CHICAGO -- It seems pretty obvious that the superhero movie genre is jumping the shark.
I used to get everyone in my family psyched and out the door for the comic-book blockbusters, but the spectacle of superhero movies went stale for me a few years ago.
And I'm not the only one -- even my husband and my teen son have not been able to gin up enough interest in "Aquaman," "Hellboy" or "Shazam!" to actually make it out to a theater.
This is not to say that all the love is gone -- they thoroughly enjoyed "Black Panther," which was such a cultural phenomenon that even I went to see it. More recently, they also watched "Captain Marvel" (without me), and they're looking forward to "Avengers: Endgame."
But there are just sooooo many of these movies out right now.
And there was bound to be some superhero fatigue between yet another "Spider-Man" ("Far From Home") and the drama surrounding the on-again, off-again status of writer/director James Gunn at the helm of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" -- his past social-media posts made light of rape and pedophilia, making him a problematic leader in a Hollywood attempting to gain its footing in a post-#MeToo world.
In a 2018 New Republic piece -- titled "Is Marvel Killing the Movies?" -- Josephine Livingstone wrote: "I think I felt what the movie wanted me to: overwhelmed. The action of 'Infinity War' keeps it all at such a high pitch that the movie obliterates its own emotional stakes. I think it was intended to engender one long sharp intake of breath."
What it engendered in me was a nap.
I nodded off after "Captain America: The First Avenger" insulted moviegoers' intelligence in 2011 with the terrible CGI job to make Chris Evans look like a 90-pound weakling. And the hollow-chested version of the character Steve Rogers, and the jeers he got from his peers along with the excruciating pain he endures to become a superhero, left a bad taste in the mouth of this mom who, at the time, had two impressionable boys -- 13 and 10. That movie taught them that nothing was more important than being buff, cut, jacked, ripped with muscles, developing a six-pack of abs and bursting out of standard-sized T-shirts.
In the years after, both my sons went on exercise regimens and started eating "clean" protein. One even went on a rendezvous with body-building protein powders that clogged his intestines so badly he nearly had to go to the hospital.
These days, even many superhero costumes for little kids are outfitted with foam "muscles" so the kids can look buff at their Halloween parties.
This may all sound incredibly minor. Silly, even, considering the kinds of overwhelming social, emotional and academic pressures boys deal with these days, but it's not.
The pressure to bulk up has contributed to weight-gain attempts among adolescent boys. According to an article in this month's Journal of Adolescent Health, 29.6 percent of all adolescent boys attempted to gain weight.
Among boys of normal weight, 39.6 percent attempted to gain weight, as did 12.8 percent who were overweight, and 10.6 percent who were already obese by body mass index (BMI). For comparison, only 6.5 percent of adolescent girls reported attempts to gain weight.
Another important number to know is that only 3.3 percent of adolescent males actually are underweight by BMI, yet 19.3 percent perceive themselves to be underweight. This backs up other studies that say boys are increasingly looking to gain weight to be bigger and more muscular.
Do these statistics demand that we boycott superhero and action movies with our boys?
Not at all.
Enjoy the escapism, celebrate the fantasy and empowerment. Have fun while your kids still want to go to the movies with you!
Just be aware that body-image concerns, body-dysmorphic disorder, anorexia and bulimia are newly rampant among young men and boys in ways far different from our day, when, as kids, we remember old-timey Batman and Superman being average-proportioned guys in tights.
Be ready to talk to kids about the two hours a day, six times a week that, for instance, "Aquaman" star Jason Momoa spent weight and cardio training, and then eating expensive protein as directed by a personal trainer hired by a deep-pocketed movie producer.
Whatever you do, just do something -- despite their bluster, young men are every bit as vulnerable as girls to marketing-driven social pressures surrounding looks and beauty. Use superheroes' strengths and weaknesses to engage with your boys about real-life concerns.