The Ant-Man Cometh:
Are Superhero Movies Ruining Cinema?
First things first: to all my awesome, thoughtful regular movie review readers. Very sorry. Don’t have a movie review for you this weekend of June 26. I will be traveling during all of the key movie showing times, and I didn’t get any advance previews for films coming out this weekend (i.e. movies like “Ted 2,” “Max,” and “Big Game.”)
(HOWEVER, if anyone happens to see any of the new releases coming out this weekend and would like to write a review for it, please post it in the comments. It can be five words or 500 words — whatever you want.)
So what’s the next best thing to write about when I don’t have a movie review?
In case you don’t know, “Ant-Man” is the next Marvel movie coming out. (It comes out July 17.)
I’ll be honest, the trailer looks sketchy, as in: “Wow, is this movie going to be anywhere near as good as the many amazing Marvel movies that have come before it? Because, I don’t know, the whole premise kind of looks ridiculous.”
Maybe it’ll be amazing. It’s hard to judge a movie by its trailer.
It’s obvious that I’m a fan of Marvel movies. That’s not anything exceptional. That’s like saying you’re a fan of hamburgers or Coca-Cola or roller coasters. For better or worse, I have a certain love-hate relationship with pop culture. I think there is more than enough trash in pop culture. But there’s some treasure too — even beneath the trash — if we look hard enough. (See Kevin Harvey’s book “All You Want to Know About the Bible in Pop Culture” for a defense of my last statement.)
However, there are plenty of people — and I’m talking about non-Christians here — who think the Marvel films are pure trash.
In fact, some prominent Hollywood filmmakers (and a sizable horde of movie fans) feel that the superhero movie trend has ruined movies.
Take, for example, the famous director William Friedkin (“Exorcist,” “Jade,” “The French Connection,” “Killer Joe”), who, in a recent news story, decried the superhero movie trend:
“Films used to be rooted in gravity,” he said at the Champs-Élysées film festival in Paris. “They were about real people doing real things. Today, cinema in America is all about Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Avengers, the Hunger Games: all kinds of stuff that I have no interest in seeing at all.”
Friedkin believes the change happened in the late 1970s, around the time that he made the action-thriller Sorceror, which was overshadowed by the success of Star Wars. “That is when my films went like that – out of the frame,” he said.
Sure, there are plenty of shallow things to criticize about all of the superhero movies. And you can make a great case that our culture is sort of embracing an adolescent mentality or perhaps stubbornly clinging to the nostalgia of childhood.
But I think there’s something deeper going on.
Kevin Harvey, in his book “All You Want to Know About the Bible in Pop Culture,” made a fascinating observation in his book that stuck with me. He pointed out that in the history of modern Western culture, going back to the early 20th century, you see a pattern emerge: whenever Western culture goes to war, our culture always embraces superheroes. There is a noticeable spike in interest. The first wave of comic books, the Golden Age, arose during WWII. The next wave, the Silver Age, came during the height of the Cold War and the Vietnam War. And this vast wave of superhero movies, which arguably began with the box-office record breaker “Spider-Man” in 2002, took over cinema not long after 9/11 as the War on Terror (and other related wars) invaded the Western conscious.
In short: when culture enters a time of massive conflict, there is a cry in our hearts for a savior. We yearn for superheroes — or even just heroes — to take a stand against evil and injustice.
And beneath all of those layers, there is an even deeper cry for the ultimate Savior. We collectively cry out for the saving power of Christ and we don’t even know we’re doing it. People who don’t really know Christ or understand everything that Christ taught would scoff at that claim, I’d imagine. But if they took the time to examine Christ in detail, with an open heart, they might be surprised about what they find.
So, personally, I don’t mind all the superhero movies. I think they’re good reminders that, as a culture and as individuals, God did not design us to be 100% self-sufficient. We were not made for neither extreme independence or extreme co-dependence. We were made for interdependence — especially a deeply fulfilling interdependent relationship with God Himself. Wars and rumors of wars remind us of our fragility and vulnerability as human beings. Our culture’s sudden interest in superhero films is just one way that we collectively (and perhaps subconsciously) acknowledge and admit our fragility.