Superhero movies have taken the world by storm. If you looked at the fifteen highest-grossing movies of all time, superhero movies make up almost one-third of the list. So, what is it that makes these movies such a widespread phenomenon? An argument can be made that these movies are simply good fun—a movie where you can turn your brain off and just have a good time. The action in a traditional hero movie just doesn’t get graphic—superhero movies almost never explore the direct results of taking a life. They may try to delve into the broader consequences, like in DC’s Batman v. Superman and Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, but they never truly display the loss of lives. Is it irresponsible to for us as a society to participate in the good, fun violence within our beloved movies?
In Marvel’s blockbuster Black Panther, the antagonist, Killmonger, slits the throat of one of the royal guards during a final battle scene. This scene featured no blood, which is odd considering when that happens in real life, blood is usual spilled. However, the dead body of this woman simply fell to the floor in dramatic silence, and had no visual weight. While this death was just one out of many in the film, it was very interesting that Marvel chose to display such a ruthless method of killing without showing the real-life visual of blood. This creative choice highlights one key point: Marvel omitted the results of one of its only deaths in the movie that is realistic (no futuristic weapons involved), possibly to avoid an R-rating in order to sell their product to a wider audience. This disregard of the impact that violence might have on audiences not only desensitizes viewers, but presents an act of violence itself as simple, clean and, dare I say it, cool.
The widespread popularity of superhero movies also creates a problem in and of itself: a hero complex. People watch these movies, and get inspired to become a hero, which is great—until it isn’t. Some might admire the violent-when-necessary morals of heroes like Captain America or Superman, while others might admire the aggression of characters like the Hulk or Batman that take “justice” into their own hands. But ultimately there is a sacrifice that must be made: how many people will be hurt for the sake of peace, justice, and personal vendettas? Since these movies are created in a fictional world, one may argue that the violence isn’t as detrimental. However, just because these films don’t use regular guns, that doesn’t mean the violence seen on the big screen has no impact on the viewer.
Am I saying superhero movies are awful, and will corrupt everyone who watches them? No, but there is much discussion to be had about the approach superhero movies take towards violence. Having characters who blow people up in space, stab others with an interstellar staff or have heads simply explode into colorful powder might be a new take on action, and create a funny or interesting scenario, but at what cost? Will we continue to uphold wholesome heroes like Spider-Man without acknowledging how much we enjoyed watching his more caustic and homicidal counterpart Deadpool star in his own movie? Violence has become the new form of entertainment, and just because we don’t see the immediate consequences now doesn’t mean they won’t happen later.