Superhero movies change direction

Posted May 4, 2016


It used to be that superhero movies were just about the good guy fighting the bad guy— just one simple battle between good and evil. And when the good trumped evil, everyone lived happily ever after.

Gone are the days of such simple combat—it’s 2016 and what people love to watch is superheroes taking each other down. Perhaps it’s the lack of edge in recent villains, the fact that they’re rather minor bumps in the road more than arch nemeses, or  the automatic complication of the storyline when the good has to fight different forms of good.

These hero-on-hero superhero genre that specifically relies on the protagonists going after each other is now skyrocketing in popularity and there’s a simple explanation for this. The fight is infinitely better when it is complex among the good guys rather than the typical good versus evil. Through exploring the bigger picture, however, it is because the audience relates to these superheroes since they reflect their values and even political anxieties.

For instance, back in World War II, “Captain America” and “Wonder Woman” soared to the top as they were flawless figures that inspired the people to conquer their enemies abroad. As the baby boomers embraced the 1960s, emotionally complex heroes such as the X-men, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four gained instant popularity for they reflected issues present in America at the time.

After 9/11, Spider-Man soared through New York City with great success to save every damsels (or man) in distress— another example of the audience relating to the protagonist’s values. The audience of this specific superhero genre is those who relate to the dilemmas the protagonists are facing.

Particularly in “Captain America: Civil War,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “X-men: Age of Apocalypse,” each of the superheroes in these films are confronted by different versions of virtue rather than vice. These movies reflect prevalent issues and the nation’s anxieties of the time such as police brutality and political tyranny.

In a period where the entire country questions the justice and reliability of the police, the breakdown and internal attacks of political parties as well as the brutal threats that America faces abroad, the audience and constantly facing dilemmas, which they relate to in these superheroes that battle congruent matters.

This new genre of superhero films are not just about action fluff or simple fairy tales about good versus evil. Rather, they are reflections of what the audience sees as an issue in the present because, when these heroes are pitted against each other, they also metaphorically reflect each citizen’s personal moral quandaries and emotionally relate to the audience.

What makes these superhero battles complicated is that both opposing sides represent justice by doing their version of the “right thing.” Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man and Steve Rogers of Captain America in “Captain America: Civil War” goes head-to-head in the third movie of the “Avengers” series due to conflicting beliefs.

The captain believes in a world where superheroes should defend humanity without government interference whereas Iron Man imposes on government authority. The once united team of superheroes are forced to divide into two opposing teams, one led by Rogers and the other by Stark, leaving the remaining members to choose a side. While the team deals with internal disputes, the citizens must suffer while under attack of the real villain.

On a slightly smaller scale, Bruce Wayne, also known as Batman, and Superman conflict due to ideological differences. Convinced that Superman is now a threat to humanity due to the collateral damage he caused after the battle with Zod, the villain, Wayne begins a personal vendetta to terminate Superman’s mission on Earth. Although not a battle between two teams, these two protagonists are pitted against each other for the improvement of humanity in the bigger picture.

The directors cleverly complicate the story lines by not only having an ominous villains to battle but also by conjuring conflict within the protagonists. By doing so, they amplify the level of vice and increase the amount of thrill and suspense in the films. Particularly in “Captain America: Civil War,” the Russos complicates the dynamics of the Avengers by having Iron Man and Captain America go head-to-head, forcing the rest of the team to choose a side to support.

In “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the rift is similar but on a larger scale when the citizens of the city of Metropolis has to choose whether to side with Batman or Superman. By creating two protagonists that both have reasons for the audience to support, it creates loyal fans to support both sides to their grave, ultimately creating greater buzz around the films.

“X-men: Age of Apocalypse,” experiences a divide when Apocalypse rises back from the dead as the strongest mortal mutant, causing a mutant war between the very powerful and the most powerful. Prof. Charles Xavier and his team of mutants battle for their vision of peace and what the mutants should stand for, while Apocalypse attacks them to fight for his own vision of justice.

In all three films, superheroes of the same kind clash due to ideological differences as it boils down to one central question: What is the best and most correct way to achieve justice for humanity?

The internal combat of this new genre is initially exciting and provokes empathy. The conventional hero movies reach the climax when the protagonist finally tackles the antagonist, but with hero-on-hero films, the plot never concludes definitely as seen in all three of the films.

The Batman and Superman’s feud trails off due to their focus on the actual villain, Lex Luthor, the Avengers’ internal battle ends in the death of Captain America without any settlement on government interference and the X-men don’t find any middle ground on where mutants stand with humanity.

Joe and Anthony Russos, Zack Snyder and Bryan Singer all do one thing in common: create antagonists out of protagonists. Even without portraying either side as evil, all directors succeed in creating a rift between each opposing side while justifying both party’s actions.

By pitting the heroes against each other, the directors were successfully able to portray these beloved protagonists as antagonists for one another. Not only that, but the directors created a psychological thriller in all three films by not only turning the heroes into villains but also by metaphorically referencing real-life issues that America faces today.

  • Title: “Captain America: Civil War”
  • Genre: Superhero, Action, Fantasy/Science Fiction
  • Release Date: April 12, 2016
  • Run time: 147 minutes
  • Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
  • Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
  • Production Company: Marvel Studios, Marvel Entertainment
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Personal Rating 4/5 stars
  • Title: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”
  • Genre: Superhero, Action, Fantasy/Science Fiction
  • Release Date: March 25, 2016
  • Run time: 151 minutes
  • Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams
  • Director: Zach Snyder
  • Production Company: Warner Bros, DC Entertainment Inc, Atlas Entertainment, Syncopy Inc
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Personal Rating 3/5 stars
  • Title: “X-men: Age of Apocalypse”
  • Genre: Superhero, Action, Fantasy/Science Fiction
  • Release Date: April 17, 2016
  • Run time: 157 minutes
  • Starring: James McAroy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne
  • Director: Bryan Singer
  • Production Company: 20th Century Fox, Marvel Entertainment, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Kinberg Theatre, The Donners’ Company, TSG Entertainment
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Personal Rating: 4/5 stars