I’m not a fan of the Halo franchise. I tried playing a demo of the PC port of the first game and I might be willing to play it in the future but I wasn’t able to get into it because I never had an X-Box. So I can’t really speak to the significance of the game’s hero, Master Chief, keeping his mask on, either for the narrative or on a meta level. The discussion around it, where fans are less than thrilled the new show from Paramount (I don’t know if it’s on their TV channel or the latest “plus”, which frankly is a discussion all it’s own) decided to have the main Spartan remove his helmet, revealing his face for the first time. I’m sure someone at the studio thought this was a big deal, not realizing that it was actually a bad deal.
This is another example of Hollywood types not connecting to stories the way other people do. We’ve seen actors defend their versions of character who bear little to no resemblance to the source material, and we’ve seen that comics and video games are on the low rungs of the media snob’s ladder and Hollywood is full of media snobs who fully support the pecking order that benefits them. This really isn’t anything new though. Why do you think so many superhero stories now have these helmets that collapse behind the hero? Why do they embrace the maskless hero as often as possible and some studios even fight for no mask altogether? It’s all marketing combined with their belief that the movie-going and TV-watching public are stupid. Movie makers have their own problem with masks because of how they were taught to movie make. As for the actors there’s a reason they go along with it: ego.
Notice in this Avengers poster how many of the heroes aren’t wearing masks? Black Widow and Thor don’t have masks anyway, but Hawkeye doesn’t wear his, Tony takes his helmet off whenever they can, despite the extra VFX work in making it look like Robert Downey Jr is actually in a suit of armor, and even then we have all the POV shots of Tony’s head in the helmet. Think of how few MCU characters wear masks, or sometimes anything at all on their face. Iron Man, War Machine, and Rescue (Pepper’s armor name in the comics) wear helmets into battle but during downtime they’re removed, and rather than take the helmet off it folds up and disappears somewhere into the armor, a trick now used by other MCU and other superhero movies on any character they can. Otherwise they keep the characters out of their costumes as often as possible. Again, this isn’t new. People talk about how little Batman there actually is in the 80s Batman movies, but that can also be blamed on Tim Burton’s obsession with his favorite brand of insanity. Even in The Meteor Man the outfit finally chosen by Jefferson Reed has no mask despite being a rather well known teacher in the D.C. area and not doing the “Clark Kent” thing. Sure, it doesn’t help that his parents told the whole neighborhood but it’s also how he’s found so easily by the bad guys later on.
The reason comes down to the celebrity playing the role, and I’m not just blaming him or her for that…not solo, anyway. When Richard Donner chose his cast for Superman: The Movie he wanted relatively to completely unknown actors so they would not overshadow the character. He didn’t want you seeing (insert famous person) or Christopher Reeves (who had some minor roles before this), he wanted you to see Superman. The old serials went a bit far on this and didn’t even credit Kirk Alyn as Superman despite in my opinion doing a better Clark Kent. (Reeves did do the better Superman though.) This was not a pleasing thing to Warner Brothers, and they had to fight just get Marlon Brando to play Jor-El for maybe ten minutes. (And according to rumor he wanted to do so as a ham sandwich. I’ve seen enough of his take on Doctor Moreau to totally believe that. Was he one of Johnny Depp’s inspirations?) That’s where marketing and the studio suits take part in Hollywood’s war on masked heroes…and villains because if memory serves even Doctor Doom had more screen time without a faceplate than he’s had in any comic story.
Studios don’t think we’ll see a movie unless the actor is famous. This is why we get some celebrity into an animated movie so they can do the talk show circuit. There are only certain movies where they’ll take a chance on a newcomer, usually by force because the current big names are too old and even then the promotion isn’t around that newcomer even if he or she is playing the main or title character. The movie is about them but the marketing campaign isn’t. They don’t believe in stories, they believe in gimmicks. That’s how marketing works in Hollywood, be it TV or movies. That’s because marketing benefits the ad companies so they want to look as good as possible. The execs believe in this particular gimmick and will gladly spend a large amount of a meger budget to get them. Neither group cares if the movie is any good, only that you drop your money to see it or watch their ads.
Therefore they want to make sure you know that actor is playing that role, which means getting them as much face time as possible. Having their face behind fabric or metal kind of interferes with that. After all, they’re paying a lot for that actor’s face to be on that character and they want to be sure the audience sees as much of that A-lister as possible. Nevermind that it doesn’t make sense. Nevermind that despite clearing the alien horde from the streets there might still be people to see you. Nevermind that it leaves less movie time for superheroics. They want that actor on there as much as they can because they think you’re too stupid to remember five seconds later that Robert Downey JR is playing that role, even if you hear his voice. Admittedly a few movie critics have played into that and complained they didn’t see enough of an actor, but this is what happens when the actor is more important than the character. See also the current debate of replacing the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa despite the Black Panther in the comics still being that character.
Of course the actors aren’t going to challenge this at all. They want to see themselves up there and be sure people know that you know they’re there, and that casting agents know they played that role in the hopes of getting similar roles, possibly outside of superhero or sci-fi where masks are only an issue if it involves a pandemic. Getting to play his own twin probably made it easier for Leonardo DiCaprio to do Man In The Iron Mask because he’d be on screen without a mask often enough. It’s the same reasoning behind their view on animation: a “real actor” is seen doing their performance.
Which brings us to the director side of things. Power Rangers has even suffered from this issue: facial expressions. Movie making classes, from what little I know of them being a reviewer and comic maker with non-movie video work, emphasise the face. You know the old expression “the eyes are the windows to the soul”? Well, that’s a key to good directing, and if your hero wears a mask that obscures or even blocks the audiences view of their eyes they don’t know how to compensate, as if vocal performances and body language weren’t also viable ways to show character and personality as well as what they’re feeling at that moment. Actually, Power Rangers didn’t use to care but now even if they don’t take off the helmets when they don’t need them on (easier to talk to that series’ mentor back at base and give the heroes a breather) there’s a visor that slides away. Not as bad as the collapsing helmet folding to nowhere, though they can also teleport them away because apparently holding a helmet is too hard for actors now, but still an annoyance since a Ranger team not maintaining a secret identity is thankfully still rare…for now. It might not make sense for Lightspeed Rescue but it does for the Beast Morphers. Outside of the fact that the villains usually know exactly who they are but that comes from the original sentai.
Since they only see superheroes as “genre that’s still popular and we need to get into it” they have no trouble ignoring the secret identity and even trying to ditch it altogether. Marvel themselves already ditched Tony’s secret identity (in the dumbest way they could get away with) and has continued this trend and I think Hollywood is the reason why. If the comics don’t have secret identities then their on-screen counterparts don’t have to as well. Remove the mask, show off the actor, and it’s all good because everybody knows who they are anyway. Granted I’m pro secret identity for a number of reasons but none of the counter reasons are why Hollywood hates them, and comics want to be more like Hollywood in the hopes sempai will notice them. Not the movie fans because this doesn’t read to new comic readers as the media snob continue to look down on comics, or play the games because they don’t play games either, just complain about them like their predecessors used to about comics.
I would love to see a studio, director, and actor regardless of their fame say “you know, there’s no good reason to not have a mask in this scene but plenty of reasons to keep it on so I’m keeping it on”. Guess the only way to see that are fan films where it actually is about the story and adaptation instead of the egos.