The Dark Knight Rises and The Superhero Generation

Last Thursday night, I waited with my high school friends to see the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in my hometown of Knoxville, TN. I left the theater completely inspired by the movie and ready to write my next blog post about our generation’s relationship with superhero movies first thing next morning.

Then, the news of the tragic shootings broke.

Even though I am a Tennessee girl at heart, I was born in Aurora, CO. In another universe, that could have be me in Theater 8 with my high school buddies.

Writing this article without mentioning the shootings would be disrespectful and personally offensive. Yet, examining the relationship between millennials and superhero movies is more relevant now than ever. Allow me to honor the young victims, the majority of whom were under 30, by writing about millennials’ special relationship with superhero movies and sending out my prayers and condolences to all those affected by the shooting.

Millennials: The Superhero Generation

The Spiderman trilogy.  Two separate Hulk movies. Thor. Watchmen. Iron Man 1 2. Then The Amazing Spiderman reboot. Whether they’re good (Joss Whedon’s The Avengers) or not-so-good (The Green Lantern), superheroes are dominating the box office. With a new Superman and Iron Man 3 in the works, this trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Yes, teens and twentysomethings love explosions and visual effects. But there are a million ways to do action movies with special effects (even basing them on board games! I’m looking at you Battleship). What is it about superhero movies that has this generation’s 18-24 demographic so captivated?

“Geek” Goes Mainstream

Just a generation ago, comic books were almost on the same level as Dungeons & Dragons in nerdiness. If you debated Batman vs. Superman down the high school hallways in 1980, chances are a swirlie would follow. Now, comic books, graphic novels, and the movies based on them are the epitome of cool. What changed?

In a word: the Internet. Suddenly, groups with special interests in comics could unite, discuss why Batman beats Superman every time (clearly!), and demonstrate just how high of a demand there is for this content. Take Comic-Con, a series of conventions for people interested in “geek” culture. They’ve grown from a relatively small fan gatherings to enormous, celebrity-studded events. Clearly, this group is no longer a quiet minority, but a diverse crowd worthy of Hollywood attention.

While I’m working on a post to explore this issue more in depth, it’s obviously no longer uncool to let your geek flag fly. Superhero movies allow a way to engage current fans while accessing new, more receptive ones.

Narrative Lens for “Our Time”

It seems strange to think of movies as narratives for our time, but hey, I’m an English major. In response to the hardships of the Great Depression, escapist movies, such as The Wizard of Oz dominated the 1930s. Superhero movies provide an ideal narrative for a generation facing enormous challenges.

Think about it. Millennials were raised in the time of everyone-gets-a-trophy parenting. We were told that we were being special just for being our unique selves. Social networks, like Facebook, encourage us to promote our inherent individuality for the world to see. In short, we were told to believe we were special because we were ourselves.

Now, take superheroes.  With the exception of self-made heroes like Batman and Iron Man, the majority of superheroes received their powers for chance, not merit. Whether it’s a spider bite or a gamma ray accident, the origin of most powers are through no action of their own, but rather an event beyond their control. Superheroes are ordinary people randomly granted extraordinary abilities.  The merit wasn’t earned, but they use it for greatness.

Despite the Great Recession, high unemployment rate, polarizing political division and climate change, millennials remain a surprisingly optimistic generation. Whether it’s naivete, ignorance or just the faith in ourselves, we plan to take on this great responsibility–even if we don’t necessarily have great power.

Comfort and Nostalgia

Although these comics originated before most millennials were born, they still speak to our instinct to hold onto childhood. After all, we’re the generation that brought back Nick at Nite and played drinking games while watching children’s movies.  Millennials are extending the child/adult limbo by putting off adult milestones, such as marriage, until much later than previous generations. Whether or not these comics were part of our childhood, they speak to millennials’ current thirst for younger entertainment in addition to raunchy comedies.

Thank you for reading! Even though he’s not a superhero, here’s hoping for a live-action Archie movie soon (my favorite comic growing up). Lindsey Kirchoff.

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