Are Superhero Movies Okay For Little Kids? Or Even Adults!
A debate rages about whether franchise superhero movies are even cinema. Famously, Martin Scorsese argues that they are not. They lack mystery, revelation, and real danger for the protagonists (we always know the heroes will win), in addition to that, all plots follow a predictable trajectory.
People ask whether these films put violence and conflict in frames that are too simplified and much too unrealistic for real life. The heroes always win. The bad guy is clearly evil. What does that teach a young child about the lessons learned from frustration, inevitable failure, the subtleties of right and wrong, and the usefulness of seeing a more realistic world?
Predictably, questions arise as to whether these kinds of films are appropriate for younger ages. We know they glorify violence. They usually don’t glorify sexuality to the same degree, although sexist tropes do slip through. Somehow, since superheroes were almost exclusively conceived in the days of manly men always discovering gorgeous and often scantily clad women in peril. It follows then that most heroes are square-jawed, tough, and not-so-talkative. Only recently have little girls begun to be treated to the resilient power of female strength.
Along those lines, the plucky and indefatigable, perpetually gas-lit Lois Lane ought to become a superhero in her own might and right. Right?
Well, we are still a long way from that. As is the fan base, DC and Marvel heroes, to name just the largest franchise giants, remain more than two thirds male.
Part of the reason is that as comic book heroes, the binary bits of masculinity being one way and femininity being quite another, are still celebrated in superhero movies. Wonder Woman is quite as capable as any man, but she is not likely to morph into an unattractive Hulk type, nor is any other fit female of Hollywood level allure.
Martin Scorsese has written that movies made in the Marvel Universe mold are not really cinema. Although scores of angry Marvel nerds are likely to meet this criticism with Hulk smash sensibility, some are considering just what he means.
Such an examination is a healthy trend. Maybe even adults need to rethink why they are so enamored of seeing yet another muscle bound over-achieving athlete defy death and daily reality with such tedious tricks, however drenched in special effects, their antics are these days.
It has a lot to do with the tragic reality of our world today. We need an escape from the grinding oppression of failed politics, corruption, climate crisis, wrenching inequality and boring routines that somehow grind on steadily within all the madness. But I think these modern vehicles of escape can offer more.
Examining all our sacred cows, even those in capes and leotards is worth doing. We don’t have to pry superheroes and their worthy crusades away from the eyes of our children, but it doesn’t hurt to tweak an industry that truly is getting stale in its predictability and binary surplus of flickering celluloid.
Black Panther, and similar stories, should be more the norm and not an anomaly.
As to what our children see, and how they learn is up to adults. Age appropriate sex and violence should always be considered. You should not expect an ultra violent film to even be as entertaining to a five year old as a Pixar movie will be. And, little girls deserve better than a constant film diet of over-muscled men who solve every single conflict with violence and brutality with little representation of female fettle.
Little kids care more about wearing the cool Spiderman, or Wonder Woman outfit, and seeing themselves as crusaders for their own autonomy. That’s what super hero status is to virtually all little kids: having a fantasy power, using that power to move through the world, and not giving a rip about cinematic quality.
Let’s leave the fantasy of cartoon justice for our children, (even while we tweak even that towards better representation and voice), and begin to encourage adults to watch more mature tales of nuance and narrative.