All the World’s a Screen: The superhero genre has no kryptonite

Adriana Sanchez/Daily Trojan

All the world is a screen. But, nowadays, it seems all the screen shows is the superhero narrative.

Depending on how you feel about comic book movies and cinematic universes, we’re either living in the best of times or the worst of times. Superhero franchises dominate box offices because, for many people, the Avengers are the only thing worth getting up and buying a ticket for. In light of streaming services taking more and more people away from the “theater experience,” such an experience is actually not entirely extinct; rather, a rapturous, immersive experience is precisely what we want when we watch superhero movies. Rare is the person who will wait to watch “Avengers: Endgame” on DVD.

These are our modern epics — “Avengers: Infinity War” is our “The Ten Commandments” or our “Lawrence of Arabia” in terms of size, scope and sheer popularity — they are our generation’s very own cinematic spectacles. According to BoxOfficeMojo, six of the 10 highest-grossing movies last year were superhero films. A range of obsessive fans, critics, apathetic viewers and haters abound, but one thing is for sure: Superhero movies cannot be ignored.

Movies are a means of escape, a time to disconnect from our world and join a new one. In my last column, I mentioned how we love horror movies because they allow us to experience a different reality we ultimately do not want to be our own. Yet, when it comes to superhero films, we really do want them to be real.

This is why you have a whole community of fans who dedicate their lives to excavating Easter eggs, plotting out predictions, investing their emotions into the fate of these (fictional) characters. Even the casual fan gets invested when their favorite heroes are in peril; watching a human being with superpowers has a strange, captivating allure. Ultimately, we want the things superhero movies show us to be real. We want a hero.

Superheroes inject much-needed magic into our monotonous lives. Seeing a person fly is refreshing after living with that tedious law of gravity all day. These films not only let us consider what it would be like to fly and run fast, but they also display what we hope to see in everyone else: an uncompromising will to uphold all that is good in the world.

In times of turmoil, it’s no wonder that we love heroes like Black Panther, who stands up for his people with unconditional love. But even T’Challa has his own inner demons. And that’s another thing we like in our heroes — something we’ve grown to demand as time has gone by: complexity.

Gone are the days of boy-scout Superman flaunting his pristine personality and handsome face. These are the days of Batman, a lawless vigilante whose moral compass is incessantly tried and tested. These are the days of Captain America, whose vintage righteousness is repeatedly challenged in the modern day. These are even the days of Venom and the Joker, who we root for even though we know they’re evil. As we realize how truly imperfect we are, our desire for a relatable superhero has led us to produce even these anti heroes and cheer them on because, in many ways, they’re more like all of us than Captain America is.  

To imagine a world without superheroes is quite difficult; even as we near the end of the Avengers’ 12-year saga, Marvel confirms and releases new films and trailers that assure us that this is far from the end. Superheroes are now essential parts of our entertainment world; they rake in revenue, they send fans down intellectual property rabbit holes and they give us a lens through which to understand the world. Good versus evil. Clear and simple is how we like it, especially when we know whose side we’re on.

Isa Uggetti is a sophomore writing about film. He is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “All the World’s a Screen,” runs every other Tuesday.