Movies Reflect Us: Part Three – What Happened to our (Super)Heroes?

Isn’t it odd when similar movies are released around the same time?

Take these movie “coincidences”:

  • Dante’s Peak/Volcano (1997)
  • Armageddon/Deep Impact (1998)
  • Dangerous Liaisons/Valmont (1988/89)
  • Capote/Infamous (2005/06)
  • White House Down/Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

In 2016 superhero film fans had three big team-ups to consume: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. They weren’t the same story told in different ways, but there were similarities.


The stories that inspired the films already existed in some form as comic books going back at least a decade. But three main superhero franchise movies having similar themes at the same time? It seems unlikely that this is a coincidence.  So what could have inspired it?

From the 1960s to the 1980s movies feared conspiracies by those in power.  By the 1990s movies feared the misuse of technology.  By the 2000s, our role models, our HEROES were fighting.

Does this reflect our world?


At the end of MAN OF STEEL the fight between Superman and Zod had destroyed huge parts of Metropolis and presumably caused tremendous damage and loss of life. This seems an unusual conclusion to a superhero film. This ending was criticised by audiences and reviewers – but was it deliberate?

Many people think that the opening of BATMAN V SUPERMAN was a reaction to the critical responses to the ending of MAN OF STEEL.  The events of the first film had a huge impact on BvS. Instead of being the “saviour” that people want him to be (and the religious imagery in both films is obvious), this alien superhero is now being criticised.  Protesters don’t trust him.  The media has turned against him.  What happened to the world’s first, and some say the best, superhero?

In the film, Batman, incensed by the destruction and embittered by years of fighting crime with no real results, decides to stop Superman – and almost succeeds.  Only then is it clear that someone else has been manipulating both of them…


Marvel’s Captain America sequel picked up from the devastation seen at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where the heroes saved the world by preventing Ultron’s plan to lift then drop a city, with global implications.

The Sokovia Accords are treaties drawn up by multiple countries which aim to supervise, control, permit (?) the superheroes in their actions.

Captain America, Steve Rogers, opposes the Accords as a restrictive form of government control. Iron Man, Tony Stark, believes that they are necessary to avoid collateral damage (seen notably in an early incident in the film).

The Avengers take sides, and their very public battle exposes the tension between the need for national security and the need for individual freedom.

The villain Zemo sums up his plan: “An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again. But one that crumbles from within, that’s dead. Forever.”  Like BvS, the villain is manipulating the heroes to his own ends…


Post 911 the USA and the World was in shock.  The US and its Allies pursued the “Axis of Evil” across the globe, targeting despots like Saddam Hussein, and arguably creating power vacuums in their wake.  The pursuit of Saddam and his Weapons of Mass Destruction tarnished the presidency of George W Bush, and indeed the Premiership of the UK’s Tony Blair.

This led to the many issues around Guantanamo Bay detention camp and the treatment of those held there, the US Homeland Security Act of 2002, rendition (terror suspects interrogated in countries with demonstrably less humane treatment of prisoners).

It was almost a full decade before the man who planned the 911 attacks, Bin Laden, was finally located and killed.

But that wasn’t the end.  Terror continued.


“Terrorist” acts are designed to do just that – create “terror”.  Countries who have experienced some of these horrible events have found themselves creating new laws, putting foreigners on watchlists, restrictions on tourists from certain countries, the cranking up the “terror levels”, accidentally inspiring anti –Islamic views, with newspapers printing lurid headlines.  Is this perhaps as Zemo said, society “crumbling from within”?


Technofear continued through the worries about our “footprint” on the internet, and the use of apps and various social media sites which collect our data (with the potential for it to be used in various shady ways). Search “Cambridge Analytica” for some interesting reading.

And remember of course about Echelon. In May 2001, The Guardian newspaper said that Echelon is “a global network of electronic spy stations that can eavesdrop on telephones, faxes and computers. It can even track bank accounts. This information is stored in Echelon computers, which can keep millions of records on individuals.  Officially however, Echelon doesn’t exist.”

