Some Problems with Superhero Movies

Reveal Secret IdentityHolly’s post yesterday mentioned something that I complain about: superheroes taking off their masks all the time. We were pleasantly surprised that Dredd did not remove his helmet. Thank you for that, Karl Urban. But that got us thinking, there are some solid problems with what they do with superhero movies, and sometimes they do it right, and sometimes they don’t. So consider with me some good and some bad of superhero movies.

The Whole Mask Thing

Some comics take the secret identity stuff more seriously than others, but they draw a good point from it. If the bad guys know the secret identity of the super person, they can use their non-super friends and family as bait, hostages, and generally for trouble.

Spider-man, in particular, focuses on this a ton, and it comes out a lot in the Sam Raimi movies. And yet… how often did Tobey Maguire pull off his Spider-man mask? Like every chance he could. This is goofy. Spider-man leaves it on.

And I know why it happens. You pay good money for a big name actor, you want to show the audience they are there. But sorry, it is wrong. So here’s a couple ways to do it right.

One, get someone who’s willing to leave the mask on the whole movie. We’ve mentioned Dredd, but another great example is V for Vendetta. You never see Hugo Weaving. That’s okay. He’s a badass. It works.

Or the compromise, Iron Man. He has a heads up display inside his helmet. So they can show us Robert Downey Jr. without having to remove the mask. Then… they open or remove the mask anyway. Seriously? Come on, Tony Stark. You have one of those genius minds that’s worth protecting with a metal helmet.

Main culprit, though: Super Man. Seriously, guy. We can tell Clark Kent is Super Man. Glasses do not change the look that much.

Why Do They Keep Telling the Origins Stories?

Seriously?

We mentioned this in our last post as well. Why redo the Spider Man origin story again? It was already out there. And really, we almost didn’t need it before… we know the basics of these comic characters, in general. Hulk gets hit by gamma radiation. Spider Man is bitten by a radioactive spider. Super Man comes from Krypton. Batman’s parents were killed. Wolverine was made by Weapon X.
an origin story is coming
This is not to say that origin stories can’t be done well. Iron Man 1 was phenomenal. And it’s not to say that there isn’t a place for origins stories. Taking a character from not-knowing-about-things to knowing-about-things is a perfect way to also tell a story to an audience. However, if we know what’s going on, can’t telling a story within that world be even better?

For a couple of examples, take The Dark Knight. We know who Batman is now (they did an origin story for him, after all), and we don’t do a Joker origin story. Now it’s just two sides of the universe, battling it out forever. And the movie was awesome.

Or take the Avengers. Now that they had origin storied the heck out of things, they got to do what Ron White does: Told you those stories so they could tell you this one. And the Avengers is better than each and every one of the origin movies that came before it.

So let’s think differently, and do a franchise case study: The X-Men. X-1 was not an origin movie, but it brings in some new characters to the world (Wolverine and Rogue) to show us the world, and tell us the whole story through their eyes. But the story grows beyond them. X-2 is better. Nothing like an origin or introduction left, it opens with maybe my favorite movie sequence ever, and runs from there. They play with themes important to the X-Men, dive into an origin for good plot reasons rather than from need (Weapon X shows up), mash up the good guys and villains, and just generally make a good movie. Then there’s X-3, which should have been the Dark Phoenix Saga, and wasn’t. Here’s an example of where it can go wrong. You start inventing and breaking story, mashing too many things together, using too many tag lines from the comics… You can’t seriously kill Cyclops, sorry.

So then, we go further. They go back, and make the origins story, because that’s what you do in superhero movie world, right? But, okay, X-Men First Class was excellent. And I have high hopes for Days of Future Past, but then, I did for X-3 as well. And they also did Wolverine’s origins, after really kind of already doing that in X-2. However, I am still excited for The Wolverine and thinking this should be better, because again, they’ve moved away from origins. And, in tying all of these films together as one franchise, Days of Future Past has a chance to be to the X-Men movies what the Avengers was to Marvel Phase one. But still, was it really necessary to make an origins film or two?

Why do they keep changing actors?

I mean, okay, this makes sense, it’s life, you’re not going to get to keep everyone. And sometimes it’s contracts, and you don’t want to pay so much for someone. And it can be hard to keep an ensemble cast together like in X-Men, so why not kill Cyclops? I mean, it’s not like the Avengers had a whole bunch of big-name actors together sharing the screen or anything, right? Wait…

Let’s think Batman for a minute. I feel like the old(er) ones starting with Tim Burton’s Batman were supposed to be a series. And yet, they kept changing Batman! He’s not James Bond, you don’t just get a new model (speaking of, Daniel Craig’s name actually being Bond is a little rough for me, I prefer it being an alias… at least as a thought). Okay, better example: He’s not The Doctor, he can’t just regenerate into a new actor…
what if i told you batman
And then the girlfriends! A new model every movie. Not just in the Burton series, but in Nolan’s! New girl, new actress, whatever. We don’t talk much about it, apparently.

