As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a superhero. When I was younger, I read a few comics, but mostly I played superhero video games and watched cartoons (my favorites were “Batman: The Animated Series” and the 1994 “Spider-Man”). With my boundless imagination extrapolated into reality, I believed it was possible to receive superpowers. When I was seven or eight I was at a playground and saw what was probably a small mosquito bite on my wrist, but managed to convince myself that it was, in fact, a bite from a radioactive spider. It would only be a matter of minutes, I thought, until I collapsed from exhaustion as the new spider DNA worked itself into my own, and I would be reborn as the wall-crawler himself. I was incredibly disappointed when this did not happen.

I own two superhero Under Armour dri-fit T-shirts (Superman and The Punisher, if you were curious), and when I wear them I feel just a little bit stronger and more powerful. But that’s about as close as I can get to realizing my superhero dreams. Anything more must be lived vicariously through the never-ending string of superhero movies that get pumped out each year.  

I’m hooked on this genre, along with a huge proportion of American filmgoers.  I saw a Rolling Stone article the other day titled “How Superhero Movies Became Too Big to Fail,” and, though I did not read the article given this publication’s track record of embodying the worst parts of pop culture journalism, the headline is not wrong. This genre is so safe because the sizeable population of people like me will continue to throw gobs of money at it, regardless of the quality of the product.

“Batman v Superman” represents the pinnacle (or perhaps the nadir, depending on one’s perspective) of the superhero event movie phenomenon. This movie was universally panned and still made $166 million at the box office in one weekend. Hell, I read some 10 negative reviews and had three different friends and my brother tell me to save my money, and I still went. I am a slave to this genre.

And it is of course that very devotion to the idea of superhero films that will continue to generate mishaps like “Batman v Superman.” If there’s a profit to be made, then studios will simply throw together a half-thought-out story, give it a gimmicky little title and proceed to rip my heart out with its shoddy content.

But for as much as I disliked “Batman v Superman,” one scene in particular stood out to me: the day “the world is introduced to the Superman,” the fight between Superman and General Zod that took place during “Man of Steel.” This first action sequence finds Bruce Wayne, clad in his pleated pants, vest and tie, frantically traversing downtown Metropolis as the city collapses around him in an attempt to save his friends at Wayne Enterprises. With the events of Brussels still fresh in my mind, I could not help but view the scene as a parable of urban terrorism.

I’ve read a lot of criticism of this franchise because it attempts to ask the question: what would happen in a world where the Superman existed? These critics say a comic book movie is escapism and shouldn’t attempt to portray our world. While I find this assessment fair, it deprives us of a very captivating potential cinematic experience. This opening sequence very effectively captures the complete horror of the spectators of a cosmic death match, who peer up from the streets and catch two small figures wreaking havoc on our world. This scene, at least, is a superhero movie for a post-9/11 world, a world embroiled in seemingly never-ending terror.

While the rest of “Batman v Superman” falls decidedly flat, this one scene possesses incredible power.  Cartoonish fun and zany characters in “Ant-Man” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” can be enjoyable, and in fact I liked them very much, but they do not resonate on a more visceral level in the same way that this opening sequence did.

The only other superhero film that accomplished this same visceral experience that I’ve seen is “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” This was less a superhero film, more an espionage thriller that happened to star Captain America, and it offered an overt metaphor for surveillance in the age of terror. Replace SHIELD with the NSA and replace hovering warships with surveillance programs and the result is, essentially, the modern world. This compelling take on the balance between liberty and security is and will continue to be relevant for years — the recent Apple v. FBI showdown was yet another example of the issue.

Like the Western genre before them, superhero movies have become so pervasive that to simply see another good guy-bad guy showdown with explosions, or (god forbid) another origin story, wastes the very rich superhero framework that raises thought-provoking questions relevant to our world. Superheroes are not simple characters; often their motivations are ill founded, their actions are suspect and the consequences of those actions can be quite profound. To relegate them to the basic good guy framework flounders the potential to tell a modern cinematic allegory.

I believe this is the direction to which superhero movies are starting to turn. The superhero movie as a closed-off comic book film (and the pulp and tone that the medium offers) was perfected by “Spiderman 2” and “Sin City,” and has since been run into the ground. This next series of superhero films will fall more in line with “Captain America 2” and the first “Iron Man” in that they can be fun but also tackle and reflect our real world.

I know some will find this disappointing: as I said above many believe that superhero films are peak escapist entertainment. But entertainment should not mean unchallenging and unintelligent, nor should it mean naïve and ignorant. The best superhero film will have something to say and will execute its message strongly, while offering a compelling cinematic experience.

This is the most important lesson of “Batman v Superman,” a film that had something to say but couldn’t execute its message or provide the entertaining experience. It takes a strong creative mind to balance these many aspects — not a director with an eye for visual flair — and studios would be wise not push out these minds in favor of a quick buck.

Because though I enjoyed the eight-minute short film tucked into “Batman v Superman,” my blind devotion to the genre has its limits.

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