Who's the Real Villain?

In the good old days, Superman fought villains like Parasite, the purple-skinned monster, and Titano, a giant ape with laser-beam eyes. Batman warded off evil-doers The Penguin and Mr. Freeze. Spiderman battled Doctor Octopuses’ eight lethal arms.

Lately, the real enemies in superhero movies haven’t been scary monsters or disfigured madmen. In fact, they haven’t been living things at all. They’ve been nuclear weapons (which have fallen into the hands of the monsters and madmen).

Over time, superhero sagas have grown bigger and badder. The gadgets get cooler, the stakes get higher, and the weapons get more dangerous. So naturally, creators have turned to the one thing capable of wiping out entire populations with the push of a button – a nuclear bomb.

We saw it this summer in both The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Respective villains Loki and Bane were pretty satanic, but not threatening enough by today’s standards. When they got their paws on nuclear weapons, the real problems began. Even the trailer for 2014’s Godzilla features a mushroom cloud within the first few moments. Seems that any hope for a normal lizard life vanished with a nuclear explosion that turned Godzilla into a giant, mutated force of destruction.

These movies have definitely succeeded in creating edge-of-your-seat thrills, not to mention the cash they’ve raked in. But this growing trend speaks to something else. It speaks to what really scares us as a society. Sure, the Joker’s creepy laugh might keep you up at night. But is he enough to make you fear for your life, your town, your world? He’s just one bad guy.

One bad guy with a nuclear weapon is what people fear, both in the movies and in real life. Terrorism is a constant threat, and while terrorists have caused immense devastation already, a terrorist with nuclear capability could do exponentially more. Ploughshares Fund and our grantees have been working since 1982 to prevent this technology from falling into the wrong hands, and we have succeeded so far.

But as long as the weapons remain, so does the possibility that the unthinkable could happen. And unfortunately, we don’t have any cape-wearing superheroes to save the day. So until the day Iron Man shows up at my door, I’ll keep working to eliminate nuclear weapons, as it’s the only way to make sure these plots remain just a part of the movies.

Photo by kevin dooley on Flickr