A Dreamer Walking

The Superhero Problem!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 31, 2011

There are so many problems with the superhero frenzy going on in Hollywood this summer. I have seen X-Men: First Class, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, and all of them reek of cliche plot, stereotypical protagonists, and plastic feeling worlds. All of them involve the good guys saving the world from sure doom at the end. We get more then enough visual effects, action sequences, and romantic love interests, but we hardly see any heart or personal touch by the directors and writers of these films. All these movies have completely predictable storylines where the characters only goal seems to be moving the plot along. None of these films give us much to think about or make us want to come back and explore the world more thoroughly.

Hardly any of the character arcs in these superhero movies are believable. Charles Xavier in the X-Men: First Class movie has this unreasonable understanding of the human race, so even though the humans want to exterminate the mutant population Xavier wants his X-Men to fight for the good of man kind. In Thor we see the “spoiled brat who learns to care for others” storyline. However, the only real reason Thor ends up wanting to fight for the humans is because of a girl we hardly are given time to know. In the movie Captain America we are shown a young shrimpy looking man in Steve Rogers, who gets beat up a lot. For some reason however Steve still has this unfailing belief in America and he wants to fight in World War II. When Steve Rogers becomes Captain America he does everything right, he is that nobody who became a somebody. The only problem is we are given little reason to care for him. The filmmakers for these films seem to forget it is not about what the audience sees on the outside that makes the difference, but rather the true impact comes from the growth we see and feel deep down in the characters soul.

The audience will not care for characters like Charles, Thor, or Captain America, if we do not buy into who they are. Instead of starting us off seeing Steve Rogers get beat up by a bully in the ally and refuse to run away, why not show why he is willing to get beat up? Sure, Steve verbally says in the film he doesn’t run away from bullies because if you choose to run they will never let you stop. But film is not about verbally telling us why a character is who he is, film is about visually showing us. In all these superhero movies we need to see and buy into the why factor. We need to understand why they are who they are. We need to see why Steve Rogers does not run from a fight and why he has this unconditional belief in America. We need to see why Charles Xavier has this belief in the good of mankind. We need to see why Thor is so interested in this girl he meets on earth.

Before any of the heroic stuff happens we need to find a way to relate to the hero. Too many of these films seem to want to show the hero as some sort of God who can do no wrong. This need for unrealistic perfection is shown in so many ways; their hair is unreasonably perfect, everything they do seems to succeed, and they have no doubts in what they stand for and what they are doing. We do not like superheros because of they are perfect. We don’t even like them because they have super powers. We like them because they remind us of ourselves. Inner struggle and the overcoming of human flaws is what makes a superhero a Superhero. The superpower should only reflect the struggle within. The powers are not always blessings. We need  to see the struggle that comes with a professor who can read everyone’s thoughts, a prince who has a nation relying on his actions, and a small city boy who is suddenly hailed as this American hero.

These superhero movies are too caught up in love interests and evil villains. For some reason Hollywood thinks every superhero movie needs to have a super villain. Sadly, the super villain ends up taking a huge amount of time away from the superhero. I think the Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise has done the best when it comes to super villains and knowing how to structure them around the superhero. The Joker, the greatest of the Batman villains, was not even introduced in the first film. They did this because they first wanted us to get to know Batman and see what he stood for before introducing us to his greatest challenge. The Joker along with the Scare Crow from the first Batman film, were only used to enhance our understanding of Bruce Wayne. A great super villain supports the superhero. However, in movies like Thor and Captain America there was a lot of time spent with the villain, but little of that time gave us insight into the protagonists of the films.

There are no rules telling the filmmaker to have a super villain in a superhero film. One of the greatest conflicts a superhero could have is just facing the real world. This leads to my other problem with the latest superhero films. None of the worlds feel real. I couldn’t believe how much killing was going on in the X-Men: First Class film without us hardly seeing a drop of blood or having a few moments to reflection. In Thor we were introduced to such surreal worlds everything felt possible but nothing felt believable. The City where Thor lived and the Frost Giant world had nothing to do with our world. Because we were not able to connect to those worlds, very little we saw in those worlds felt worth anything to us. There was hardly anything that made me feel Captain America took place during World War II. The Germans didn’t talk German, the environments all looked too clean and fake, and instead of regular guns and 1940’s technology they had lasers and other technology more superior then anything we have now. They made movie of World War II feel like a sci-fi film. Captain America had no grit or realism to it. The filmmakers wanted to show a war without the true brutality that comes with war. This made what Captain America did feel much less heroic or entertaining.

