbon. They want you to fly less and to pay more, via offsets, when you do fly. They want you to stop eating meat. They want you to stop having kids. They want to deprive you of disabled-friendly plastic straws — and they’re coming for your delightful balloons next. They want to turn your corpse into food for plants because even the sweet release of death cannot save you from the environmentalist menace.
There is no aspect of your life that environmentalists don’t want to tinker with, no realm immune from their meddling: just think of those poor small-businessmen whose livelihoods were destroyed by a deranged EPA bureaucrat in the 1984 classic “Ghostbusters.” On the plus side, this makes them pretty solid villains. Expect to see more of them in our big-budget films going forward.