I understand why Oscar-bait films are often slow and brooding and filled with misfortune and misanthropes: That style allows all the meta-textual material to be dumped right out in the open. No one is watching Schindler’s List and wondering what the film thinks about war and heroism, you know?
Superhero movies are … not that. They’re big and explosive and concerned with spectacle, not substance. Or maybe they’re not? An entire cottage industry has sprung up around analyzing superhero films like the million-installment MCU and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films—The Dark Knight is totally about George W. Bush, you guys—and it turns out these enormous pieces of art might actually have something to say. Of course, in Oscar-bait movies, the “something to say” is front and center and in superhero movies it’s buried so deep behind witty banter and eye-popping fight sequences that most viewers won’t even notice.
Which brings us to “Chemical Fires.” That chorus kicks so much ass, right? “I want the answer / I want the cure for dying alone / I thought that I was meant to be a hero / now they’ll all see how much I’ve grown!” In addition to absolutely shredding in every way, those lyrics are the distillation of 90% of all superhero movies. (Yeah, I added the exclamation point at the end but I think we can agree that it’s implied.) But there’s also some depth buried in the second verse and pre-chorus:
Sing loud and scream and yell and raise your fists and cause an avalanche / if you squeeze him hard enough / God might show the way / but if you just grow up you’ll see there’s little in this world worth fighting for / so fall in love and lie down / so follow your dreams / or at least the dreams you’ve settled for
Yeesh. It’s a steep fall from “raise your fists and cause an avalanche” to “follow your dreams / or at least the dreams you’ve settled for” and we get there in only a few lines. Maybe having superpowers and doing all the ass-kicking that comes with them isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Maybe having tremendous passion is both a great way to make change and a great way to wear yourself out against an unresponsive world.
“Chemical Fires” is explosive and bombastic—it’s fun!—and while that makes the song the sonic equivalent of a superhero movie, it doesn’t preclude it from having something to say. If Professor Hulk can be thoughtful and still kick ass, so can Tides of Man.