Why Simon Pegg Has A Problem With Superhero Movies And Geek Culture

Helping usher movies like Shaun of the Dead into the world, appearing in the new Star Trek movies (and even writing Star Trek 3), and his well known love of all things nerdy, Simon Pegg has become a favorite of geek culture enthusiasts worldwide. While he may love horror and sci-fi and comic books, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some critical things to say about what this side of popular entertainment is doing to our cinematic sensibilities.

Talking to Radio Times in a recent interview, Pegg let fly with his frustrations over what he sees as a dumbing down of not only genre properties, but society in general, as well as his own role in this. He says:

Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilized by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things—comic books, superheroes... Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously.

He goes on to lament how all of the genre trappings and ephemera have usurped the focus from more pressing, real world problems and issues, and how movies used to provide a challenge to viewers, to try to provoke them into thought or action or at least some deeper level of contemplation. That, he says, has largely been replaced by the wide desire to see little more than superheroes clash with supervillains. While part of him loves that, he says he misses "grown-up things."

Pegg even toys with the idea that he might "retire from geekdom," saying that he’s become the face of a movement, of a generation of a subculture, which is something he doesn’t want. At one point he mentions the idea of getting away from the genre work that has so largely defined his career and doing some "serious acting." While it would be sad to see him move on from the sci-fi and horror side of things, even if only for a time, it would be something to see him tackle more straight up roles.

And he could totally kill. One of the things that has always made Pegg so engaging is that, at the same time he can be over the top and silly, there are always elements of seriousness and emotion. These especially come out in his work with Edgar Wright. You get absolutely heart-breaking moments in Shaun of the Dead, as well as The World’s End, where he shows off his dramatic range. It would be weird as hell to see an entire movie of that, but it could also be spectacular to witness.

Pegg places the blame for this current predicament squarely at the feet of the blockbuster mentality that so dominates the Hollywood landscape. He says:

Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde, and The French Connection—gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed.

As much as that is true, there are still interesting, challenging movies, in all genres, out there, it can just be hard to find them as you wade through the massive tentpoles and ever-expanding shared universes. And that’s not to say that big, mainstream movies are entirely devoid of intellect. Mad Max: Fury Road is a fantastic current example of a major studio movie that is just as interested in unleashing eyebrow-scorching spectacle as it is giving you something more substantial to chew on. Granted, that’s probably going to fall more on individual filmmakers than studios, but they’re out there. And that’s what the best genre cinema has always been about (sci-fi’s jam was originally about using a futuristic lens to show a different perspective on the current state of the world and society), even it it’s taken a back seat popularly at the moment.

In any case, whatever you think of Simon Pegg’s comments about the state of geekdom, or whatever name you want to bestow, it’s nice to see someone put nuanced, complex thought into his interests and the things he love more than just, "Wouldn’t it be rad to do this?" Pegg has always been thoughtful about his choices, and will likely continue to be that way, and to be honest, that’s a big part of why he’s so beloved, of why he’s become the poster child he doesn’t necessarily want to be.

Brent McKnight