Superhero Films have over the years amassed a generous and dedicated fan following. Filmmakers have turned the comic book universe into a larger than life cinematic spectacle. These heroes fight the evil lurking in their cities and vow to protect the people who live there. More than anything, the relevance of a superhero is defined by the context of the space he chooses to protect. More often than not, this place is where this hero has spent his whole life and its architecture provides the backdrop for all his adventures. These places can be entirely fictitious, a present-day metropolis or a dystopian society. Their architecture is used to depict numerous things like the character of our hero, his demeanor and the ominous presence of foreboding evil. What we sometimes, fail to see is that the cities don’t need superheroes as much as the superheroes need the cities for their heroic quests, dangerous adventures and as an intricate part of their identity.
Here, we will discuss 5 examples of architectural influences in superhero movies.
1. The Dark Knight
Superhero movies took an interesting turn with The Dark Knight, in which more attention was given to character development than action sequences. Gotham city acts as the premise for the joker’s crimes and the caped crusader’s nightly quests to save the city from evil. The city is an embodiment of darkness and crimes lurking in its shadowy alleyways. It consists of gothic elements like flying buttresses, neo-gothic spires and gargoyle sculptures. The darkness of Gotham city represents the end of civility and justice, a place where crimes are rampant. It also represents the duality of Batman’s nature, how he can be both a destroyer and a savior. It is a decaying metropolis in the disguise of a modernist city. Gotham takes inspiration from Chicago’s art deco skyscrapers, brutalist buildings, and modernist structures.
New York City has served as a prominent character in many superhero movies but never has it been as lively and crucial as in the movie Spiderman which came out in 2002. Peter Parker was born and bred in New York. The city plays an important role in his evolution from a nerdy high school student to a web-slinging superhero. We see him working as a freelancer in the Flatiron building, fight the green goblin at Times square and mourning his uncle’s death atop the Chrysler building. The skyscrapers act as Spiderman’s accomplice, flying him throughout the city and hiding him in the shadows at night. Needless to say, New York is an inseparable part of Spiderman’s identity but more so it is a witness to the trials and tribulations of its protagonist- Peter Parker.
3. Doctor Strange
Lauded for its visual effects, Doctor Strange takes a plunge into the world of wizardry and mysticism. The film works on-premise of time loops and reality distortion by the means of architecture, at least visually. It uses the patterned motifs of the ancient orient cultures to depict a sense of dissolving reality and time-lapse. Whatever architectural details we see in the form of moldings, decorations are used as a means to create a sense of disorder by deconstructing geometries. The fact that this Superhero Film heavily depends on patterned fragmentation of motifs and repetitive architectural details shows that these elements are not just used for a decorative purpose but they also to a large extent, affect our perception of reality and order.
With the help of CGI and motion capture technology, filmmakers are able to bring the mythical worlds of gods and demigods to life. Taking its cue from Norse mythology and its architecture, this Superhero Film creates the city of Asgard as very old yet modern, having a minimal and sophisticated look. The sense of refined minimalism makes Asgard different from other fantasy cities which mostly focus on intricate detailing and grandeur. Asgard stands for a utopian realm where curvilinear forms are used to create a golden city having a fractal geometry layout to imply a sense of ordered chaos. It represented an extraterrestrial setting that reflected both organic and industrial influences.
5. Black Panther
A groundbreaking movie in every sense, Black Panther is one of the Superhero Films which received special accolades for its production design. Being a futuristic place, Wakanda is not only technologically advanced but lays special emphasis on cultural preservation and the sustainable built environment. Dealing on a more human scale, it focuses on viable public transits, well-distributed urban density and fusion of African building practices with modern building typologies. The city’s curvilinear and futuristic forms take inspiration from Zaha Hadid’s architecture. It gives importance to the people over technology and provides a ground for human connection and a society imbued with a sense of social responsibility.