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.

The Reason Why?

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 21, 2010

So I was watching a movie just for fun tonight. I chose one of my favorite superhero movies, Iron Man. My only intention was to veg out and be thoroughly entertained by Robert Downey Jr.’s fantastic portrayal of Iron Man. Watching the film I could not help but think about a film philosophy I am developing.

Even though I am a huge fan of the first Iron Man movie, the most interesting part, what I would call the heart of the film, comes right in the middle of the movie. The heart to me was when Tony Stark decides to fly to the Middle East and destroy his Jericho missile and stop some of the terrorism that his company was supporting behind his back.

When the movie was about helping a greater cause, I thought it was at its strongest point. When the movie turned to Tony’s long time executive co-worker Obadiah Stane as the secret villain, the movie began to lose some momentum.

Do not get me wrong, by fighting the villain Stane, Tony was helping the greater good. It just did not seem to be as relevant as fighting terrorism. The reasons to why Iron Man was fighting was not flashed before our eyes.

In the sequence where Iron Man (Tony Stark) chooses to go and fight the terrorists that had been using his weapons, we see the dilemma right in front of our eyes. Men with guns are holding Innocent civilians hostage. We, the audience, see these Innocent people and immediately feel for them. When Iron Man comes in and takes the terrorists out, we see reason to why he is doing what he is doing and the audience can relate.

Now flash forward to the sequence where Iron Man is fighting Iron Monger (Obadiah Stane), a mechanical monster that is as big as a semi and has a seemingly unlimited amount of ammo to use against Iron Man. We do not have as deep of a reason to why each character is doing what they are doing. To be honest it feels very unrealistic and thus takes away from the audience being able to relate.

It is okay to have unrealistic things in movies. The challenge however, is to make sure they still feel realistic. Everything must be grounded in reality. The strongest reality in Iron Man was terrorism. We as an audience could relate to terrorism and thus it served as a good villain.  However, the main villain was harder, for at least me, to relate to.

In each film you make, you should think of the reasons to why you are doing what you are doing. In the case of Iron Man, I saw that Tony Stark was fighting terrorism because of a conviction that he had something to do with supporting it and thus needed to set things strait. When it came to fighting the Iron Monger, the reason why became much more cliche and shallow. We saw a big monster that was fighting Iron Man, in order to get more power. We saw Iron Man fighting the monster in order to save his girl and “become a hero”. Tony Stark did not seem to have as much of a conviction while fighting Iron Monger, which made him as a character a little less interesting.

“Why” is a big question. The reason is everything. With a good film, you go into depth with your characters and story. The reason why the story goes a curtain way, needs to be thought of to its deepest point. When you find a conviction or a reason why you are making your story, you must find a way to stay with it.