Mystique, Spider-Man, and Optimus Prime: The Year of Magic Blood
Entertainment Geekly is a weekly column that examines pop culture through a geek lens and simultaneously examines contemporary geek culture through a pop lens. So many lenses!
This summer, it’s all about the blood. Young Harry Osborn was hankering for some Spidey-plasma in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, because Peter Parker’s very special blood is a cure-all for the Green Death Disease that apparently afflicts all Osborns. Mystique’s blood was the secret sauce that transformed the Sentinels from giant gawky robots to shapeshifting protean-powered T-1000-bots in X-Men: Days of Future Past. (Confused? It’s all here in this pamphlet.)
In the underrated Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise huffs an alien attacker’s hemoglobin and winds up absorbing the alien’s reboot-button superpowers. And in the exactly-rated Trans4mers, evil nerd scientists corpse-mine some dead space robots and come up with a new element that allows anyone to create anything they want. This element is called “Transformium”–which could mean that, in the world of Transformers, human blood is referred to as “Humanium.”
Superpowered magic blood has been around since forever, at least. The Norse mytho-hero Siegfried killed a dragon and took a bath in the creature’s blood: It made him merely invincible. But in modern-day blockbusters, everyone’s a dragon. Last year’s The Wolverine depended on the idea that one can absorb highly specific mutant powers by sending wires straight into said mutant’s bone marrow. And perhaps infamously, Star Trek Into Darkness required the veins of bad guy Khan to pump magical healing blood so potent that it could bring cute little Tribbles and handsome movie stars back to life.
A key aspect of the new magic blood is that the powers carry over. Nobody in the Star Wars prequels ever tried to slurp Anakin Skywalker’s blood to get at those sweet sweet midichlorians. (Although that would’ve been at least as good as whatever else happened in those movies.) But the new Magic Blood is a prize to be sought, and not without justification. Transformium basically seems like nanotechnology: It could feed the hungry, which seems much more effective than the Transformers’ usual strategy (ride robot dinosaurs into cities filled with hungry people, then knock over all the skyscrapers). Likewise, the bad guy at the center of The Wolverine is clearly villainous–but if Wolverine’s essence could be used to heal the sick, couldn’t he find a nice, trustworthy Canadian doctor who could figure out how to turn him into the savior of humanity?
Perhaps it’s wrong to bring logic to the Magic Blood era. Certainly, logic doesn’t bother these filmmakers: The trope exists mostly as a narrative shortcut, a way to put the hero in peril without needing to establish any complicated character dynamics or complex plotting. Mystique is important. Why? Because of her blood! The Transformers are in danger. Why? Because they are! In this sense, the Khan reveal probably rankles the most–Kirk’s dead! Quick, let’s cure him!
But the Spider-Man twist is the strangest. In Amazing‘s loopy retelling of one of Spidey’s oldest stories, Peter Parker and Harry Osborn are old friends who become enemies—but only because Spider-Man won’t share his blood. He doesn’t even entirely explain why. His refusal to even consider a blood transfusion immediately transforms Harry Osborn from an intense but basically sweet teenager into Mad Doctor Frankenstein.
Maybe it’s more interesting to ponder what’s behind this sudden vogue for Blockbuster Protagonist Mega-Gore. In almost all these movies, the Magic Blood is a precious resource that must be protected; it can’t be granted to the wrong people. There’s a touch of capitalist gene-fascism at work here, perhaps, a meta-sense that these blockbuster series are precious resources that must be protected. (The scariest scene in Edge of Tomorrow is when Tom Cruise wakes up in a hospital and sees his Magic Time Traveling Blood outside himself, in a surgical blood bag; it’s like Samson waking up bald.)
Or maybe there’s an even more basic explanation: A rising generation of moviegoers grew up with vampires as their central mythology. And even if we’re approaching the end of that genre’s era, the aftereffects linger. The weirdest thing aboutthe Magic Blood era is how it implicitly casts we the audience as the interlopers, normals seeking the powers of the gods. Maybe we’re all vampires now—and maybe we like it that way.