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Super Summer


Superhero movies take over box office

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By Patrick Beane




I dreamed about movie events like this when I was 9 years old. “The Avengers,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are all hitting theaters in the same summer. It seems like fantasy.

These are the heroes I loved as a kid. I watched the shows, read the comics and played the videogames.

There was something about the spandex-sporting supers that grabbed my attention and made me root for them. Despite (or because of) their powers, they were outsiders and freaks.

Spider-Man was bullied. Batman was alienated from others by his parents’ death. The X-Men were a bunch of misfit kids trying to harness powers beyond their control.

This seems like obvious reading material for nerds who never feel like they fit in. Superheroes have long been associated with geek culture. Hollywood helped change that.

After the successful “Superman” and “Batman” adaptations from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, dominant culture’s interest began to wane once again. When Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” earned nearly $300 million worldwide in 2000, superheroes and their movies reentered the mainstream.

The dawn of superhero blockbusters is behind us.

Further “X-Men” sequels and the “Spider-Man” films earned hundreds of millions of dollars in the early and mid 2000s. “Spider-Man 2,” “The Incredibles” and “The Dark Knight” made huge, critical splashes that helped establish the legitimacy of superhero stories.

We’ve now slipped into an era where superhero movies reign supreme at the box office. For this, the movie industry is grateful.

Three of this summer’s biggest movies are superhero movies. “The Avengers” has already earned $1 billion worldwide in its first two weeks of release and is poised to topple the $2 billion record set by James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

The film’s star-studded ensemble cast and Joss Whedon’s smart and fun script guaranteed a big opening. It’s a movie worth seeing for its character-based humor and jaw-dropping action. It’s also worth seeing because it tells a big story about misfits learning to embrace one another as misfits. The heroes might face insurmountable odds and self-doubt, but they can learn and gain from each other.

The summer also offers more obviously self-serious superhero fare in “The Dark Knight Rises.” The sequel to the previous highest grossing superhero movie of all time features the Bat-breaking Bane and the ambiguously motivated Catwoman.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” lags behind “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” in terms of hype, but its existence alone speaks to the popular demand for superhero stories. It’s a series reboot for a “Spider-Man” trilogy that ended only five years ago. Andrew Garfield is a fit for the more Ultimate-styled Spidey, but origin stories are getting a little tired.

Superhero movies themselves might also get tired and lose their box office legs if they don’t go bigger and better like “The Avengers” or darker and deeper like “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Why do we still need superhero movies?

Studios need them because they rake in piles of cash so big Galactus might have trouble digesting them. Audiences need them because superheroes are today’s gods. The movies are doing more than making money. These are larger-than-life, unbelievable and exaggerated moral narratives parading as special effects spectacles.

Ticking at the heart of each superhero movie is a story for kids and adults who don’t fit in. If they can find something to talk about with other fans, that’s one step toward friendship — something everyone deserves. Of course, Hollywood only wants box office juggernauts.

As long as we can take advantage of truth, justice and the Hollywood way to help geeks find each other, I’m happy.

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