No End In Sight For The Superhero

May 3, 2019

Credit Marvel

Superhero movies can be a massive money maker for Hollywood. Marvel movies, in particular, continue to break their own records, including the latest “Avengers: End Game,” which raked in more than $1 billion dollars globally opening weekend.

But this is not always the case for the genre. Many fans may remember box office fails like DC Comics “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” or “Green Lantern.” Batman fans have watched as DC Comics has tried to keep fans engaged by switching the man who donned the bat suit and pairing him with everyone from the villainous Jack Nicholson as the Joker to a quirky Jim Carrey as the Riddler. But despite the ups and downs in the box office, scholar Woody Hood says the superhero will never die. Hood is the director of film and media studies at Wake Forest University and joins Frank Stasio to trace the roots of the modern day superhero all the way back to ancient Mesopotamian mythology. He argues that our superheros change and grow as society evolves.

On the legacy of the superhero:

It actually goes back to our ancient epic sagas. It’s sort of our contemporary version of the great myths of “Illiad” and “Odyssey” — “Gilgamesh,” Ovid, “Beowulf.” These are sort of the stories of our time taken into this bigger realm. In class, we call them augmented humans. You take a human and augment it some way. You give them a superpower. Even just super smart and give them access to technology and resources … This is our mythology.  

On the impact of social media on superhero film producers:

I refer to these movies as partly crowdsourced because they’re watching social media. Whenever any superhero film comes out, whenever any film comes out, they’re looking at how audiences are reacting to it. And they're making those adjustments to it.

Hood believes that once a genre begins to produce parody films like 'Deadpool' it signals that the genre is nearing its end.
Credit Photo by Joe Lederer - © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

On how superhero films force us to address real cultural conflicts:

It’s the same thing with the Thanos argument. [Thanos is the villain in “Avengers: Infinity War” who wants to destroy half of the Universe]. Should we just wipe half the people out of the universe then we have more resources? Which actually isn’t true. We know it’s not true, but in that moment you go … Would that work? … No, that’s what the Nazis did.

On how the superhero genre is morphing:  

When we get to the spoof of it [like in the movie “Deadpool”] it shows me that the genre is going to be slowing down. Then we start getting revisionist versions of [the genre]. I love [the movie] “Logan” of the X-Men franchise, which isn’t a superhero movie really at all. It has superhero elements in it, but it’s a family drama about death and dying and your commitment to your children and aging parents.

Wonder Woman fighting in heels is one of the examples Hood gives of how Marvel misses the mark when it comes to representation of the female superhero.
Credit Photo by Alex Bailey - © 2015 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC

On the flaw with the way female superheroes are written:

[In “Wonder Woman”] we have this super powerful metahuman in the final face-off with her brother Ares. She doesn’t rely on her real power. She has to rely on — and this is the cliche for female superheroes — it's their emotional value, not their physical strength or intelligence. They can win the world over by their emotions … [Wonder Woman] kind of falls back on its cliches while at the same time as trying to push representation forward.

On the power of “Black Panther”:

[“Black Panther”] is about the idea of self-representation. We’ve been through periods in Hollywood of Blaxploitation films, where you had people who were trying to represent the black culture and black communities that had nothing to do with it. They were just trying to cash in on it. The great leap forward with “Black Panther,” other than its box office obviously, …  It was written by, directed by [African Americans]. So it was their chance to tell an African American story through the lens of a superhero movie.