A key to creating a good superhero film is sticking to reality as much as possible. We need to feel like we can relate to the fantastical parts of the movie and you do that by grounding the fantastical in reality. The story of Thor called for a curtain amount of abstraction. However, this abstraction could have had more elements of our real world incorporated into it. Instead of all the environments looking like brand new sets, we could have seen a bit of wear and tear in them. We need to see wear and tear in the characters as well. During the big Frost Giant fight scene at the beginning of the film, one man gets injured and everyone else seemed to be fine. After the fight Thor is strong enough to argue with his dad and get banished to earth. The costuming for Thor was so extreme hardly any of it seemed reasonable. There is a difference between what works in a comic book and what works in a live action movie. It is the director and writers job to translate drawings into real characters, objects, and environments. We might buy into a half naked drawing of a powerful superhero in the comics, but on film that would just look trampy. Comics are all about hitting one strong pose after the next. In film however it needs to be a fluid motion, as if the actors are not shooting for poses but rather something that feels natural for the character they are portraying.

In Captain America:The First Avenger I wanted to see Captain America be part of fighting a real war. They did not need to go all sci-fi with his story. The actual events of the actual war brings plenty of drama in by itself. I wanted to see how Captain America would react to losing a mission. I wanted to see how he would react to needing to sit with a friend while he died of a gunshot wound. I wanted to see Captain America’s reaction towards a concentration camp or a town that just go bombed. I wanted to see a character stand for the ideals of America all of us wish we could could stand for, and then I wanted to see those ideals get tested in every way imaginable. I think it is a filmmakers duty to stick at least a little bit to the material they claim to be portraying. In no way am I saying make Captain America a Schindler’s List film. However, I believe the more true to the actual war the filmmakers could have been the more heroic Captain America’s actions would have been.

I want to feel like I am along side these superheros. I want to see them as humans just like me. They do not need to save the world for me to fall in love and be entertained by them. They just need to fight for something I can believe in. The greatest part of a superhero is not their cool costumes, magnificent powers, or inability to fail. They should all fail, just like we fail at times. The greatest part of the superhero movie in my opinion is when they fall and are at the lowest place imaginable…….they get back up.

If done right superhero films can inspire. They can help us understand no one is perfect but anything is possible. They can help us understand the responsibility that comes with the power we have as free individuals. All in all, they can entertain us in a much more thorough and impacting way.

8 Responses

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  1. Jesse Koepke said, on July 31, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Can you think of an example of any superhero movies that have been done right? It seems like Batman Begins was the first superhero movie to show the growth fo the character well.

    • Jacob said, on July 31, 2011 at 7:42 pm

      I really don’t think there is a superhero movie that comes close to the Batman franchise. They set it up perfectly. In the first movie Batman needed to understand who he was and what he stood for. In the second film all of Batman’s principles are tested and he needs to become something more then the typical “hero” we are so used to. In the Third movie it seems that Batman is going to have to rise after failure. Each of the villains have been used to strengthen the superhero as I explained in my post. I think the key to the Batman franchise is the creators, Christopher Nolan and his team. They made the projects personal. It was not about setting the movie up for another movie they were not going to direct, like all these directors are doing for the Avengers Movies and X-Men Origin movies. I also admire how Christopher Nolan is willing to wait to create a good story. Four years for each film is actually a long time for Hollywood, but they are willing to wait because they know Christopher, his brother, and the rest of the team have passion for the project. I think the first Iron Man was good as well, but even that movie ended up going pretty cliche at the end where he needed to fight the typical evil one dimensional villain to save the day. Was it just me or did you think it would have been more interesting if Iron Man needed to deal with the actual war going on in the Middle East?

      Anyway, sorry for the long answer. I also think the new Spiderman movie might be good. The trailer shows some potential. The great thing about Spiderman is that he is just a kid who is thrown into this miraculous situation. The more they can stay true to the actual problems that comes with being a kid in high school, the more interesting the film will be in my opinion.

  2. Will J said, on August 3, 2011 at 12:45 am

    Hi Jacob,

    Came across your blog recently and just wanted to say that I’ve found your posts quite insightful. Especially the links to various directors commentaries and other film videos. Thanks!

    Regarding the superheroes, I agree. The main reason I didn’t like X-Men was because it didn’t feel real. Both the sets and the direction the plot was going. Also, way too many characters to care about any of them. I have to admit that I enjoyed Captain America a teensy bit. Possibly due to saving money by catching the matinee and the idea of a weak person becoming a hero. What bugged me though was that we didn’t really see Cap struggle. There didn’t seem to be any big obstacles for him to grow from and once he got strong, it felt like he didn’t have any weaknesses (physically + internally). Even the villain didn’t feel like that big of a threat. Overall, the movie reminded me of a cartoon.