However, one thing that was done way right: Not bringing back the Joker as a new actor. And really, not even mentioning him. Let it rest. It was excellence in cinema, let it stay that way.

Now, in some ways, this could also explain some of the repeated origins, and series re-starts. When you do get a new lead, there’s a feeling you need to re-tell that origin, let us believe that this is the hero. However, you don’t always have to. Like the recent Hulk movies: as they’ve moved further from the origins, and moved further through actors, they have gotten better.

I would be cool, really, to just have movies in the world of the character. Does not have to be connected. Does not have to be an origin. Just a movie. Yet, we’re getting a Super Man origin later this year. But I have way higher hopes for the continuations: Wolverine, Iron Man, Thor. And especially The Wolverine, because it may be the one furthest removed from other movies, and that has a chance to just, on its own, be a good movie.

10 responses to “Some Problems with Superhero Movies

  1. Great observations. Dredd not removing his helmet was the litmus test for me for that film, as well.

    A lot of the problems are that the people making the films (or more specifically bankrolling them and therefore calling the shots) don’t think big picture, because up until recently the idea of a shared universe across multiple films was an alien concept (despite the fact the source material had been doing it for decades).

    I recently finished reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe, which I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in Marvel, and is an exhaustively researched account of the ups and downs of the company over its lifespan. The irony is that nearly every corporate entity that bought Marvel Comics and the chain of ownership that started in the 1970s when the company was first sold beyond the Goodman family did so with the intention of turning it into an IP goldmine for films and TV and they were rarely able to make it happen because each character / concept was farmed out to different producers and the projects were at the whim of ‘political’ decisions with each studio involved. It wasn’t until the turn of the century and Marvel itself started a film division that things really started to consistently move, because they weren’t at the mercy of studio heads who were just looking at a single-picture bottom line.

    I think it’s interesting to note on the whole mask thing that secret identities are becoming increasingly rare within the comics themselves as a sort of obsolete plot device, which I think takes away greatly from some of the characters — they become celebrities, per se, and that becomes harder for an audience to identify with them because they don’t have a ‘normal’ civilian life.

    I have high hopes for the new X-Men and Fantastic Four material since Fox has put writer Mark Millar in as an advisor in how to try to get their films to feel more authentic. Days of Future Past could be *perfect* because the time travel could let them reboot everything and retell it, while still having some continuity connections with the original films.

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    • I think a big problem to combining the franchises is that they are owned by various studios, definitely. We won’t be seeing big-name Avengers like Wolverine or Spider-Man, because someone else is sitting on the rights. Well, sitting on… they’re making movies.

      I’m so excited for Days of Future Past… if done well, it can be amazing. And it’s the story I wanted them to tell after how much they mucked it up in The Last Stand. “What? Xavier died? Now it’s time to save him!” It could have been done. Now they’re changing it up a bit, I guess.

      Your point about the heroes becoming celebrities within their own world makes a lot of sense, too. It may explain why they do a bit of the origin stories again: they’re back out of that situation. And reboots, like the DC 52, follow this same train of thought. Marvel’s take has been interesting: they’re restarting a lot of the series so people can get into them, without actually restarting them. New leaders, new players, new groupings, back to issue number one… but still within the continuity. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out into the future!

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  2. Despite not really being into Batman and not at all into X-Men as a kid, I loved Dark Knight and First Class. For Dark Knight, I liked that it was scarier rather than just goofy. (I actually want to watch the animated series since I missed out of a lot of it, too.) For First Class, I went in to the theater thinking, “Okay, we can tolerate OMG SUPER POWERS for James McAvoy” and ended up really being moved by the Charles/Erik relationship. It turned the franchise from something abstract–keep in mind that I’ve only seen the movies and, I think, only with you!–into more of a character study with characters that felt more real to me. Those are the reboots and super hero movies/media I can get behind.

    Also, excellent choices for images in this post!

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    • I agree, it does seem that we are reaching a point where more of the hero movies have actual serious character and plot elements going on. Which, it’s always nice to see geeky things being taken seriously.

      And thanks, put some work into the memes! Expect more in the future.

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