The Rise of the Antiheroes

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By the end of the year, seven blockbuster superhero films will have been released in 2016 alone. Some of the most recent, and perhaps most popular, have featured characters that aren’t exactly traditional superheroes. Yes, we’re talking about the antihero characters shown in Deadpool, Suicide Squad, and Doctor Strange. This niche, adult, post-superhero trend is definitely on the rise.

Batman v Superman received widespread critique even before the release of the trailer. The attempt to create a post-superhero film was a disaster and has become a benchmark of failure in the superhero genre. As The Guardian reporter Jordan Hoffman put it best: “I can’t lie and call Batman v Superman a great movie. Not even for us superhero fans. It isn’t terrible, but… there’s a lot to be worried about.” He also described the film as a “two-and-a-half-hour jumble of a movie,” explaining that the film was too predictable and simplistic in places.

If anything, this indicates that the traditional adaptation of superheroes is passé. We want edgy characters with depth and personalities. Stereotypical superheroes have started to feel repetitive and boring. Antiheroes are interesting because they’re complicated, just like us. We see their actions and their intentions, creating interest and intrigue.

Characters appeal more when they’re flawed because it’s difficult to feel empathy for a perfect character. Antiheroes allow the audience to experience a kind of padded Stockholm syndrome. This is particularly true if the antihero is trying to redeem bad behaviour. That’s why X-Men: First Class worked out as well as it did, Robert Redford in the Winter Soldier appealed to so many and Tom Hiddleston’s take on Loki in The Avengers was a big hit, and is still a mass favourite!

The Dark Knight trilogy is another great example of the antihero trend, which has been a more successful franchise than other superhero films. This is because the character battles the good and bad within him. Some believe that antihero trend emerged because of the successful Batman trilogy. 

Christian Bale, who plays Bruce Wayne in the trilogy, said that his character is three different people. To the public, he’s a billionaire. In private he is Wayne the child. And as Batman, he’s a vengeful monster. Bale compares the Batsuit to a monster and thinks that Wayne felt like one when he was Batman.

Director Christopher Nolan described The Dark Knight Rises as a “conflict between good and evil.” Batman is a merge between the good and the bad. This is not because he is bad, but because he’s human, sans supernatural powers. Consequently, he is not a traditional, two-dimensional superhero and the audience loves it. Ker-ching!

Deadpool is one of the most successful R-rated movies ever, amassing £525 million at the box office. It received widespread praise, surprising everyone including the creators. Despite being yet another superhero film, it has a completely different vibe. He’s a pansexual, physically disabled character, with major PTSD, and these features are not typical in Marvel characters.

It’s a safe bet to say that Suicide Squad and Doctor Strange will do well too. There’s a lot of hype and expectation around the upcoming releases, arguably down to the success of Deadpool.

The evidence suggests that we are ready for a new type of superhero: the antihero. The current general disappointment surrounding superhero blockbusters does not imply that superheroes are a trend of the past. It means that the trend is developing to stay current. Like your parents with Facebook, but more successful.

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