The comic book geeks have inherited the earth — or at least the movie theatres. The last few years have seen one superhero franchise after another hit the silver screen. The mere mortals of movie-land are being looked after by the likes of gods, human spiders, and rich guys who fell in caves as children. It must be nice.
The latest addition to this trend isMan of Steel, showcasing the greatest hero of them all: Superman. Faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and shoot lasers out of his eyes, he is everything a growing boy who eats his green vegetables and stays in school should aspire to become.
Superhero films used to be over-the-top for the sake of being over-the-top. Heroes were powerful, but usually the most one-dimensional characters on screen. Millions of dollars and cutting edge CGI make today’s superhero films more flashy, but they are also different in other ways. The current iteration of Captain America is a born leader, Batman a billionaire bent on justice and Superman an outcast with a knack for saving mankind. They are more than just the gifts and skills they possess — they have depth and character. They are people, pure and simple. The heroes of today’s movies are super not because of their powers, but because of their humanity.
Tales of heroes stretch back to the ancient cultures of the world. Humans have always loved stories of remarkable feats of strength, of great sacrifice and perseverance. The themes that define heroic people and heroic deeds have lasted this long because they are compelling; they provide not only something to strive towards for people (like me) sitting on their couches, but also provide meaning to ‘greatness.’
CGI and 3D are commonplace in cinema today, but they do not account for the superheroes’ success. There exists a quality behind the superpowers and fancy effects that makes a superhero worthwhile. The Man of Steel (Superman) is heroic not because he can fly, but because he overcomes adversity to help those around him. We admire Tony Stark in Iron Man because he redeems himself from past mistakes while doing good for mankind.Superheroes succeed in capturing our hearts (and wallets) because of who they are and not what they can do. They succeed because of their values, their bravery, and their ability to always know what the right thing to do is and actually do it.
The highest grossing movies of all time, Titanic, Avatar, and yes, The Avengers all have characters who embody not only heroic traits and noble ideals but also very human flaws and concerns. Superheroes’ abilities are only window-dressing to the distinctly human heroes beneath. Man of Steel is only the most recent example of the effort to showcase these people, and the overarching lesson is that the “super” part of these heroes is unnecessary — that the people beneath are super enough all by themselves. Of course, heavily muscled men in skin-tight suits do help to sell the idea.