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Fans remain loyal even after film flops

Katarina Lukich | Fulcrum Contributor

Illustration by Devin Beauregard

WATCHING THE THIRD instalment of Iron Man this summer left me underwhelmed. The plot was a watered down version of its successful predecessors, but at this point, should I have expected anything more? I recognize that few movie franchises remain exceptional once the second sequel hits the big screen and apart from a few select films, I’ve learned to manage my expectations before I fork over $13.50 for a movie ticket.

The real story is, despite my disappointment in the third Iron Man, I’ll be first in line to watch the fourth. I will watch almost any superhero sequel without fail, even when I suspect that it won’t be setting any gold standards for excellence. This says much about my loyalty as a fan, but it also makes me wonder why people like me love superheroes enough to push past the multitudes of disappointing films.

So I put together a list.

Superheroes reflect a point in time

There’s no umbrella reason why the world loves superheroes, especially when not all superheroes are created equal. Some are funny, flawed, and complex— with moments of self-righteousness or self-doubt—while others are strong, fiery, and fearless.

Personality traits aside, superheroes tend to reflect the society and culture of the day. Modern day Batman is not the same character figure as the early comic book Batman, who didn’t hesitate to kill villains on his nightly patrol. Today’s mainstream heroes and heroines rarely kill robbers or super villains, even when they come across truly harrowing and unnerving characters. Bruce Wayne doesn’t smoke anymore either, nor do many other superheroes nowadays.

Superheroes are very visible role models, and their behaviour is influenced by collective social values in the real world. Superheroes also provide a reflection of current affairs and real issues that speak to people in different societies. I recently read an article about the first-ever female superhero in Pakistan called the Burka Avenger—a teacher who uses martial arts to fight brutes trying to close the school. The show is a play off Taliban efforts to oppress female education in Pakistan and is an example of how superheroes can sometimes symbolize a lack of support in existing institutions and practices.

Our superheroes reflect ourselves

Most people remember the difficult moments that affect our future behaviour, and superhero origin stories thrive off dark and difficult beginnings. As Hugh Jackman reprises his role as Wolverine in the newest X-Men installment, The Wolverine, you have to consider why his character continues to be so enthralling five movies later.

This is a guy who has endured tremendous cruelty and loss in his lifetime, and even in a group like the X-Men, never truly feels like he belongs. He’s a lone wolf and a survivor, and for those who have ever struggled to belong or attempted to move past a great tragedy can empathize with a character like him.

Superheroes are a symbol of hope

Superheroes have long symbolized hope in chaotic and disastrous situations. Part of the beauty in being a superhero comes from the ability to change a typically uncontrollable situation into one in which they are in the driver’s seat. We admire and envy superheroes for having the opportunity to control the uncontrollable, which is not always the reality for people who can’t fly or automatically heal within moments after an injury. Superheroes move against the grain during dire situations, and you can’t help but admire their ability to instill a sliver of hope.

They come with a lot of baggage

They all have something. Superman struggles with his identity as a half-human, half-Kryptonian, Rogue has intimacy and multiple personality problems, and Hulk has serious anger management issues. We’ve all been there, right? Most beloved superheroes go through relatable challenges like social acceptance and discrimination (cue X-Men), identity crisis (cue everyone), and a multitude of ethical dilemmas surrounding the choices they make (why is the Joker still alive again?).

But not all superheroes are the same. Magneto from X-Men is a good example of an anti-hero and someone whose life path led him to view the world as cruel and unkind to those who are different. His anger and tactics are misguided and radical, but as a Jewish boy persecuted by the Nazis during World War II, it’s easy to sympathize with his mission to prevent the same fate from befalling mutants. It’s that complexity that makes his character so intriguing, and it’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to watch X-Men even after the third movie was released.

What’s not to love?

Superheroes inspire, elevate, and may even guide our moral compass from time to time. But I don’t think their existence would translate well in the real world. When I wonder what the world would be like if superheroes were real, as I often do, I always come to the same conclusion: if superheroes exist, super villains must also exist to keep things in “balance.” Remember when the Joker told Batman “you complete me” in The Dark Knight? I’m inclined to take it as the truth.

In the world of comic book characters, I believe superheroes are only as formidable as the villains whose plans they thwart. So if housing superheroes means experiencing an influx of super villains, I’ll pass. I’m quite content watching the action on the big screen with my trusted, loyal sidekicks: popcorn and peanut