The basic concept of comic book superheroes puts them in an entirely outlandish reality by design. There’s something inherently ridiculous about someone dressing up in a funny outfit and fighting criminals, and in order for this to work on a storytelling level, it requires a certain level of suspended disbelief. We see this in Tim Burton’s early Batman movies, and even in the early stages of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In just the last couple years though, we’ve seen a movement that’s taken superheroes back to reality.
Let’s start first with the fallout from the first Avengers film. Joss Whedon’s turn at the MCU ended with a climactic battle that reduced half of Manhattan to rubble. Something like that occurring in our own reality would have 9/11-like repercussions on American society, but in the world of Marvel, going down that road doesn’t serve the narrative well. Hop on over to the DC movie-verse, and we see a similarly destructive event in Man of Steel cause audiences to wonder how the movie can gloss over the razing of an entire city.
It would appear as though both DC and Marvel have taken this to heart, as the landscape of both worlds shifts toward the consequences of superhero throwdowns, rather than the throwdowns themselves. Avengers: Age of Ultron saw an entire Eastern European town leveled, and soon, Captain America: Civil War will address the fallout from this world-changing event. In an effort to protect the world from future disasters, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers will go toe-to-toe… over Congressional legislation. And if that doesn’t scream “grounded in reality,” we’re not sure what does.
This all comes during a time when DC’s next big project, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is moving in a similar direction. Actor Scoot McNairy even went so far as to call it “more grounded in reality” than any other superhero movie out there in an interview with We Got This Covered. It’s hard not to see that approach in just the handful of teasers we’ve seen so far: Bruce Wayne appears to have taken it upon himself to stop Superman, having witnessed firsthand the collateral damage of the battle between the Man of Steel and Zod from the last film.
Back over in the MCU, we see Marvel doubling down on realism so thoroughly, that they even devoted an entire Netflix franchise to the idea of “street level” crimefighting. Daredevil is about as realistic as it gets, featuring a titular hero that spends a majority of his time getting pummeled by his enemies. For future series, the idea is to ramp up to a Defenders team-up series, featuring Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones, battling villains on a decidedly smaller scale.
The culmination of all this demonstrates that the world of movie and TV superheroes has turned a corner. Whereas before we reveled in the sheer insanity of comic book universes reimagined on-screen, nowadays shows like The Flash that actually allow this are the exception that proves the rule. For whatever reason, audiences have begun to apply real-world logic to not-so-real-world heroes, paving the way for the next two years of comic entertainment. Will this continue on into the distant future? Given that the next phase of Marvel after Civil War is decidedly space-oriented, the answer could very well be “no.” For now though, the demand is clear for a more Earthly approach to our other-worldly superheroes.
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