Mr. & Mrs. Smith – a watershed in Anti-Hero Psychology? (Yes. Really.)

Mini-spoilers ahead.Michael and I felt like a light action flick (as we often do) and decided to see Mr. & Mrs.. We laughed quite a bit but were basically left feeling pretty cold about the experience and as I thought about it, I realised that its very shallowness may actually mark it as a watershed in the psychology of the anti-hero – if action/action comedy movies keep going that way (which I sincerely hope they won’t.)
In previous action films in which the protagonist is an anti-hero (that is: a bad guy but not a villain) we have always been given something upon which to hang our sympathy for the character: he’s been turned into a killer by the government/was born into a life of crime/knew no better and now has no way out – especially while his wife and children are in danger – but he has his own personal code of honour which we, as the audience, come to understand and respect. In Mr. & Mrs. Smith, except for a line in Mrs.’s set-up assassination telling us that her victim was a gun -runner to naughty people, we get nothing of the sort, in fact we get the opposite. The job on which Mr. & Mrs. Smith are both, individually, sent is to intercept a CIA prisoner who is going to reveal information which, they each believe, their boss does not want revealed – clearly both are working for criminals (an assumption cemented by their unflinching attack on police when finally ‘liberating’ the target.) Mr. & Mrs. have killed hundreds of people (combined total) and neither has ever had any problem sleeping after a hit – this particular revelation is presumably meant to be a comment on the angst ridden protagonists we usually enjoy but the only impact it had on me was to degrade whatever sympathy was left for the characters. I had to wonder whether the weapons they were using were bought via the ‘naughty gun-runner’ Mrs. asassinated earlier.
Is it a problem if an audience doesn’t care about or have any respect for these characters? Well I would say yes because it directly effects one of the main audience responses desired in an action film – tension. I simply did not care if they were hurt and so the action sequences were litle more than choreography. Then again, the action sequences are so tom-and-jerry-esque that there is never any sense that they would be actually be hurt badly (e.g., at one point Mr. has a knife lodge in his thigh, thrown by Mrs., which has no effect but a cute reaction shot from Brad.)

Perhaps comedy was the aim? I certainly laughed but is that really where we’re heading even in comedy? Good looking people with quips replacing plot entirely? Have we really reached that point? Sure, there was a sort of plot – will they realise they love each other (so we can see Brad and Angelina in a love scene) – but when you care so little for the protagonists it’s not much of a hook. Sure, the characters’ survival in the face of all that ammunition could be seen as the spine of a story but, again, who cares if they survive? In fact, I was hoping it would end in tragedy so that it would perhaps redeem itself as a really black comedy.

It seems that we now have finally reached the point where at least someone believes that audiences are happy to go to the movies just to see sexy people committing sexy violence with sexy weapons in sexy clothes for… some, vague reason. I say, audiences rise up and demand more! … Hmm… Anyone? … Please? … Oh dear.

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