In his 1936 essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Walter Benjamin looks at film (a relatively new art form at the time) and its nature. Benjamin posits that unlike all art forms before film (architecture, sculpture, painting, music, literature, theater, dance, and poetry), film's final form is unique as it is always a reproduction. To put that into slightly clearer terms, the reproduction of film does not take away from its authenticity, because a film is itself a reproduction. Benjamin went on to say that this made film inherently political, for it did not have the ritual value that is found in "authentic" works of art.
Benjamin makes two interesting statements (among many others) in the essay, they are: fascism aesthetics politics and "Communism replies by politicizing art." He also states that, "All efforts to aestheticize politics culminate in one point. That one point is war." Ultimately, we are left with the idea that fascism aestheticizes war. This means that fascism wants war to be viewed as something that is, in a way, beautiful. The more I think about it, this statement reminds me a lot of the modern superhero film.
A couple of years ago, I went to see the film Man of Steel with my mother. As we were leaving the theater, I remember her saying, "There was a massive amount of destruction in that film, and no one seemed to care." She was right. Actually, Watson Technical Consulting examined the destruction in the film, and estimated that there were over 1.5 million people killed or injured and 2 trillion dollars worth of damage represented in Man of Steel. However, the filmmakers did not even start to show the horrible impacts that would have on the world, once the "cool" explosions were over and Superman "saved" the day, this destruction had no purpose. The destruction was only valued for its "beauty."
Man of Steel is not the only film to do this. When I think of many modern superhero films: Avengers, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I think of how there are copious amounts of destruction and death and violence and for the most part, it is in the film to add excitement and "look cool."
The second Avengers film is a particularly good example of this. In the film, Robert Downey Jr.'s character, Tony Stark creates an artificial intelligence named Ultron. While originally intended as a defense system, Ultron attempts to create a worldwide apocalypse. Predictably, the film ends with Ultron literally raising a city out of the ground with the intention of dropping it, which would somehow cause an apocalypse. The Avengers of course stop him but many are still left dead with little acknowledgement of their existence or demise.
Interestingly, the indirect sequel to the Avengers 2, Captain America: Civil War centers quite a bit around the Avengers blatant disregard for human life and in a way could be argued as a example against the statement that the modern superhero film is fascist. I would disagree though, for the film pretends to be countering the ideals that make something fascist while at the same time, Captain America: Civil War continues to aesthetize violence and war. What could have been an interesting critique on its own genre, Civil War does the same things and even goes a little beyond beautifying war by trying to add humor to it (mainly through the character Spiderman).
I am not sure what Walter Benjamin would think about these superhero blockbusters, but I think it is safe to assume he might call them fascist. I mean it would be difficult to argue that they do not aestheticize war, and it is rather easy to argue that they do. However, this leaves us asking a question, "If we accept that our treasured Hollywood carries with it fascist ideals, and we reap enjoyment from things based on those ideal, does that make us fascists?"