Superhero films result in many small blessings, perhaps including the amusing fact that some critics seem determined to coax themselves into disillusionment with the genre.
After the last Comic-Con, I’ve heard more such views from secular and Christian critics.
Secular critics seem to say: The superhero genre is tired; Hollywood is stretching to make a super-mint. Recently DrudgeReport.com gave its own headline to the Man of Steel sequel story: “Studio tries SUPERMANBATMAN.” You’d think all such projects risk the same box-office doom as, say, The Lone Ranger or R.I.P.D. But fans reacted excitedly (such as here).
Meanwhile, some Christian critiques tend to sound like that of fantasy author and film reviewer Jeffrey Overstreet. He reacted to announced sequels for The Avengers and Man of Steel (which will feature Batman’s reboot):
AGE OF ULTRON: That’s what they’re calling the Avengers sequel. Unscrambled, it spells GOAL: FORTUNE.
Then Overstreet replied to a tweeted question:
Films that celebrate heroes that rise up in glorified violence, ending in a frenzied showdown, just bore me.
So here are the three objections: First, “Hollywood” mainly makes uncreative super-films and mass-markets them into popularity; second, movie moguls only want money; third, superhero films repeat tropes and glorify violence (this is a more-spiritual criticism).
And here’s my blockbuster trilogy of rejoinders.
First, of course “Hollywood” makes more of what succeeds. Accepting this makes life easier. By assuming otherwise, don’t we adopt a high-versus-low culture divide, or overly high ethics for non-Christians? And let’s not assume films succeed only because of huge budgets; trust film audiences a little more. In 2012 Battleship failed, thanks to its marketing based solely on board-game name recognition. But it was marketed nearly as much as The Avengers, whose budget and skillful story-craft helped it become the third highest-earning film ever.
Second, of course movie moguls do it for the money. We can enjoy indie art and solo acts, while also rejecting the naïve view that studio heads should only want to share lovely stories with audiences. They want more money. And in a sin-saturated world, I say: Go for it. Just keep paying heartfelt story-crafters such as Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon more of those resources to make great superhero stories skillfully and creatively.
Third, what of the objection that “these films only glorify violence”?
1. The poor reactions of audiences don’t impugn storytellers’ motives. If 100 people see The Avengers 2, and 90 love it solely for its carnage, but 10 because of the superheroes’ valor, do not destroy the cinematic city only for the sins of the 90. Furthermore, Jesus said it’s not outside influences that cause sin; it’s ill motives from within (Mark 7).
2. We could say that Scripture itself “glorifies violence.” God Himself violently fights evil. Similarly, superheroes often deal with violent foes.
3. Superhero films reflect the hero’s journey in clear, colorful, even diverse palettes. They may effectively reenact the Gospel in macro. No, not every superhero is a Christ-figure. But can’t they serve as Christ-figure-figures — shiny, super-sized reflections of His people?