It’s been a year of superheroes.
Deadpool kicked the party off in February with its snide, R-rated take on heroism. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice thundered into theaters a month later. Captain America: Civil War opened the summer movie season with a $179.1 million opening weekend, and Suicide Squad continues to collect cash at box-office turnstyles across America.
Four superhero movies, each one having grossed more than $300 million in North America. With all that superhero action, it’s only fitting that the summer would draw to a close with another sort of superhero: Sully.
Capt. Chesley Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks) doesn’t boast superhuman strength like Superman or Captain America. He doesn’t have Wolverine’s or Deadpool’s freakish ability to heal. He doesn’t have a huge bank account on par with Batman or Iron Man. In the movie, he says over and over that he’s no hero. “Just a guy doing his job,” he insists.
But when a flock of birds tears through both engines of his Airbus A320 on Jan. 15, 2008, Sully makes a dramatic water landing on the Hudson River near New York City. He becomes a hero, whether he wanted to be one or not. The incident, which took 208 seconds from the bird strike to crash, became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
It’s interesting how the main narrative tension in Sully so closely follows those of the year’s most notable superhero movies: Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War. All three are predicated on heroic accountability. At the center of each is a couple of questions: Shouldn’t even our heroes have rules? And if they don’t, are they really heroes?In Batman v Superman, both caped crimefighters are vigilantes, operating outside the bounds of the law. There’s an effort afoot to rein them in, especially Superman (Henry Cavill). The Man of Steel is even called before a Congressional hearing to answer for his past deeds (a hearing that, thanks to unfettered bad guy Lex Luthor, goes seriously awry).
The tension is much the same in Civil War, and the main source of friction between Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans). In the wake of a few high-casualty operations, the world is demanding that the world’s superheroes be brought to heel—unleashed only with the approval of a multinational panel. Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, is all in favor. Cap isn’t so sure. Yeah, he acknowledges that superheroes are far from perfect. But governmental oversight committees can be petty at best, corrupt at worse. “The safest hands are still our own,” he insists.
Sully looks about as much like Captain America as I do. And yet his story parallels Cap’s to a remarkable degree. Like Cap, Sully’s heroism is questioned. Like Cap, he finds his decisions under scrutiny. And like Cap, he’s asked whether it wouldn’t have been better to simply follow the rules.