Super Hero movies are huge at the box office right now.
I don’t need to tell you that, it’s obvious when a Marvel Comics character has his own movie released what seems like every fifteen seconds. In fact, according to indiewire.com, there are 23 superhero movies due to be unleashed upon the moviegoing public in the next four years.
Indiewire asks if that is too much. My question is: Why?
Why are superhero movies so polular right now? What has been the appeal of the costumed hero?
Now, movie trends are nothing new. Back in the 40’s and 50’s the movie western was big business. Most western movies couldn’t go wrong and all the big stars had to have at least one western picture in their CV in order to be considered a “real” actor. There was a time in Hollywood that every other picture, it seemed, had to be a western.
Why was that? Westerns were a staple of Hollywood since the silent era, so why the glut in the 40’s and 50’s? The answer is partly economics. Every studio had a western set in their backlot taking up valuable real estate. If it was just sitting there, not being used a studio executive either had to tear it down or start greenlighting Western movies.
The other reason is posychological. America was becoming urbanized and families whose fathers had come back from the war were looking for places to live. Small apartments are no place to raise a family. The dream of finding someplace of your own, your own piece of land where you can be who you want to be… well that was an irrisistable dream for many Americans. Even when families started moving out of apartments and into suburbs the dream of the American West still held sway. These moviegoers wanted to see that dream come alive and Hollywood obliged.
So, fast forward to 2014 and there is a glut of Superhero movies.
Well, partly its economics. You have a lot of effects companies in Hollywood who employ armies of computer artists and various programmer types who need to stay employed. Same with studio artists, costumers, stuntmen, etc.
But the demand. Why the demand?
I think it is because the world is becoming a very complicated and very scary place. The police are not seen to be solving the crime problem in urban areas. In fact in some quarters the police are seen as part of the problem. Politicians can’t seem to solve the country’s problems either social or economic. Politicians are seen as obstructionist, or beholden to vested interests who do not want the social and economic problems solved, or they are simply out to line their own pockets.
It is a big and complicated world and that’s a scary thing for a lot of people.
There is a telling moment in Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel when young Clarke Kent suddenly becomes aware of his super powers of perception. He locks himself in a closet and when his mother comes to talk to him he tells her “The world’s too big.”
The world is too big and overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be great if someone came along and sorted it all out for us? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a man or woman with awesome powers who could grab hold of the scary world and wrestle it down and make it make sense? Someone who is not beholden to special interests or corporate influences, but who fought for timeless values like Truth, Justice and the American Way?
Human beings have always looked to supernatural deities to help solve their problems or at least help to make sense of the world. Well, no one is going to make a superhero out of Jesus, but the ancient gods are up for grabs. Thor? Others have made the argument that Superman and Batman are basically Apollo and Dionysus.
Is our love of superhero movies really a sign that we are looking for someone else to fly, swing or teleport in and magically save the day? Sure, these heroes have flaws. In this day and age that is something we acknowledge readily — a hero without flaws is looked upon with distrust — but we seem to want that semi-perfect being to come to our rescue.
Can the popularity of superhero movies provide us with a glimpse, a snapshot of the psychological state of Western Society? And what does it mean? Does it make us vulnerable to huckters and snake opil salesman who promise to cure what ails us with unrealistic claims and at bargain prices? Perhaps.
And what does it bode for our ability to knuckle down and solve our own problems?
There are no super heroes in real life. In real life there’s just you and me and we need to roll up our sleeves and get a lot of work done.
But maybe later. After all, Guardians of the Galaxy opens soon. I can’t wait!