It used to be so different. There were bad people doing bad things, and the good people put a stop to them. So it played out for decades of superhero movies – from Superman to The Toxic Avenger. Now, however, times have changed, and everything is a little more complex. Now, we have hero pitted against hero, ally against ally, and a shroud of suspicion has draped around the shoulders of everyone.
There is something to be said for the old adage ‘the hero we need’. With most cinematic superheroes being based on comic book source material, it can be argued that the arc of each character over their time in print is a reflection of that particular time in our social history. Superman, for example, went from being the embodiment of left-wing activism in storylines influenced by the Great Depression, to taking a more globally humanitarian approach in later years. Captain America started out battling Nazis in World War II, then battled terrorists more recently. Perhaps the greatest reflection of social change is Wonder Woman, however, who was first introduced as predominantly a healer who could fight when necessary, and has transformed into a full-time Warrior Princess.
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So, what are we to deduce from this new, internally combative trend? If our superheroes have always been a reflection of us, and the type of heroes we ‘need,’ what does it say about society that we generally now have them all at each other’s throats? Some might suggest that, due to a perceived over-exposure to the superhero genre, filmmakers have been forced to continually up the ante to retain our interest. This is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Alternatively, could it be that, as the world has continued to shrink – thanks to technology, the internet and social media – so our attitude toward the origin of threats has also changed? There was a time – unenlightened though it was – when filmmakers would rely on the use characters from other countries as villains, and that was plenty scary enough in those days. Now, however, we have been made aware of so many different kinds of espionage and subterfuge around the globe, that it feels as though everyone is spying on each other, and we’re all part of one big conspiracy. All of us – the entire human race.
Indeed, these days, we find ourselves being suspicious even of those within our own communities, because even if they are not behaving like a supervillain, maybe they said something contentious on Facebook. These days, we are less mired in territorial invasion, and more mired in ethical and moral quagmires on an international scale. Our society has changed, along with our attitudes toward each other – and so our superheroes have changed along with us.