“Liam Neeson takes the law into his own hands in Among Tombstones,” read the tweet.
And just in case you missed the whole taking the law into his own hands thing, the accompanying image features a dour-faced Neeson next to the words “he’s beyond the law”.
So not only is Neeson’s character transcending the law, he’s also taken it upon himself to re-interpret and rewrite a legal system steeped in hundreds of years of history and tradition. The message could only be clearer if he took a pile of legal manuscripts, wrapped them in feces, set them on fire and threw them on the steps of the High Court. Then maybe drove a monster truck over the remains.
Yet Neeson’s ex-cop is perhaps merely voicing what all heroes must be – above the law. Their journey requires them to be above the law, to do the sort of mighty, dangerous, socially unacceptable feats we ordinary mortals can only dream of. In fact, heroes must be their own law, a law unto themselves, law breakers, the Outlaw Josey Wales. Or, in Judge Dredd’s case, “I am the law.”
And, of course, Neeson is not alone. Just go to the local video store and you’ll witness a cornucopia of heroes and heroines who are either above, beyond or somewhat perpendicular to the law, driving their metaphorical monster trucks over our entire legal system’s delicate interplay of checks and balances.
Every hero or heroine worth his or her own salt must come to grips with one ultimate truth – that the law is only meant to shackle the ordinary person who can’t escape its net. The law (or, as a hero would say, with sarcastic air quotes, “the law”) doesn’t apply to the figure of destiny with the strength to take the law into their own hands.
Laws are made by men, not the heavens, and, as such, may be defied by heroes. As any burnt-out cop/maniac in a mask/aggrieved family man with a headful of bad memories and nothing to lose would tell you, usually at fist or gunpoint, only by bending justice can one ensure “true” justice. (In this case, true justice is whatever brand of justice the hero believes in: this can range from a vigorous de-pantsing followed by a daffodil placed between the offenders’ buttocks to an enforced swan dive from the top floors of the Nakatomi Plaza.)
Ask any cop turned secret vigilante: laws are for people who still have faith in the “revolving door” justice system (more heroic air quotes there), where drug kingpins are back in the streets 24 hours later because the “Commish” won’t extend the wiretap one more day due to budget cuts. Laws are for cops afraid to use “unorthodox methods”. Laws are for “shysters” paid by the hour to get their scumbag clients acquitted when everyone knows they’re guilty despite a lack of “evidence”. Laws are for “fat cats” who get to “skate” because they’re “juiced in” with “City Hall”.
So what’s a hero to do? The usual answer is: step outside, above, beyond or into a universe parallel to the law.
Hence, Batman operates outside of the law. Spider-Man skates around the law. Superman defies the laws of gravity. Aquaman enforces the law of the sea, whatever that is. Wolverine stabs people with knives in his hands, violating the laws of cutlery. Hit Girl operates outside of the law of profanity by using the “c-word”. Rambo only follows the laws of the Vietnam jungle. Liam Neeson’s character from Taken operates outside of EU regulations. Dirty Harry bends the law according to his own quasi-fascist philosophy. The bald dude from The Shield would keep the streets safe for decent folk if only “the brass” would get off his back about his “unorthodox methods”.
The hero’s particular form of kryptonite is politics. Every hero needs a Commissioner Gordon-type figure to not only explain the hero’s actions but to protect him from political repercussions. Every celluloid or comic-book champion requires a boss like that dude in Beverly Hills Cop, who protects Eddie Murphy from having a chunk taken out of his arse by the Mayor’s office. Even my own hero, the Spartan, has his mentor, Colonel Garin, to protect him from censure and to keep him unencumbered to do what he does best on the battlefield. And maybe to protect his arse from a having a chunk taken out of it by the mayor’s office.
The hero is also vulnerable to another law: our approval. If they don’t have that, they won’t get their lucrative TV show/comic-book deal/movie blockbuster. And the best way to win our approval? To be above the law … and look cool while doing it.
Only I’d still like to see a movie where Liam Neeson “stays within the normal boundaries of the law” just for a change.
My ebook military thriller, The Spartan, is now available on Amazon.