Today’s heroic movies raise lots of super questions

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Marvel Studios)

Combined ShapeCaption
Spider-Man: Homecoming (Marvel Studios)

First off, I don’t understand why people call him “Spidey.” They don’t call Superman “Supey.” Or Batman “Batty.” And yet just about everybody, up to and including a headline in The New York Times about the latest Spider-Man movie, referred to the adolescent superhero as “Spidey.”

Leaving aside this question for future intellectual debate among scholars, the current deluge of superhero movies has me puzzled. Every third flick released these days, it seems, involves comic book characters. Put the leading man in a cape and a pair of tights, roll the cameras and it’s box office bonanza. (Leading women don’t get the same wardrobe consideration; they have to show plenty of bare leg and cleavage).

It’s not that I’m immune to the lure of comic book heroes. I can recall many earnest discussions I had with friends about what would happen in a fight between Superman and Batman. Of course, we all were 10 years old at the time.

But why are millions of adult Americans today apparently ready to pay billions of American dollars to see movies such as “Wonder Woman” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming?” Is it nostalgia? Escapism? The fact that just about anything is better than sitting at home enduring endless cable television arguments about which political party is ruining America?

In search of answers, I unleashed the superpowers of the internet where, shazam, I found all sorts of wisdom.

One source explained that movie superheroes were “the Greek gods of secular modern life.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds very profound. Another declared they were the descendants of cowboy movies in the ’50s and ’60s, “taking over that same black hat, white hat myth-making surface.”

Some of the theories expounded that stories about people who could leap tall buildings at a single bound provided comfort and reassurance to the public in times fraught with peril. The original comic book Superman was created by two Jewish kids in the ’30s when the Nazis started goose-stepping in Germany, one noted, providing “a metaphor for the immigrant Jewish experience.” Another authority hypothesized that “Captain America: The First Avenger,” helped people cope with a post 9/11 world “that was once again divided into good and evil, but was still morally complicated, flawed and vulnerable.”

Those theories may be true, I suppose, but they’re way too deep for me. I’m still trying to figure out why, when the bad guy fires a gun at him, Superman can just stand there and smile while the bullets bounce harmlessly off his chest of steel – but when the bad guy runs out of ammunition and throws his gun at him, Supey, has to duck.

About the Author