Edward Snowden, a former CIA computer professional, copied and leaked a huge amount of classified information in 2013. Amongst this was information confirming that Echelon existed and that various governments were using new technology to collect information on citizens, including the phone data of millions of Americans.

The rise of the Islamic State terrorists in the 2010s, led to horrific attacks in many countries, which for some was particularly terrifying as anyone could be a potential victim.


The X-Men movies have been a resounding success over the years.  Indeed, their success probably led the way for the Marvel and DC “cinematic universes”.  What connected with viewers (and the original readers of the comic books) was how the stories were really about outcasts, About those who felt without a home or a place in society – whether that was gender, race, or religion. 

The other films worked hard to show this, the debates between Professor Xavier’s liberalism and Magneto’s fascism.  Adventure movies on one level, but meatier issues are buried there too.

Yet X-Men: Apocalypse discards that kind of subtext for vivid special effects, an evil baddie resurrected from ancient pyramids called “Apocalypse” who is simply just evil.

The mutants who have always sided with Magneto or Professor X are now aligning with Apocalypse or Professor X.  Magneto is simply presented as Apocalypse’s henchman.  Disappointing.

But then again – is Magneto’s “demotion” worth looking at?  Is the film making any comment at all on leadership, on power, on who is actually in charge?  Are there other threats in the world other than the obvious ones?

X-Men: Apocalypse is set in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was President and Russia was still America’s enemy.  While the humans were worried about Russia, and the mutants were worried about Magneto, another evil, Apocalypse, was brewing.

Is it possible that this film, made in 2016, but set in the 1980s is making a comment about our enemies in 2016?  Russia was no longer the enemy it once was.  Instead, while some countries like America were in Afghanistan and Iraq, there was another villain brewing from another ancient country?


At a visit to Auschwitz last weekend German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that many countries are witnessing attacks on the fundamental values of liberal democracy in Europe and a dangerous historical revisionism.  “We are witnessing a worrying level of racism, intolerance and a wave of hate crimes”.

We are distrusting, fighting, hating each other again.

Not only that, but the past few years have seen the rise of other enemies.  Or should that be a return?


Reports in the US and the UK are now suggesting that Russia has been directly involved in the election of President Donald Trump.  And possibly implicated in the 2016 “Brexit” vote in the UK (the UK leaving the European Union).  Then Russian agents attempted an assassination using nerve agent Novichok on British soil.

Once the genie is out of the bottle and the suspicion of Russian hackers influencing voters on both sides of the Atlantic arises, and our leaders don’t seem to react in an appropriate way, how can we trust anyone moving forward?

So we have come full circle.  The first article in this short MOVIES REFLECT US series started with the fear of the Russians.  And now, in December 2019 the US president is being impeached, with suggestions that Russia has been actively undermining the presidency ringing in our ears following the Impeachment hearings.


Today, the winning party in the UK General Election will push through the process of “Brexit”. There are fears that this could ultimately lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom.

I love the 70’s conspiracy movies, but while I was alive then, I was to young to experience or remember that turmoil.  I can therefore enjoy the films free of personal context. I’m not enjoying the political and social pain we’re currently going through, even if some good conspiracy movies come out of it.

Of course I am looking at this retrospectively and imposing my argument onto the films.  But THREE “heroes fighting” movies in the same year?  What happened to our superheroes in 2016 that meant that they were fighting each other?


What has happened to our real-life role models? And how will our movies respond?

We’ll just have to buckle up, buy a ticket and see.

At the very least, the movies can still give us an escape from the harsh realities of life – they always have.

Maybe a new film will come along soon to restore hope.

Article originally published on, and banner image from Reel Anarchy.

Read the other articles in this three part series:

Movies Reflect Us Part One – The Paranoid Conspiracy Thrillers of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Movies Reflect Us Part Two – TECHNOFEAR – .The Enemy of the State

3 thoughts on “Movies Reflect Us: Part Three – What Happened to our (Super)Heroes?

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