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30 superhero movies with secret (and not-so-secret) political messages

10. Man of Steel (2013)

No Superman film is complete without several allusions to the Messiah, and Zack Snyder’s reboot for the last son of Krypton has that in spades. What’s more interesting, however, is the unintentionally sour political message left by the film’s final act. In his explosive fight against General Zod, Superman essentially destroys half of Metropolis, with seemingly little regard for the people trapped within the skyscrapers he carelessly flies through. 

His ill-conceived kiss with Lois Lane amidst the rubble of the city he swore to protect seals the deal in characterizing Superman as a hero who apparently doesn’t need to explain his actions. What kind of statement is that making about how we should regard those who are endowed with immense power and responsibility?

9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

(Image credit: Marvel)

Arguably the most politically loaded Marvel movie to date, Winter Soldier has a lot to say about the subjects of security, freedom, privacy, and government accountability. The suspicious data collection technology employed by S.H.I.E.L.D. is clearly inspired by the disturbing revelations made public by Edward Snowden in 2013, which uncovered the invasions of privacy committed by America’s National Security Agency. 

Both Captain America and the movie itself come out strongly against such governmental action, especially as it turns out that the real motivations behind the S.H.I.E.L.D. initiative are much more sinister than first assumed. 

8. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Continuing in the new-found tradition of grounding the latest X-Men adventure in a distinct periodic setting, Days of Future Past turns its eyes towards 1970s America, and doesn’t shy away from all the political turmoil which distinguished the era. The usual themes of racism, rights and equality are explored, but this time in a setting where they feel naturally pertinent to the politics of the time. 

The film also warns of the dangers of an over-powered military-industrial complex, albeit in a ham-fisted manner. The Sentinel Program is touted by the government as the latest technical marvel to beef up America’s security but, as the the flash-forwards to the future timeline reveals, they instead bring about the nation’s destruction. 

7. Ant-Man (2015)

After shining a favourable light on Tony Stark’s status as a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist”, the Marvel cinematic universe finally places a more sharpened critical focus on the world of capitalism with Ant-Man. Not only is the hero of the story a modern day Robin Hood, but antagonist Darren Cross is a slimy, arrogant entrepreneur reminiscent of the worst that Silicon Valley has to offer. 

There’s also a certain scene involving a sheep that touches on the issue of animal testing in science, but it’s never really developed into something tangible. 

6. Big Hero 6 (2015)

Disney’s second contribution to the superhero genre doesn’t boast any explicit socio-political commentary per se, but the diversity of its cast is nevertheless an important statement, especially during a year in film which generated the “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy. 

The group of kids which make up the team of Big Hero 6 are a healthy representation of gender, race, and even species, with the inclusion of Baymax ensuring that even robots won’t be left feeling shortchanged for cinematic recognition. 

5. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The primary threat to the Avengers in their second cinematic outing isn’t a villainous extraterrestrial or a power-hungry politician, but something which they themselves created. Ultron is a sentient representation of what can happen when a security measure goes too far, and ends up working against the very aims for which it was created. 

The movie is an extension of the sentiments first explored through the subtext of Captain America: Winter Soldier, as another Marvel movie which seeks to discuss the dangers of securitization in the wake of the NSA leaks.

4. SuperBob (2015)

SuperBob may be able to fly, but even he can’t escape the monotony of the British Civil Service. In a satirical take on the protracted inner workings of government, this low-budget Britcom presents a superpowered Londoner who works for the Ministry of Defence as a professional weapon of mass destruction. 

Watch as Bob is forced to learn the pretentious social conventions of diplomacy, pose for shameless photo opps, and remain firmly under the thumb of his busybody boss, Theresa. Beneath all the quirky British humor lies a genuine critique of the way in which shallow political priorities can get in the way of the pursuit of justice, peace and progress. 

3. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

The entirety of Batman v Superman comes across like Snyder’s clumsy reaction to the criticism he received for the tasteless climax of Man of Steel. Instead of glorifying Superman, he presents the hero as a war criminal, on trial by both the government and the people for his role in the destruction of Metropolis. 

As for Batman, his ardent militancy replicates the way in which extremist right-wing agendas can be legitimated from the ashes of national tragedy. “If we believe there’s even a one per cent chance that [Superman] is our enemy”, explains Affleck’s Dark Knight, “we have to take it as an absolute certainty.”

2. Deadpool (2016)

The overriding political message of Deadpool is entirely related to its complete disregard for political correctness. The foul-mouthed, fourth wall breaking mercenary cracks wise about every topic under the sun, and cares little for the controversy he might generate in the process.

In fact, many commentators have gone on to argue that Donald Trump represents the Deadpool of politics, as they both seem to lack any sort of verbal filter. The anti-hero’s irreverent attitude to everything going on around him could also be interpreted as an on-screen representation of anarchism or even nihilism, though Reynold’s take on the character does humanize him a little more than his comic-bound counterpart. 

1. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

In a complete contrast to the muddied politics of Man of Steel, Marvel’s big-screen take on the infamous comic series of the same name makes it very clear that superheroes should be held accountable for their behaviour.

At the same time, the position Steve Rogers takes in opposition to the Sokovia Accords is a perfectly justifiable stance against the overarching reach of government control, and the battle between the two sides of superheroes is one gargantuan metaphor for the constant tension between national security and private freedom. 

Further, the machinations of villain Helmut Zemo to turn America’s finest against one another isn’t a far cry away from the contemporary strategies of the United State’s real-world enemies. "An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again.” explains Zemo at one point, “But one that crumbles from within, that's dead. Forever."

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