In 1848, Karl Marx wrote, "A spectre is haunting Europe-the spectre of communism." About 170 years later, it turned out to be completely wrong. A spectre now haunting the whole world is "Super-heroism," which seems to be even more contagious than communism (you become a big fan of super-heroes, but nobody puts you in jail). If you are one of the people who just got rewarded recently with Avengers: Age of Ultron being finally released this spring, then your patience over the last 2 years have paid off even if you were haunted by this charming spectre. However, whether you love it or not, it would feel very strange to appreciate movies like Iron Man or Avengers in a very critical manner. If you try to look into them, you would be surprised to figure out how profound social, cultural, and/or historical situations form the basis in and of recent waves in superhero movies. (This article mainly focuses on superhero movies released after 2000.)
1. Superhero movies: Hail America?
Caution: This contains spoilers on Iron Man 3 (2013) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Some say that Hollywood superhero movies are full of American heroism. Villains are from Asia or the Middle East and it's always America who's fighting for the entire world. Hail America!
They don't say that recent waves in superhero movies reflect changed perspectives upon American heroism in the last decade. It's undeniable that at one time Hollywood films were mostly glorifying the power of America and their role as "guardians of the galaxy." However, unlike what many people think, superhero movies that became popular all over the world after the new millennium didn't follow the same line. Rather, what they are emphasizing are the suspicion and the responsibility of heroes who got unrealistic power. There is one line that hooked the people who watched the Spider-Man series by Sam Raimi: "With great power comes great responsibility." Think of the Dark Knight trilogy that swept the world! Batman's ideology and conception on what is good are constantly challenged, and in Iron Man 3 (2013) the genre casts even more serious messages. Mandarin, who they thought of as an enemy from Islam, was in fact a manipulated one and the real enemy lied in America. Along with this wave, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. - a kind of an agent group in America that runs national safety - turns out to be the nest of vice!
2. Superhero movies = Super-boring?
Some say that aside from action-based spectacles that seem to boast Hollywood's great capital, the superhero genre is super-boring. We can expect every narrative structure of the movies that end with "~ man" to include a perfect hero who beats a cruel villain, and subsequently saving the whole world.
They don't say anything along the lines of: Even though people are shown with gigantic logos over 5 seconds just before they watch films, it seems like they often forget that superhero movies are actually based on comics. Such comics mostly have a long history (Captain America for example, was first published in 1941) and that means the background of each hero can never be that simple. Technically, it's so complicated that numerous spin-offs can be made after one movie. If you stick to the explanation that a perfect hero beats a cruel villain, then you are missing many interesting points in superhero movies. Let's take X-Men series for example. Superheroes in X-Men are not the ones who protect the people, but who had been bullied and alienated by people. Do they forgive all those scornful views and behaviors and try to save the world? No. They are divided into two groups and fight each other. And, of course, these fight scenes might be the major attraction as some people call it "action spectacles that seem to boast Hollywood's great capital," but that's not all. On the one side, there is Magneto who insists on wiping out people who oppressed them and create a new world only for mutants. Professor X, the leader of the opposite pole, insists peaceful diplomacy between mutants and normal people. Doesn't it ring a bell? Some read it as metaphor. Coincidentally, when X-Men first appeared in the world, African-American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was expanding his movement all over the world. His argument resembles that of Professor X, just as Malcom X reminds us of Magneto.
Unless many studios in Hollywood stop struggling to add cinematic excitement and philosophical depth simultaneously in the superhero movies, the superhero genre won't seem to perish as just a craze. Rather, it might take its place as a bonafide genre, and perhaps as the heaviest one in Hollywood! Let's take away the view that sees superhero movies as popcorn movies and try to think about the various aspects of them behind the screen. That would help you appreciate the films more.
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