Captain America vs. Batman: The Superhero Myth

August 2, 2011 § 8 Comments

I recently saw the newest superhero movie to come out this summer, and hopefully the last, Captain America:  The First Avenger. As the film played itself out, I found myself in the place I normally do when watching any of the new wave of comic book films from any director not named Christopher Nolan: bored and disappointed. After beginning strong, Captain America torpedoes itself as soon as it resorts to the standard battle montage scene accompanied by a random shift in visual style. It’s unfortunate, because the film had an opportunity to say something profound about propaganda and media during wartime, especially considering Captain America himself is being used as propaganda. Instead, the movie contents itself with resorting to the same superhero myth that propelled the original comic books heroes, investing our wonderful Captain with all the perfect crime fighting capabilities and a charming, no faults personality to match. In an age where that myth of America no longer rings true, Captain America seems to be almost a parody.

Last year in school, I had to read an article which discussed the famous Iwo Jima war photograph and how it was used to create a largely false atmosphere which facilitated the sale of war bonds. The image was imbued with an absolute, timeless message and resonance that fell apart in the 60s and 70s leading to many parodies of that classic image. The “timeless” morals and significance of this image no longer held true in a society which had rejected the beliefs of its parents, therefore the image necessarily had to fall into satire. The same thing has happened to the comic book hero in this postmodern age. These perfect men and women who always do the right thing and never falter can no longer exist because their mystique has been shattered by the unmasking of reality. People cannot escape from this anymore, at least not to the extent they could in the past.

This is why Nolan’s superhero films are so perfectly suited for this time. Divesting the myth of the superhero, Nolan makes Batman into a real person in a real world. We see Batman’s flaws, and this allows Nolan to actually make statements about authentic issues.  Of course, in this day and age, everything is subject to parody and Christian Bale’s Batman voice has seen its share of satire, but Nolan’s films, as proved by the critics and box office have made an impact far beyond mere escapism.  Compare any superhero film made in the past 10 years to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and you will see the massive difference in depth between Nolan’s dark, realistic vision and the others.

With this summer’s movies on their way out, it looks as if next summer will contain its fair share of superhero films, most notably The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. I’m still waiting to see if any other directors try to make their films noticeably darker to try and mimic Nolan and it appears as if the new Spiderman reboot may be trying just that. With that being said, unless those directors are willing to strip the superhero myth of its bygone conventions and restart from the ground-up, I have less than high hopes for their efforts.



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