Some love them, some hate them, some are indifferent. Whatever your opinion is, there is no denying that superhero films are swarming the cinemas. The companies Marvel and DC are releasing more films every year in an ever expanding universe of superheroes, and neither franchise seem to be slowing down. In 2018, as many as 10 superhero films will be released. The world has been saved from total destruction more than 30 times in the last 10 years. In a hundred years, when people will look back at our period of popular culture, don’t be surprised if the call it ”the superhero era.”
Some people are euphoric about this trend, preordering tickets to every new film, but not all are impressed by these tight-wearing heroes. A lot of critique has been directed at the films’ predictability, their repetitiveness, their heavy reliance on cgi effects, their shallow, action-focused plots, etc. But the films are often topping the box office, and they tend to receive at least decent critique.
Superhero films are one of the biggest and most popular sources of art today, and even though they may not be considered ”good art” they still carry some significance. So instead of rejecting these films for what they lack—such as long takes, depth, emotion and sophisticated plots—we should try to see what qualities these films do have, and what they can teach us about ourselves and our life in this world.
So, what is enriching about watching men wearing tight suits fighting monsters and saving earth, except for the obvious entertainment? What elements of these films have the potential to touch our hearts?
Just like all storytelling, in the end it all boils down to character. Character is the foundation of all stories. No character, no story. Characters drive the plot, the conflict, and the character arc almost always convey some message. In superhero films, the characters are crucial, since they are the heroes which the story revolves around. If they are inadequate, the whole film will be.
So what makes a good character?
A good character is someone in which we can see some part of ourselves. It is someone we can relate to, someone we understand and therefore care about. We relate to the hero who is flawed, who makes mistakes, who is emotional. We are sceptic of the perfect, invulnerable superhuman. Thus, the greatness of superheroes lies not in their superpowers, but in their humanity.
For example, Superman may be physically invincible, but emotionally he is as vulnerable as anybody else. He feels alienated because of his special abilities. He struggles with his responsibility to society as a superhero, and is torn between his own will and the demands of others.
Wolverine has experienced more traumatizing moments than any person could ever handle. He is haunted by the violent acts he has done, and he drinks to drown his memories and anxieties.
The Guardians of the Galaxy are a bunch of odd, selfish characters that all have family issues. But they find comfort in each other, though their affection is often expressed through insults and mockery.
In order to survive the epidemic of superheroes, we should try to see beyond the suit into the human being inside, realizing they are not unlike ourselves. When we see that superheroes are much like ourselves—equally human and imperfect—we realize that the step from being ordinary to extraordinary is not as big as it seems. We understand that anyone could be a superhero, even us. Because superheroes are ordinary people, but they have the will to do the right thing under tough circumstances. Heroism lies less in superpowers and more in the will to use the powers available for the common good. Heroes are people who give their lives for others.
Both Iron Man and Batman start out as millionaires who choose to use their money to fight injustice. Doctor Strange is a doctor obsessed with material gain, who realizes there is more to life, deciding to leave his old life of excess to give his life for humanity. Spider-Man is just a bullied teenager who decides to use the powers he gains to fight crime.
What separates superheroes from ordinary people—except for the suit and superpowers—is really just courage and an unselfish cause. Let us recognize that the step to become a superhero may not be as big as it seems. It may simply be about doing that small act of kindness.
Moreover, superhero teams such as the Avengers and Justice League remind us of the importance of teamwork. We are not complete, but we can complete each other. By uniting our different abilities, we can lift each other. When some are weak, others are strong. Together we can do much more than we can alone. By working together with a common goal, we can achieve anything. And even though working together is not without friction, in the end friendship trumps conflict.
Whatever your think about superhero films, they can still teach us valuable life lessons. Let us give a nod to these films and acknowledge their importance.