Sitting in a crowded movie theater, the audience stares up at the screen. Moviegoers crane their necks to see superheroes battling their nemeses up in the sky. In this moment, the audience mirrors the crowds of bystanders on-screen: We're all spectators.

In the last decade, superhero films have taken over Hollywood blockbusters. Watching bystanders in these movies, it’s hard not to think about the passivity with which ordinary people are depicted. Perhaps it has to do with our current political climate, with media describing a constant stream of complex and overwhelming threats, and demagogues promising that they alone can save us. Superhero movies tell us that only the extraordinary few have power to create change, while the many wait around to live out the results. How does the dichotomy between powerful and powerless set up by these films reinforce feelings of helplessness? And how does it affect us after we've left the theater?