Have you noticed how many superhero movies there are at the moment?
Over the last couple of years we’ve had The Green Hornet, Thor, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Captain America, Ghost Rider, The Avengers, The Amazing Spiderman, and The Dark Knight Rises. Over the coming year we have more to look forward to: Dredd 3D, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Fantastic Four, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Thor: The Dark World. Plus probably more that my cursory web search didn’t turn up.
Almost all these movies are eagerly anticipated, not just by the comic-loving geek crowd, but by the world at large. Have you ever wondered why? What makes superhero movies “so hot” right now?
Certainly, superheroes aren’t new. Comic book heroes have been around for almost 100 years now. And look at any culture’s history and mythology and you’ll find examples of non-spandex-wearing superheroes. Robin Hood may not have been able to fly, but he had a costume, a secret base, and a mandate to help the common folk against the unjust, corrupt ruling class. Compare the story of Robin Hood to that of any modern superhero and you’ll likely find more similarities than differences.
I wonder whether the current fascination with superheroes is based on our feelings about the world we live in. Are we, as common people, looking for a hero? Do we feel helpless, voiceless, and in need of protection from an unjust, corrupt society? Are we drawn to stories of heroism because we need that type of story in our lives right now; because we need to feel that there is a powerful force for good hiding amongst the news stories of lying, corruption, and injustice?
Thinking about superhero movies always reminds me of my first superhero movie. Back in 1986, when I was ten years old, I was introduced to a superhero movie that (I have to admit) is still my favourite: The Return of Captain Invincible.
You’ve probably never heard of it.
Apparently camp, B-grade, musical comedies about superheroes weren’t all that popular in 1983. Especially when they were made in Australia. So if you’re not one of the 25 people in the world who’ve seen this movie, let me give you a brief summary:
Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin) was a hero to the American people in WWII, but at the end of the war he found himself the subject of a congressional investigation and accused of being a closet communist (because he wore a red cape). Rather than face charges of flying without a licence, impersonating a military officer, and wearing underwear in public, he disappeared from the public eye.
Thirty years later (when the movie begins), Captain Invincible is an alcoholic living on the streets of Sydney, Australia. When his arch-nemesis, Evil Mr Midnight (Christopher Lee) re-emerges, steals a hypno-ray, and unleashes his evil plan, the US government hunts down Captain Invincible and asks him to return.
One of the great (and cheesy) aspects of this movie are the songs. Early in the movie, the President of the United States calls together his Chiefs of Staff and demands they come up with a means of beating Mr Midnight. All the suggestions hinge on some large-scale military action. This is the President’s response:
(Warning: The first 60 seconds are NSFW. Skip to 1:01 if you’re concerned about bad language.)
You know what the current spate of superhero films tells me? What the world needs now is a shining hero.
But where do we find one? Who stands for truth and justice and courage in the world today?
Our politicians are regularly exposed as liars, our sports stars are accused of using drugs, our music stars are arrested for drunk driving or theft, and Reality TV stars are pregnant at 17, yell abuse at family and friends, and glorify antisocial behaviour. We hear stories about doctors committing murder, police officers committing crimes, and church officials committing sins of the flesh.
But no matter how jaded and cynical we feel, there are still heroes in the world. In fact, they may be closer than you think.
Have you seen this picture? It turned up on my Facebook news feed a few days ago, but it’s at least a year old.
This boy last his father in the crowd, and was scared and freaked out until he saw The Flash and Wonder Woman. He went up to The Flash and asked for help, because he recognised him.
I don’t know the full story behind the picture, and all my internet searching failed to turn up anything more than the information above. But in my imagination it went something like this:
Joe Average isn’t a hero. He curses and drinks on occasions. He tells the odd lie, and maybe he even downloads movies or music illegally or take stationery home from work. Occasionally he dresses up as his favourite heroes for conventions, not because he thinks he is a hero, but because he wants to pay tribute to a character he loves.
On a normal day, Joe Average may not have even noticed a little boy, lost and crying for his Dad. And if he did, he would have “done the right thing” and taken the child to a nearby cop or the registration desk. But on this day… Well, on this day he wasn’t just Joe Average. On this day he was dressed as The Flash. And, more importantly, in the child’s eyes he was The Flash.
And The Flash would never let a child down. The Flash would be a hero. Even if it was difficult. Even it was time-consuming. Even if it was inconvenient. So Joe Average did what any hero would do: he helped the little boy find his father.
Joe Average may not have saved any lives or defeated any arch villains, but in the eyes of that child and that father, he’s a hero. All because he was wearing a fancy red suit.
What would you do if you saw someone who needed help? Would it be different if you were dressed like a hero?
Imagine what the world would be like if everyone behaved as though they were dressed in shiny red spandex, ready to leap into action and save the day. Imagine what would happen if we stopped looking for other people to step up and be a hero and instead we looked to ourselves. Imagine if we acted as though underneath our clothes there was a superhero costume just waiting to be revealed.
What the world needs now is a shining hero.
Imagine if it was you.