Superhero movies have been the hot thing ever since I was in middle school and X-Men came out. They’re my guilty pleasure that I don’t feel that guilty about enjoying really. People love them. I love them! And I have a sneaking suspicion they will always be loved as long as comics continue to be written. However, as much as we love them, we shouldn’t deny that superhero movies – specifically the ones spotlighting the DC and Marvel heroes – have a formulaic persona. Using the cliche phrase “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all” hits it right on the head with accuracy. The only difference between superhero films now versus 20 years ago is the better writing – how writers can take the same old campy troupes and wrap better dialog and plot progressions around them.
Let’s take this a step further though and think about what the superhero genre actually teaches, to tries to teach. Much of what you see in superhero films tend to take relatable concepts and turn them in end-of-the-world ordeals that sound good because people love angst. Why are Iron Man and Hulk fighting each other in the recently released Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer? I’m sure we’ll figure that out in more detail once the movie comes out – but really, we can figure this out just by seeing the trailer can’t we? Hulk and Iron Man duking it out. That’s EPIC! That’s more than epic, that’s a “versus” fight all us fanboys want to see! I’m sure there will be reasons for the fight – not just between the playboy and the green meanie, but also with the God of thunder and other characters on the Avenger’s team. They did this in the previous film. Did they not learn their lesson and find out that working as a team is better than not? Of course they did. But this is the superhero genre. This is the traditional way superhero stories figure things out. Don’t talk about your issues. Just punch, or shoot, or throw the guy to the other side of the planet. THAT’S how you solve problems right?
I absolutely LOVE the Dark Knight, the older Superman films, Man of Steel, Punisher, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Captain America, the list goes on. But as far as using Superhero films and comics to teach real concerns, I would argue no. Physically fighting to defend yourself is, unfortunately, a reality that we can’t deny has to happen from time to time, but it isn’t something we do everyday of our lives. Physical altercations, however, are the ONLY thing Superheroes do. It’s one of the reasons we love superhero films – it’s action packed! But this isn’t reality, and the film makers don’t want to attempt at approaching REAL concerns spread throughout the world. No one wants to see Superman or Wolverine being civil with their enemies. We want heat vision blazing and claws a-slashing!
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is important to recognize it as a troupe naturally associated of the genre. While the real world says “talk out your issues,” the superhero movies say “HULK SMASH!” It’s a Hell of a lot of fun, but no one should be blinded by the notion that anything “wholesome” truly exists within superhero storylines.
The Avengers is a great flick. But it boils down to a story about an army of evil outsiders invading the world and only a handful of righteous asskickers being capable of stopping them. As escapism, it works. As character studies and thrilling adventure, it works. As a format designed to showcase a bunch of cool superheroes with amazing powers in cool fights, it works.
As a great way of dealing with real world problems, well, that’s a bit of a stretch.