I’ve always been rather cool on the whole “superhero” genre of comics, graphic novels and movies, whether the characters were endowed with preternatural, pseudo-scientific or hi-tech abilities. There have been exceptions, notably Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” (both the published and extended theatrical versions) or Grant Morrison’s early serial, “Zenith”, for the British comic 2000AD. However, in general I have found the “caped crusader” narratives more of a slog than a pleasure. The sudden zeitgeist popularity of superhero movies in the United States following the dreadful events of 9/11 and the misnamed “War on Terror” has of course made the genre a globally recognisable one (where American cinema leads Western popular culture follows). Unfortunately that has taken cinema and home media audiences down a black hole of ever-diminishing dramatic returns for ever-increasing production budgets. The current philosophy of the Hollywood studios, challenged by copyright piracy and a renaissance of network, cable and online television drama, seems to be, throw enough money at it and something worthwhile is bound to emerge. Which ironically is how the US has carried out its military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and across the developing world. And we all know how “successful” they have turned out to be.
One of the latest examples of the glut of exorbitantly financed superhero movies was this summer’s “Captain America: Civil War”, another release in the portentous Marvel Cinematic Universe, which seemed to wear its real world inspirations heavy on its sleeve. During the course of the film, the “Avengers” – a diverse team of variously endowed heroes – were divided into two philosophically opposed factions. On one side were the team members led by the eponymous Captain America who believed that the Avengers were entitled to intervene in matters of international crisis, using their own best judgement and disregarding the concerns of others. On the other side there were those, under Iron Man, who believed that the Avengers should be under some sort of legal (and dare one say, democratic) oversight, taking note of the possible ramifications of their actions.
The former view, with its parallels to a certain kind of thinking in the broader culture of the United States (in other words, the country acting as a type of world policeman – or a Dirty Harry – under its own rules because it knows best), are pretty obvious. Equally obvious is the expectation by the film-makers that the sympathies of the audience should lie with the renegade – but ultimately “correct” – Captain America and company. One could go deeper into all sorts of analyses of this basic narrative, touching upon conservative paranoia about a New World Order and UN oversight crippling American freedom of action, or even that Donald Trump and his quasi-fascism is not so far removed from the original supposedly noble sentiments of the Avengers team: Kill the bad guys first and deal with the consequences second!
Darren Mooney touches upon this, and much more, in a damning examination of the state of the cinematic art for his excellent m0vie blog. Comic Book Girl 19 does a more limited critique in her most recent broadcast following the critical lambasting of the execrable “Suicide Squad” (a piss-poor wham-bam offering from the so-called DC Extended Universe). To set my own criticisms in context, I have seen all of the mainstream superhero movies produced and released over the last decade and, like their broader sci-fi and fantasy equivalents, the vast majority of them have been inane trash. But then again, I’m still dumbfounded that the film “Antman” was an actual thing…