I N S I G H T – T V S E R I E S
In a world where morality is deemed subjective and larger-than-life messianic figures exist, the cynical and hyper-paranoid natives need to sacrifice assurance for hope. But if hope is crushed by loyalty and determination, what choice have we to settle for? Or more importantly, are we even important enough for our choice to matter? Amazon Prime’s buzzing original Invincible deals with just that.
With some of the best character arcs, creative use of background music, and an unique, anthology-driven style of narrative, Invincible sets itself apart in the superhero genre with an original spin at clichés and tropes. What it does more though, is the showcasing of graphic violence. But isn’t that what every superhero content independent of ginormous franchises has lately been doing? A ‘darker’ portrayal and the reality of actual gods walking among us? An elaborate sketch of mockery directed towards the giants in the industry? So much so, that it’s becoming tropey enough for us to start asking if that much blood and gore is really necessary.
Censoring for the ones with a weak stomach or the concerned parents wanting to give their kids some new animation might be a let-down in this scenario. Because, the gore in Invincible actually plays a decisive, pivotal role in the storytelling. It serves a particular purpose to the pacing and the structure of the plot. A case worthy of studying, this is how incorporating gore sets a story apart.
Character arcs are quintessential in drama and thriller genres. But when mindless action flicks started to come round the corner, the need for stuffing multi-dimensional arcs increased exponentially to add to that burst of serotonin they are designed to provide. And whenever pep talks or late night frustrations were not well executed in (superhero) action content, the failure was blamed on irrelevance. Thus a need to mix the human struggles with the film plot arose. The story somehow had to affect the normal life of the superhero and that was supposed to be clever writing.
This is where Invincible did not give in to the norms of character arcs. Having the best bits of humanisation since Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, they never tried to tie in all the different character arcs to the central synopsis. Sacrificing a bit of simplicity towards the middle of the show to make it feel overwhelming or convoluted was also a part of the execution, reminding us these all are individual stories and we don’t need to strictly remember them till the end. Unlike The Boys, where every larger-than-life figure was sensitised by the presence of a love child, they explored different types of relationships — yet intensified them at the same level. This unadulterated approach at character writing is what made the jaw-dropping gore at a few episodes including the pilot so riveting. And we seemed to even care about deaths of characters who got a screen-time shy of 2 minutes.
Something that immediately sets Invincible apart is that it isn’t pretentious. It took a lot from the pre-established rules of world building from both Marvel and DC and owned them. The tropes were the building blocks for the plot, but never the highlight. Nevertheless, subtle flashes of those ground rules throughout the show makes us conform to the world in question. Therefore, any violation of those rules through atypical TV-MA rated bloodbath always packed a punch.
The animation style being unoriginal was self-fulfilling in a way that we never thought for a moment that we aren’t looking at Marvel or DC animations, yet expected similar results that led to a certain shock value in the gore. It never tried to be different, or forcefully satirical of the cash-grab blockbusters. In fact, it normalised that gore at certain points by mitigating it through a sneaky use of background music. That established its own world-building characteristics within the ones we already accepted. Hence, the same bloodbath carried different weight throughout.
An innate tendency we can’t deny we have is finding ourselves in the protagonist(s). And when we cannot, we mesmerise ourselves through their “main character aura”. Any exception to that is usually covered up by flashy action sequences inducing adrenaline rush. But for a show that neither has a perfect DiCaprio protagonist nor a constant excuse to throw in fistfights, not being able to relate might be off-putting. Sure, there is a general tendency to glorify imperfections saying they remind us of us, but after a certain point, we cannot perceive world shaking superheroes the way we need to.
Invincible tries to solve that issue by constantly switching perspective and perception. Through the perception, we are reminded of the power-levels of different characters constantly. That helps us easily distinguish the gravity of the same violence in different cases. This is an approach that would make a scene like Proxima Midnight or Corvus Glaive’s death in Avengers: Infinity War more heartfelt than those of any six-limbed space dogs. Not that it’s quintessential, but such a distinct idea for each side character can add unparalleled emotional depth in faceless CGI army battles.
Similarly, change of perspective bears the same effect for violence, but on an unforgettable, traumatising level. Since there are limitations of us relating to super-powered individuals, Invincible chooses to capitalise on that drawback.
An in-flight fight is obligatory for characters who can fly. As much as we love the tradition, it takes a lot of the perspective away since we don’t really know the implications of getting punched in the gut mid-air. Anything on or close to the ground adds a sense of realism for us to follow the strength behind every kick. So, when our protagonist is in the air getting wrecked, that blood does not mean much. The same protagonist hammered into the floor bearing the same bruises makes us feel the punches a semi-invulnerable character like him would. That imperfection of the weak superhero, that cut or bruise makes things feel consequential for a certain period even if we know it’s not. That feeling of actual implications or consequences or vulnerability, even if temporary, is definitely a success in a genre where (almost) no one really dies. This is why most major character fates are met on the ground, no matter how high from the sea level.
As for the mid-air sequences which we can’t perceive with clarity, they shift the perspective from us being the protagonist (or at least a viewer on the same level as them) to us being the citizen viewer of that world. Massive in-flight battles don’t go well for civilians as the frame is set to make us feel like a bystander too. That sudden change in perspective acts as a whimsical truth bomb making us realise just how helpless we would actually be. Deaths feel like murders, not casualties. This brutality is what sets a Chicago death in Invincible apart from a Sokovian death in Avengers: Age of Ultron. This gore is not to cater to the needs of mindless blood splattering of slasher horror genres, but to convey a mindful message even when bloodbaths are regular throughout the show. And just when we think we got used to the violence, a paradigm altering perspective to the same slasher is put.
Invincible Season 1 is a ground-breaking success in many rights. Not only did it follow Amazon’s trend of grim and bloody originals, but also layered ideas through it. Saying it is a violent superhero flick is a gross understatement considering just how much they tried to portray through blood. And their creativity in finding the right strokes is laudable. Absence of tedious monologues by supervillains explaining their motives in a synthetic manner adds bits of realism.
An awful silence in specific fight sequences in contrast to its pop-song score mimics the tension as we breathe heavily. All of it to ultimately remind us that when those who walk among us are not subjected to entropy and vulnerability, they will be the ones to make our choice. We can sympathise for the ill-fated hero trying to overthrow them. But mostly, it’s our bodies that we would have to count. No amount of humanisation can change that.
Do you still think you will be the protagonist of such a story because that larger-than-life character is relatable? Think Mark, think!
Shudipto Dip is a replicant with the emotional range of a labradoodle.