    Does James Bond count as a superhero (Casino Royale)? I liked how he wasn’t depicted as suave pretty boy, but someone who could get physically and emotionally damaged. I feel like I don’t even know what a superhero is anymore. It’s sad. But, I’m glad Chris Nolan’s doing the Batman films.

    • Jacob said, on August 3, 2011 at 10:43 am

      Hey Will. I am glad you like the blog. Nice to know you like the links, I will try to post some links more often. I am usually picky about the links I share because I do not want to waist anyone’s time suggesting a mediocre video to watch or podcast to listen too.

      I actually never considered James Bond as a superhero, but after thinking about it you can certainly put him in that category. I mean he is just as much a superhero I guess as Batman is. There are aspects I like about James Bond and aspects that I don’t like. I never really payed attention to him until the new series of Bond movies came out with Daniel Craig. I think the new James Bond has more grit and I feel the extra dose of reality given to the franchise makes us feel more for Bond, especially when he is in trouble. However, grit is not everything. The reason to why Bond does what he does is a bit shallow still to me. I don’t think it is explained well why he is a 00 agent in the first place. Also, usually the story is about the main woman or women Bond is with and I personally am not interested in most of the woman he is with. The franchise still needs to dig deep into the why factor in my opinion. The reason why the Bourne series was so good was because it was all about Jason Bourne finding himself. The fighting was only a way to get farther into his character (through the constant struggle he had with trying to understand why he was so good at killing and whether or not he should embrace his skills or run away from them).

      Anyway, I personally didn’t hate any of the superhero movies that I talked about in this article. I just thought they reeked of mediocrity. There were so many ways to make the films better in my opinion. I have always been a superhero fan and have deep conviction on what they can do for this generation if portrayed right. So it hurts all that more when I see something with a lot of potential go to waist because the filmmakers didn’t have any vision behind it.

      • Will J said, on August 5, 2011 at 2:40 am

        No worries, quality over quantity is appreciated.

        I don’t think there’s been an explanation as to why Bond does what he does. At least nothing I’ve come across yet from the few novels I’ve read (which are much better than the majority of the films). He’s sort of been an iconic character and somewhat of an “ideal man”. Someone who’s good at what he does, lives luxuriously, and doesn’t have much trouble with women. Which is nice, but it does make the character a bit shallow and can allow the films to get formulaic.

        Bourne was good and definitely has better justification for moving the story + action forward. They tried to make Bond a bit too much like Bourne in Quantum of Solace, which was unfortunate. That movie didn’t live up to Casino Royale. It’s a good thing that Sam Mendes (Road To Perdition, American Beauty) is directing the next Bond film, hopefully it’ll be a better film and have some depth to it. And speaking of spies, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy comes out ’round Christmas. I haven’t gotten into Le Carre’s novels yet so not sure what to expect.

        Anyways, this summer has been really depressing regards to the films being put out. If you haven’t come across this yet, take a look. I think Chris Sanders really captures what’s wrong.


      • Jacob said, on August 5, 2011 at 8:26 pm

        Ya I did see that Sam Mendes was doing the next Bond Movie, that might be interesting. I think the trailers for Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy have been the most interesting trailers to come out this year. I hope both films are good although Dragon Tattoo seems to be going a little too dark for me. Tinker Tailor seems to have a fantastic cast and the director Tomas Alfredson has at least one critically acclaimed film to his credit in “Let the Right One In”. We will see I guess.

        I actually ran across that Chris Sanders document a few days ago. It is amazing he wrote that in 1989 and how Disney basically fell right into his warnings later in the 1990’s. It is a document I think anyone in film business should read. Thanks for Posting!

  3. Matt said, on August 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I think the reason why most people think the Batman character is more believable than any other superhero character is because two things…(1) the many series of Batman movies which is how many so far? We have gotten to know Batman well of what he is and what he stood for due to the fact that there are five or more Batman movies that you really don’t need to explain who Batman is. Then (2) the director…Christopher Nolan. He took Batman who looks fake and plastic in the 90s to a more believable character in Batman Begins and Dark Kinght. If Nolan were to direct the next Spiderman movie…watch out.

    • Jacob said, on August 5, 2011 at 8:13 pm

      Thanks for the comment Matt! I am not a huge fan of Superman, but because of Christopher Nolan’s involvement I think it might become something interesting, so we will need to see. It is not necessarily that I think Christopher Nolan is the only good filmmaker out there who can do superhero movies. I just think a superhero franchise works much better when they have one sole artistic visionary behind it and when the higher ups give that visionary the time he needs to create a good film. We will see how much creativity Marc Webb is given and what he is able do with that for the new Spider Man series.

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