As of August 2021, the Marvel cinematic universe, which has been expertly crafted by Disney studios, is now the biggest film franchise of all time. Starting with the first Iron Man film released back in the Summer of 2008, the entire franchise is now worth an estimated 23 billion US dollars. The films are adored by billions across the globe and there is no end in sight for when these movies will stop being released. While some films are more highly regarded than others, all leave fans with a longing for heroic actions to make the world a better place.
While most Marvel films take place on Earth, with exceptions such as Guardians of the Galaxy, they help transport viewers to a more ideal world where the definitions of “Good” and “Evil” are clear with “Good” always finding a way to win even in the face of impossibility. All films showcase a hero undertaking the “hero’s journey” trope and not only gives audiences a movement to cheer for within those two hours of screentime but also leaves most viewers with a sense of longing to have that call to action to change the world for the better. Of course, becoming a Marvel superhero is largely impossible, due to not having technology advanced enough to create an Iron Man suit to not having magical abilities such as Scarlet Witch, yet all movies try to end on a note where the heroes have left the world better than when the film started.
Author for Global Journal, Henry Jenkins, wrote an article back in May of 2018 deep-diving into the importance of Marvel’s film Black Panther and what it can teach audiences about Civic Imagination. He writes about the title character’s hero’s journey, leading from his father’s death to his ultimate acceptance of becoming his country’s king, going on to say, “It is this acceptance of social responsibility that makes the character Black Panther such a great model for young activists.” Jenkins also writes to understand Civic Imagination, one must first imagine an ideal world and the steps society could have/needs to take to reach that ideal world, “Black Panther is a Hollywood film which envisions utopia in an imaginary African nation where black peoples exercise self-determination, having no history of colonization, where Africans develop advanced technologies while controlling their natural resources, where traditions persist despite modernization, and where warring tribes have developed practices for resolving conflicts.” Black Panther also is a special case within Marvel films because it showcases a collective group of people with different strengths all coming together to succeed in one shared interest that benefits everyone. These strengths, such as a young genius, a woman on a mission to rescue captives, and the hero gifted with godlike power, are never viewed as less than any other and instead are used together to help one another.
While superheroes and supervillains do not reflect a realistic society, Marvel movies often showcase themes that are tangible and could and can lead to people imagining a better society for everyone. Henry Jenks also conducted a different Civic Imagination research group back in 2016 where he interviewed over 200 young activists finding that although popular culture can be fanciful and fictionalized, those stories often lead to fueling activists groups and their social movements. In a world where kindness and standing up for what is right is often shot down and disregarded and just pure fantasy, it is encouraging to see heroes of all different genders, races, and backgrounds standing up for what is right in the face of certain destruction.