Of late, every time I see a Malayalam movie come out with a blitzkrieg marketing campaign, I lower my expectations. Don’t blame me. Blame everything from Odiyan to Marakkar! Anyway, long story short, I did not have huge expectations from Minnal Murali. But thankfully, Basil Joseph treated us to an amazing Malayali superhero origin story. But there’s one thing that put me off – “superheroes don’t kill”.
Now before you start a rant about how many superheroes do kill and draw instances from comic book history, hear me out.
What makes a superhero a ‘superhero’?
Superpowers of course! But hey, many supervillains too have superpowers. So I think it is more accurate to say a superhero is made when superpowers are coupled with the ‘right’ moral stance.
As you might know, many early superheroes did kill their antagonists. Some of them still do, like Iron Man killing terrorists in Iron Man. The Iron Man type example should not be a part of this discussion as the kills, in question, are of characters who are of no real interest to the viewer; they are like NPCs in a game. What really counts in this discussion are characters that the viewer gets invested in.
As the genre evolved, the killing stopped. It stopped for two reasons – creators had to tone down violence to make sure parents didn’t get alarmed, and keeping the (super)villains alive meant they had a recurring cast who can step in when necessary. But these base reasons would not appeal to a superhero fan, right? So the creators came up with their in-universe reasons for the ‘never kill’ stance that these superheroes took.
The morality of ‘never kill’
In the superhero universe, the superhero is an extension of traditional law and order. They still believe in the system. They might think of the system as broken, but their presence fixes it. And ultimately, a vast majority of them work towards a day when they will no longer be needed; as Batman Begins states poetically, “someday when Gotham no longer needs Batman”.
A superhero who does not believe in the system is not technically a superhero – he/she is an antihero. There’s nothing wrong with being an antihero. Many antiheroes like the Punisher and Deadpool are loved and celebrated. But I believe the ‘never kill’ stance adds an additional layer of ‘super’ to being a superhero; something that I realised while watching Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
What really makes a superhero ‘super’?
I watched Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse a few days after watching Minnal Murali so obviously the ‘never kill’ contrast was stark. At multiple times throughout the Spiderman movie, I thought to myself “Why doesn’t he just kill the guy? He had died in the previous movie anyway, what difference would it make?” And that’s when it dawned on me – the hero never takes the easy way out.
It is not the superpowers that make a superhero ‘super’ but the mental fortitude to never take the easy way out even when the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against them. Case in point – Batman. If there is one superhero who is the poster boy for ‘never kill’, it is Batman. Bruce Wayne has no real superpowers. He is just a man, in a silly black sheet. But despite all the urges to end his enemies he does not go on a killing spree and takes the hard way – believing the system will reform his antagonists.
So what about the times when Batman did kill? Glad you asked! (But not Ben Affleck version, that one should be thrown out of the canon.)
Evolution of the superhero
As stated earlier, superheroes did kill in the early days. And this stopped as the genre evolved. In terms of the genre, Minnal Murali is still in its early stages and so I hope to see more nuanced stories as the Mollywood superhero genre matures.
As for Murali, this was his first outing so I don’t really hold the killing of Shibu against him (except that I’ve written a whole article about it!). A part of me is happy Shibu didn’t stab himself accidentally when Murali jumped out of the way as the spear rushed towards him. That would have been shamefully similar to Green Goblin’s death in Spider-Man.
By not using that trope Minnal Murali has proved to the world that while he might wear “Abibas”, he is no ripoff. Minnal Murali is an original, and the morality of his universe will probably evolve as it did with his Western counterparts. But I hope that Murali will soon adopt the ‘never kill’ mandate to inspire us to not take the easy path, no matter how hard life gets.