They’re on our TVs.
In our cinemas.
On our computers.
On our smart phones.
Games consoles. Books. Comics. Toys. Adverts.
Everyone wants a piece of the enormous superhero-shaped pie that has been served to us since the huge success of films like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Robert Downey Jr. made Iron Man awesome. I even saw a coffee shop in town advertising its top 4 muffins as the ‘Fantastic 4’.
I also write about superheroes a lot on this blog. Well, what do you expect from a blog with a Green Lantern reference in its name?
Superhero media has been rumbling along well for a few years now, but I’m starting to see a change, particularly in the films and TV shows that are coming out. The comics have always been a vehicle for their authors and readers to explore ideologies, politics and philosophies, but now the visual media is starting to take on some of that, and I think that this is a good thing.
The films and TV shows are slowly transitioning away from being pure, light-hearted action flicks, and are taking on an edge that gives them real meaning. Three of the most recent offerings from Marvel and DC highlight this very well, so for the rest of this post I’m going to focus on Marvel’s Netflix show, Jessica Jones (spoiler free); DC’s latest film, Batman v Superman (also spoiler free); and Marvel’s upcoming Civil War (I know no spoilers).
It took me a few episodes to really get into this series, which I thought was very slow-paced compared to its more action driven predecessor, Daredevil. However, at the heart of this series is woman, Jessica Jones, who has had an extremely difficult childhood and adulthood, and a man, Kilgrave, who is a particularly nasty piece of work (played superbly by David Tennant). This is a story about one powered person fighting another, but it is not a superhero show as we know it.
The show foregrounds the mistreatment of women and the difficulty that society has in acknowledging that such mistreatment is going on. The show focuses on a powered villain, but it begs the question of who else is suffering at the hands of ordinary men in the real world. The series deals with incredibly hard topics like abuse, and brilliantly illustrates the power struggle that exists within relationships. One of the keys to the whole series is why Kilgrave has the power that he does over Jessica, and how Jessica can break free of that control. The story is compelling, and driven by characters whose experiences force audiences to engage with very real issues in our own society.
Batman v Superman
I’m going to get this out of the way right now: I liked this film. The critics can throw their reviews in front of Ben Affleck’s Batmobile for all I care.
This is a film that should make you think. It deals with different issues of power to Jessica Jones, with Superman’s raw power contrasted to Batman’s insecurity and Lex Luthor’s wealth. I found myself constantly wondering who was in the right as I watched the film. How far can individuals be trusted with more power? The film also looks at the nature of heroism and the morality associated with different uses of force, and it looks at how far we should go to protect ourselves against threats, real or perceived. I think that this film has been wrongly dismissed because people can’t look past their preconceptions about superheroes to engage with the other messages that the film contains.
It’s a film that I would strongly recommend, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again in the future!
I wrote a post on this recently, so I won’t go over it all again, but Civil War has the potential to examine concepts of politics and freedom. It asks the question, in a similar way to Batman v Superman, of how, if at all, power can be regulated, particularly with regards to the freedom of individuals within any political systems. The structure and security that Iron Man stands for is played off against the individual freedom that Captain America stands for, and if the film is done well there should be no clear cut answer as to who is in the right.
I believe this film has the potential to question ideologies, asking if any of them are really good, or if it’s about making the best of what we have. I’m very interested to see where Marvel takes it.
Looking to the future
As DC’s universe expands, and Marvel continue to pump out big-budget films, I look forward to seeing if they continue to address big issues, or whether they retreat back to the relative safety of pure action-flicks. Marvel’s first films with female and minority leads are long overdue, but will appear in the next couple of years with Black Panther and Captain Marvel, and DC still have most of their story to come. Which themes will appear? What statements will be made? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but you can bet that I’ll be at the cinema for every new release, waiting to find out.