THE BLOG
06/25/2013 12:04 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2013

Family Man, Not Superman: Why Brad Pitt Is the Hero for Our Age

Lynda Obst, in her new book, Sleepless In Hollywood, calls them the "Man Movies" -- films with "Man" in the title and "Man" as the prime directive force behind plot, theme, casting and well, everything. Superman, Iron Man, Spiderman -- you get the idea.

When I was working on the digital strategy behind Cosmo Mobile, the most popular piece of content after horoscopes, (naturally) and the Dude Decoder (don't ask), was "Ask Your Guy Which Superhero Power He Wants To Have!" Apparently it's a question all men can answer. If you want to be Jungian about this, it could mean all men feel barely-equipped for life and know which power they need to survive the modern world.

Or it's the male equivalent of grouping oneself in the way women claim sisterhood with a particular female character on Sex And The City (come on, it's in re-runs all over the world, not a dated reference) or Friends (ditto) or Girls for a more modern take. Try Little Women if you want to be all Anglophile and retro (and a lot of young women do these days judging from Instagram handles and blog personas).

But having just seen World War Z, Brad Pitt might be the first modern hero who doesn't need a superhero power. Because unlike Superman -- who stands brooding and alone, has not one but two father complexes and something of a messiah issue to deal with -- Brad Pitt is beautifully flawed and gives equal opportunity screen time with a gun-toting Israeli army androgynous female sidekick.

This is the dawn of Family Man. So still a man movie but that's ok -- these huge budgets have to justify their existence by bringing in the young male audience. But what a difference from Superman, Spiderman and Iron Man who overcompensate with the tight-fitting body-form suits and a dangerous psyche that could benefit from intensive therapy.

Family Man has been through (group and probably peer, willing to do marriage if needed) counseling and looks suitably evolved. He makes rational decisions and doesn't shoot up into the air to re-group or impress the ladies. You could tell that Brad Pitt's modern hero is comfortable with powerful women because his on-screen wife is age appropriate, wears minimal make-up on her exquisite face and is capable enough to say great lines like, "Tell them I've got the flares" and she means incendiary devices not Gloria Vanderbilt slacks.

Where the other Man movies have the hero standing alone for most of the running time, Family Man actually calls home to check in, can take over during his daughter's asthma attack (and knows the medication she needs while his wife takes the wheel and burns rubber most deliciously). It was so satisfying to see a complex, rounded, not wounded, hero. One who has priorities and shows real conflict when he has to make tough choices.

But the biggest change is that Family Man does not save the world single-handedly. He's part of a team (and a multi-national, multi-racial and both genders-get-to-play team at that) and, piece-by-piece, they put together the puzzle of how to get everyone out of this mess.

Yes, there are moments of heroism where the camera follows Mr. Pitt as he runs through peril and acts swiftly in the face of terrifying chaos. And he looks great doing it -- but also real -- flawed, grubby, exhausted -- spent. And at the pinnacle moment when we don't know how this is all going to resolve itself, he makes split-second decisions that are less about proving his power and more about admitting he doesn't have any in this modern world. So we do the best with what we have -- each other. And that makes for a great modern hero. Move over Superman, Family Man has arrived and he's grand.

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