Ever since the release of “The Avengers” in 2012, the superhero genre has seen a massive upsurge in terms of quantity, with 2016 being home to an astonishing seven alone.
Such an influx means that, more often than not, there are going to be lots of films that aim to be enjoyable popcorn entertainment, which is perfectly fine. After all, this is a genre that emphasizes action and colorful costumes amidst a sea of CGI spectacle.
However, whenever a comic book movie comes along that takes this the next step forward, it tends to stand out from a historical perspective. That is to say, superhero films are capable of telling deeper thematic conflicts, and when one such example is released, the public preserves it as a standard to bear.
Over 30 years since the release of the original “Superman”, there have been many flicks that do just that. Here are 7 particular superhero movies that transcended the genre.
7. Iron Man
The “War on Terror” is a geopolitical conflict that has many grey areas. From the perspective of the combatants, it is easy to demonize the other side, but when examined acutely, there is no denying the fact that these things do not have simple answers.
Iron Man was created before this era of military history, which made Jon Favreau’s venture into the superhero genre even more amazing. Recognized now as the start of the media franchise known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 2008’s “Iron Man” looked at the role weapons manufacturers and defense contractors play in prolonging the ever-looming conflicts of the “War on Terror”.
With Robert Downey Jr.’s pitch perfect casting as Tony Stark, “Iron Man” dove into its heavy subject matter headstrong, emerging as a critical and commercial success for the MCU.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
What is the line between security and oversight? How much privacy is one willing to give up to be safe from foreign threats? With the Snowden leaks occurring a mere three years ago, it seemed that it would take some time for a movie to emerge willing to tackle these issues directly.
And yet, 2014 gave us just that with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo of “Arrested Development” fame, “Winter Soldier” saw Steve Rogers, already disillusioned with S.H.I.E.L.D, investigating a decades long conspiracy involving the government and underground networks of Hydra infiltration. Beautifully paced, thrilling, and above all brave, “Winter Soldier” pushed the Captain America character into the pantheons of comic book legends.
5. X2: X-Men United
Humans are afraid of the unknown. This is a natural feeling- anything that challenges our daily routines is immediately cast upon with suspicion. In the United States alone, several civil rights movements have had to emerge to bridge the gap between these traditionalists and newer groups.
Inspired by the aforementioned social movements, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “X-Men” introduced the Marvel world to mutants, or genetically-evolved humans that were discriminated against by normal people afraid that humanity would get replaced by this new species.
2000’s “X-Men”, directed by Bryan Singer, saw a more mild-version of this conflict play out on the big screen, introducing characters like Wolverine, Cyclops, and Professor Xavier to fan enthusiasm. However, the 2003 sequel “X2: X-Men United”, brought the comic book’s themes to vibrant life, displaying violence against mutants, closeted characters, and political machinations. One of the best follow-ups created.