Are Hunky Guys Being Sexually Objectified In Today's Superhero Movies?

With the release of the first official "The Wolverine" movie poster (check out MTV Splash Page for more deets on the flick) came a flurry of comments on both my Facebook & Twitter of the "that Hugh Jackman ain't too hard on the eyes" variety. Thinking back to the three big superhero films this year -- and especially the hunky cinematic double-bill of  "Captain America" and "Thor" the year before -- a rather potentially thorny question popped up in my mind:

"How is this not the objectification of good-looking men (who often don't have their shirts on)?"

Not that I mind "hotties" (as they are officially termed in the present-day colloquialism) in my superhero films. But that's the point, isn't it? While I might make a face as if someone farted at the sight of a scantily-clad/well-endowed female in a movie, silently judging the producers and wondering if it's all pandering, I'll joyfully nod and wink at Hugh Jackman's toned, ripped, tanned, well-oiled torso.

I suppose the whole topic rolls back around to a reverse issue in the realm of comic books, as there have been regular complaints about the objectification of the female form in that medium. Not just regarding female superheroes who don't wear much clothing and happen to be quite buxom, but even more specifically how they are posed in comparison to male characters. For example, some have brought up the point that women will often be drawn twisted in near-impossible contortions as to better show off their chest and butt, and that in contrast, male heroes aren't rendered that way (though the classic McFarlane Spider-Man in spidey-swing position always raised my eyebrows a bit).

But back to the movies: why are there so many outrageously good-looking guys cast in these superhero (and supervillain) roles, and why do they keep losing their clothing?

One theory I've seen bandied about a bit is that it attracts the female audience to these pictures, vastly increasing their ticket sales. Perhaps that is a "sexist" determination to make, assuming that females would not be interested in the storylines of these films alone. Another theory: it's Hollywood, and almost everybody is Hot. Even Oliver Platt is the hottest Oliver Platt he can possibly be in Hollywood.

The popular "Boom! You're Pregnant" Avengers meme on Tumblr

And another theory, relating to the first -- how many of these superhero films feature the following plot:

1. Hunky superhero guy

2. Really Smart and Serious Female (usually very proper & not sexually objectified in the least) in supporting role (most of the time not a superhero herself)

3. Really Smart and Serious Female finds herself inexplicably attracted to this big dangerous hunk of super-powered man; propelled out of her everyday life into one of High Adventure by said hunky hero-man.

 That's all the Superman films, "Batman," "Batman Forever," "Green Lantern," "Thor," "Captain America," "Iron Man," the first two Nolan Batman flicks, "Amazing Spider-Man," etc.

It's also sorta the plot for "Twilight."

Not that I'm comparing superhero flicks to "Twilight." Nothing could be further from the truth, dear reader! But it seems like in most of these cases you have the strangely-chaste, non-threatening female love-interest who is the perfect "Mary Sue" entry-point character for women to relate to.

She's also quite convenient for various kidnappings and what have you, as the plot calls for it. Really, the only thing she's not is tremendously interesting. They'll never make an action figure out of her (though they did make a Barbie doll out of Blake Lively in "Green Lantern"!)

Blake Lively gets *her own Barbie Doll!* for "Green Lantern".

Even when you have an actual honest-to-god superheroine in these flicks, she's still rather non-objectified sexually and "chaste" -- at least in comparison to her sisters in the comic book realm. Yeah, Anne Hathaway's Catwoman wears a skin-tight outfit...but her sexuality is rather restrained, and she feels more like "the girl next door" (if said girl wore stiletto heels that could fatally stab you). Sif from "Thor" and Maria Hill from "Avengers" are almost interchangeable. In fact, if you really want to see a female character in a superhero movie break this mold, your options are pretty much Catwoman from "Batman Returns," Mystique and Emma Frost  from "X-Men: First Class," and Black Widow from "Avengers." And note that all four are/initially were supervillains. You'll know right away which female characters in a superhero film are the real baddies, because they'll either flaunt their sexuality and/or sleep with the hero (case in  point: "The Dark Knight Rises").

"Good" (literally unable to have sex):

"Bad" (actively exploring her sexuality):

But is any of this really "wrong?" If dudes are being gawked at in superhero flicks, is that wrong? If the "Mary Sue" supporting characters in superhero flicks are liked by female viewers (as, at least according to anecdotal information, is probably largely the case), is that wrong? If all this leads to more overall box-office for superhero flicks, is that wrong?

Or does this then create just one more cliché? Or in the short-hand of the big-budget motion-picture -- and mainstream comic book -- are clichés of one stripe or the other simply unavoidable? To put it another way: should I just take my shirtless Logan and nonthreatening Natalie Portman and be happy for what I have?