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the take

Did Judd Apatow Write All This Summer’s Superhero Movies?

Photo-illustration: Getty Images (Apatow)

Is Judd Apatow even busier than we thought he was? The latest movie he's produced, Step Brothers, ambles into theaters this weekend, investigating the perpetual Apatow issues of when a boy turns into a man, and when a man can act like a boy. But we have a sneaking suspicion he's inspired the messages of an entirely different cinematic genre: the superhero move. Regular dudes have filled up theaters this summer to see an unprecedented number of superdudes in a variety of sizes, colors, and levels of sobriety. And it's a safe bet that they were expecting the mindless pyrotechnics, monosyllabic smackdowns, and cleavage shots typical of the genre that for so long was the one of the dumbest bottom-feeders of the pop-culture food chain.

But guess what? Instead of costumed meatheads delivering justice to evildoers, the superhero films of this summer delivered complex characters, nuanced performances, and a singular message targeted directly at their comic-book fanboys: Grow up. Sound familiar? This is exactly what Apatow has done over the past few years with the frat comedy, which used to be filled with nerds becoming party animals, but now is filled with party animals becoming responsible grown-ups.

Just look at what the summer's big five had to say about their supermen (spoilers ahead):

Iron Man: Life isn't all bottle service, blondes, and blowing shit up, McLovin. Time to hit the math books, pick up the welding torch, and make something useful.

The Incredible Hulk: Deal with your anger, dude. Use it to protect the important things in your life. If you don't, you'll end up being a sweatpants-wearing factory worker who beats up his girlfriend.

Hancock: Face it, pal. You are a role model.

Hellboy II: Think it's cool to live in a dump and party with your buds? Not according to your baby mama.

The Dark Knight: Think your responsibilities are someone else's problem? Want to pass the buck? Forget it. You've got work to do, and if it were fun, they wouldn't call it work.

If this summer is any indication, it seems that superhero films have been given the Knocked Up treatment, and are now pregnant with existential meaning. (And just wait until head Apatow minion Seth Rogen finishes bringing his own superhero movie, Green Hornet, to the big screen.) So what's the next previously juvenile genre to get Apatowized? Maybe a couple of years from now we'll all be playing Grand Theft Auto 5: The Race to the Suburbs. —Ehren Gresehover and Tammy Oler