Superheroes. Superheroes everywhere. They have dominated Hollywood since the early 2000s. In 2000 Bryan Singer successfully brought the X-Men to the big screen. But it wasn’t until 2002 that Sony Pictures hit with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, a blockbuster that impressed millions of people worldwide. Since then, superheroes have dominated mainstream cinema. DC (Warner Brothers) made the next mega hit with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The Disney subsidiary Marvel has even become the most successful cinema franchise ever since 2008. But since the turn of the millennium, the superhero genre has also had some interesting additions apart from the costumed heroes of Marvel and DC.
In the mystery drama “Unbreakable”, M. Night Shyamalan tells the story of the invulnerable David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and the fragile Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) from an antagonistic perspective of Yin and Yang: good and bad as opposing, but also related forces. The superhero connection is also made by the comic book fan Price. Dunn reappears in Shyamalan’s mystery thriller “Split” (2017). And “Glass”, the Shyamalan film from 2019, is also treated as a superhero film.
Hellboy is one of the best-known comic heroes apart from the superheroes of DC and Marvel. In “Hellboy” and “Hellboy – The Golden Army”, director Guillermo del Toro has produced two entertaining action films based on the comic template of the same name, with Ron Pearlman in the lead role. However, apart from the characters, the two films hardly differ from conventional superhero films. The remake “Hellboy – Call of Darkness” was released in 2019. This time “Stranger Things” actor David Harbor takes on the role of Hellboy, directed by Neil Marshall.
“Hancock” is a superhero comedy, which was a rarity before “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) and “Deadpool” (2016) – apart from genre parodies like “Die Super-Ex” (2006). Hancock (Will Smith) has super powers, but not the slightest ambition to act as a superhero. He’d rather be left alone. If he can be persuaded to do a heroic deed, there is usually extensive collateral damage. The PR agent Ray (Jason Bateman) wants to polish his image as a superhero again to a high gloss.
“Super” is an independent film by James Gunn (script and direction) that takes a bitter look at the superhero genre. The black humor probably also contributed to the fact that Gunn ended up with Marvel as director and screenwriter of “Guardians of the Galaxy”. The focus is on Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson), who wants to save his ex-wife disguised as a superhero from the drug dealer, for whom she left him. The film has some parallels to Kick-Ass, but is much darker and more oppressive.
Unlike “Super”, “Kick-Ass” is more action film than drama, more comic nerd reference than cynical superhero parody. No wonder. The comic template of the same name comes from Mark Miller, one of the most successful authors of contemporary superhero comics. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) decides to become a superhero and has to put up with a lot. But ultimately Lizewski becomes the hero of the film, while D’Arbo remains a tragic figure in “Super”.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
“Scott Pilgrim” is not just a superhero film. Author Bryan Lee O’Malley has already created a creative combination of comic, video games and music with his graphic novels. But the film, to which O’Malley co-wrote, is an ultimate fusion in film format. The focus is on the chaotic life of Scott Pilgrim, bassist of his friends’ band and wannabe rock star. When the nerd meets the fascinating Ramona Flowers, which previously appeared in his dream, he immediately falls in love with her and can – probably to his own surprise – land with her too. But finally with Ramona to be together, he has to defeat her seven ex-lovers. Of course, they have super powers. What follows is a spectacular series of fights, which is equivalent to a cinematic declaration of love for video games and rock music.
In “Chronicle” the three students Matt, Steve and Andrew discover that they have telekinetic skills. Unlike the exemplary teenagers of the X-Men, the three teenagers don’t think of a heroic career. They prefer to use their skills to have fun and play pranks on others. But soon it will not be funny anymore. Andrew in particular is using his powers more and more questionably and violently. When his sick mother dies, he finally loses any inhibition in using his powers against other people.
For a change, “Antboy” is a real youth film. The Danish film is based on the children’s book series of the same name by Kenneth Bøgh Andersen. The 12-year-old Pelle hides from his school while escaping from bullies. In doing so, it is – quite traditionally – bitten by a genetically modified ant. The following story is also entertaining for an adult audience – something you can’t always say about some superhero films with an older target group.
American Ultra (2015)
“American Ultra” starts as a simple film and then happily scratches the curve to superhero action. Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a pretty relaxed guy who is afraid of travel. Attempting to leave one’s hometown or even get on a plane always ends in a panic attack. Without his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), who he wants to propose to marry, he can’t get anything done. But that changes when two men try to kill him. He turns the tables and kills the attackers – with skills he didn’t know he had at all.
Even though it would be fascinating to become a superhero, we have to stick to movies, comics and games if we want to take a glimpse of their world. Many games feature superheroes, whether it is RPGs, card games and even online casino games, there’s always at least one cool superhero present. Known or not, each superhero has a place in our hearts, who knows, maybe one day, we’ll become a superhero ourselves.