I know, not another list of reasons why my favorite superhero movies suck. While I do mention issues that have been brought up before, I’m going to try and provide solutions for the stated problems below.
1. Repetitive Plots
Tell me if you heard this one before….arrogant and reluctant smart ass gets into some sort of horrible event that changes their perspective on life and forces them to a mission that goes beyond their own self interests. Throw in a nice training montage, a forgettable yet at the time important villain who’s nefarious plan ultimately ends up testing the new hero’s mettle which is then exploited in further sequels with an ever forgettable lineup of villains and characters. That right there is pretty much the 1st film for any modern superhero franchise and it occurs all the time. It was cute when the first Iron Man came out but by the time we get to say Doctor Strange, it is extremely old.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with this plot. I’m only saying that not every super hero lends itself to this type of fill in the blank plot. It feels more like lazy writing than anything. A solution that I think would be more interesting would be to start the first film in a franchise after the origin story. It is a radical idea, but why do we need the first film (and let’s be honest, it is the first 3/4 of a film) be nothing but setup to seeing the hero in all it’s glory for the last quarter of the film? Why not build the plot similar to how comic book plots are built, with self contained storylines that may pick up in the middle of the career of a superhero.
2. Forgettable and Weak Villains
This one used to be just a Marvel thing but leave it to DC to show that they too can suck at creating villains too. The role of the villain is in some way more important than the hero. The villain is what forges the the hero. If the villain is weak or forgettable than the hero ends up weak. Batman is a product of his battles with The Joker. Batman represents law and channeled madness for the sake of vengeance. The Joker represents anarchy and unleashed madness. Their back and forth battles end up shaping who Batman is.
Now look at some of the superhero film’s villains. You’ve got Iron Monger who really is just jealous of Tony Stark and just wants to kill him and run his company. He isn’t contributing anything to the development of Tony Stark other than the kidnapping that turned him into Iron Man, but really that is just a circumstance of plot.
Look at Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan the Destroyer really is only memorable for what? Being a lacky for Thanos, spouting one liners about wanting an infinity stone, and ultimately being the one to refer to the team as “Guardians of the Galaxy.” But you wouldn’t say that Ronan shaped the team in any way other than providing a constant prodding for the plot.
Marvel and DC both can fix this by diving more into the backstory of who these villains are. For example, with Ronan, maybe we get some time to look at how Ronan’s hatred for the Nova Corp was because of the war between their people. That he was raised in an environment that created this hatred. That would play a lot better than basically turning him into a Snidely Whiplash cartoon villain.
3. Zero Character Development
With the exception of The Dark Knight Trilogy, the majority of the superhero films that come out now offer up maybe 15 mins or so of character development out of their total runtime. The rest of the runtime is filled with plot and action sequences. We need as the audience to see that these characters have internal arcs within the film for us to relate to them. The beauty of The Dark Knight Trilogy is that it gave us a boat load of development for not only Bruce Wayne but also for side characters like Alfred and Jim Gordon.
How do you fix this for the future films? Well let’s take the poster child for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man. Tony Stark has one of the best internal struggle stories in comic history with The Demon in the Bottle storyline. It would be really easy for us to have a movie that details how the stress of being iron man forces him to drink and that the villain in that film is really his own addiction and failure to face his own demons. You could pair it with a kick ass plot heavy real villain like The Mandarin (the real one) but center the emotional arc on Tony facing his own demons. It would be a very different Marvel film that we are used to but it would be much more fulfilling to the audience and the character.
4. Zero Consequences
No one wants to see their favorite characters killed off. But death, like memorable villains, only create richer heroes in the end. The circumstances of a character’s death can change the perspective of the surviving characters that ends up becoming a part of them. The movies now a days do everything they can to make sure that no character that you may love ever gets killed. Imagine if Pepper Potts actually died at the end of Iron Man 3. How would that effect Tony Stark in the subsequent Avenger’s sequels and namely Civil War? Deciding to become a superhero has costs and sometimes those costs are measured in blood.
5. Cinematic Commercials For Future Films
This one is a result of the cinematic shared universe craze and honestly can be blamed for a lot of the above stated issues. Superhero films that are not the big tent cross over films (ie. Avengers: Infinity War) have been relegated to being massively expensive 90 to 120 minute commercials. Why should the stakes in a standalone Spiderman film matter when you know that the bigger bad is Thanos. Why concern yourself with character development when we have a list of references to tick off to prepare for the massive crossover coming down the line.
I have nothing against big crossover films. The first Avengers is one of the best crossover superhero films out there. However, that should not take away from the importance of telling self contained stories within stand alone films.
Again, a lot of this stuff is pretty well known among the casual observers of these kinds of films. As a superhero film fan, I really want these films to be more than they are now. Logan was a fantastic step in the right direction; where the point was to create a great movie, not to just create a great superhero film.
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