The prologue for Superman Returns showed headlines to articles in response to the absence of Superman. Ultimately these proved to be quite personal stories for Lois Lane. “How could you leave us?” “The world doesn’t need a saviour and neither do I”. Superman responds “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a saviour but every day I hear the world crying for one”. At the end of the film Lois acknowledges this and writes the article “Why the world needs Superman”. In light of this, in fear of their absence, the belief is that cinema needs superheroes.
The need is to believe in something or someone. The religious analogies in superhero films are clear with Superman often leading the way as Jesus in a cape. But if religion is seen as just a series of beliefs that unites people, giving guidance and hope, then superhero films hold some significance to the viewers beyond just action and escape- “This is no fantasy, no careless product of wild imagination”- these films provide the role models that we crave.
Growing up, the role models that are often cited are Jesus, Mum and Dad. If you were lucky there may have been a teacher or two that had some profound influence, but the superhero nature of a child’s view of mum, dad and Jesus (or some other secular figure) gave guidance and hope and a will to aspire to something beyond what you could currently do.
At some point, of course, we come to realise that at least mum and dad are fallible. They, like everyone else, are flawed. Perhaps the modern take on superhero films matches this aging process. Batman, Spiderman, Wolverine are all tortured souls acting as if they have some great penance to pay. This in some way makes the characters more interesting. Dan Brown persuaded that Jesus was human and led a life that was marked by the same desires as the rest of us. This gave new ways to view Jesus as a superhero.
The role models that are cited most often, for example, those individuals who are spoken most about on social media, are clearly flawed. Sports stars often behave and make choices that show a life bereft of taking responsibility or worse, understanding responsibility. The danger here is that we no longer respect or look up to these people, we envy them. We wait for them to muck up so we can tear them down and see them fail. They get paid too much and do too little to warrant such treatment. The superheroes in our lives are expected to do something so much more. To give hope where there is none, to persuade us to hang in there, try, try and try again and to aspire to be so much more than you thought you could be.
Article written by Michael Christopher (2014)