“Seven of the 11 top-grossing films of 2017 were superhero movies, based on characters first introduced in comic books. The top two grossing films so far this year have been ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Avengers: Infinity War.’..Films reflect the tastes and values of the period in which they are made. We can trace the changing status of women, evolving ideas about masculinity, war, crime, journalism, the C.I.A. or anything else by Hollywood treatments over the decades. So when historians look back at this glut of superhero flicks, what will they say about us? What are they about?” M. Bowden, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“There is no rule, of course, that says films have to be about anything. One way of looking at comic book movies is to see them simply as mental popcorn, meant to be rapidly consumed and forgotten — this may be precisely why so many people love them…why, for instance, do superheroes and villains persist in hurling large objects at each other long after it is clear this has no effect?
They showcase beautiful bodies in well-choreographed combat augmented by ear-blasting pseudo-Wagnerian music and dazzling special effects. Plot lines are an afterthought, and dialogue is often breezily incoherent (particularly when trying to impart deeper meaning)…
Even if they are not meant to be taken seriously by anyone older than 12, all stories mean something, even bad ones… They celebrate exceptionalism and vigilantism. The old American ideal of succeeding through cleverness, virtue and grit is absent, as is the notion of ordinary folk banding together to overcome a threat — think of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’or the original ‘The Magnificent Seven’ or any of a dozen World War II-era films. Gone is respect for the rule of law and the importance of tradition and community. Institutions and human knowledge are useless. Religion is irrelevant.
Governments are corrupt and/or inept, when not downright evil. The empowered individual is all. The superhero is an alien or outcast who possesses unique powers acquired either at birth or through some accident or gift.
Normal humans are mere bystanders, when they are not being crushed or vaporized. The average person is powerless and depends for survival on the good will of the gods. (It may be worth noting that in real life, the only way for a human to acquire anything like a superpower is to buy a gun, which may shed new light on America’s firearms fetish.)…When I was 12, living in Port Washington, N.Y., my friend Buzzy and I mixed a potion with his chemistry set and sprinkled ourselves with it, hoping to attain superpowers. We then raced around his house, anticipating a magical effect.
We were disappointed. We remained all too normal, and soon set our sights on more viable dreams. Even then, in the ’60s, I imagined how cool it would be if movies could capture the stories I devoured in comic books.
The old ‘Superman’ TV show was pathetic; poor George Reeves looked more padded than chiseled, and he flew like someone suspended from a crane…
The biggest reason for Hollywood’s booming Comic Book Age, of course, is technology. Computer imagery can now bring even the most outlandish images of comic book fantasy to life. They are exactly what I dreamed about as a boy.
I watch now with my discounted senior citizen ticket, ever hopeful of recapturing the thrill I once got from the static printed page. And despite the astonishing cinematic wizardry, I’m always disappointed.
The stories I read as a boy were no better and generally worse than those now on screen, but my dreams have all changed. Even as the utterly fantastic is made real, the superheroes seem silly, the stories fake. Still, the kid in me keeps coming back. I haven’t seen ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ yet. Maybe that will be the one.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Superhero movies are seen as a global obsession.
- They are the most consumed stories in human history.
- Even snooty critics have fun inventing clever ways to slam them.
- Plot lines are an afterthought.
- Dialogue is often breezily incoherent.
- Peter Parker enters into a quasi apprenticeship with Iron Man.
- Many think that heroes are idealized humans.
- Hollywood has always cherished mavericks.
- The superhero is an alien or outcast.
- We then raced around his house, anticipating a magical effect.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentencestaken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ is a ___retelling of the ___story…Icarus, inflated with ___when outfitted with feather-and-wax wings by his___ father, Daedalus, ignores his father’s ___and flies too high. The sun ___the wax and Icarus plunges to his death.
This would be far too___ a fate for a ___ of course. Peter Parker enters into a ___apprenticeship with Iron Man, who makes him a___costume that augments his powers while cautioning him to take it slow.
WORD LIST: warnings,harsh, fancy, pride, melts, straightforward, inventor, quasi,Icarus, superhero,
Grammar Focus: Prepositions
Directions: The following sentences are from the news article. For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.
Prepositions: in, for, of, with, by, on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over, through, from, during, up, off,
We are living ___Hollywood’s Comic Book Age.
Superhero movies are seen___hundreds ___people.
One way ___looking___ comic book movies is ___see them ___mental popcorn.
There is little___ them ___the religious right; they are socially liberal, [and] big ___female empowerment.
The characters ___myth illustrate very human appetites, weaknesses and strengths.
The extraordinary success of Black Panther rests ___part ___creating a counter-myth___centuries ___racist depictions ___Africa.
The biggest reason___ Hollywood’s booming Comic Book Age, ___course, is technology.
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- Do you think that people are really “obsessed” with superhero movies? Explain your answer.
- Would you consider yourself obsessed with superhero movies?
- How many of these movies have you seen?
- The article states, “There is no rule, of course, that says films have to be about anything. One way of looking at comic book movies is to see them simply as mental popcorn, meant to be rapidly consumed and forgotten — this may be precisely why so many people love them.”Do you agree with this idea? Explain why or why not.
With your group members create the perfect superhero.Include information such as: description (what they would look like) where she/he comes from, what super powers they have, how did they acquire their super powers, what would be their purpose in fighting and any other information you can you’d like to include. Have members draw a picture of your hero. Share the information with other groups in your class.