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Three Crimes of Cliche Modern Superhero Movies Commit

July 9th, 2012

I have enjoyed the last decade of plentiful, quality superhero movies very much, and the few winners from earlier than that.  After watching The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man recently, both of which I enjoyed, I was reminded of some things I see too often in such movies that is starting to annoy me whenever I even suspect it’s going to happen.  That’s bad, because it throws me out of the movie and is a sign of lack of originality.  In fact, we’re talking cliche here, something to be avoided.

Now, there’s a lot of things I could complain about with regard to superhero movies.  The laughable science, the ease at which hero and villain find each other when it’s time for a fight, or the how a high school boy can hand sew a costume that would take first place at any Halloween party (a real-life superpower!), for instance.  But I want to give those a pass for now and focus on some crimes, if you will, that movies specifically commit that I’ve seen too many times already.

The first crime: ditching the mask early and often.

Superheroes generally guard their identity because anonymity protects them and their loved ones.  It’s an extremely rare event for superheroes to remove their masks and flaunt their secret identity, and maybe a movie should represent an especially important and rare set of events in a hero’s life, but come on!  Here’s a short list:

Batman — almost every version.  Alfred and Robin get to know, but we have Vicki Vale in Tim Burton’s first movie, a climactic cowl removal in the sequel, to Rachel Dawes in Nolan’s version, and a handful of others.

Daredevil — again with the girlfriend, Elektra, but she knew in the comics, so pass there.  But the Kingpin at the end, for drama, I assume, and irony needing to be underlined for inattentive viewers.

Spider-man 1 & 2 — every villain knows, and his girlfriend and his best friend who becomes an enemy.

The Amazing Spider-man — again with the girlfriend, her father, and the villain.  Really?

The Avengers — Iron-Man is public, but Captain America loses his mask by the end, and Hawkeye never gets one.

The X-Men — they mostly skipped the costumes even.  Some X-men usually go masked, some don’t, but let’s just have some cool black leather battle suits and skip the dorky outfits, huh?  I liked First Class better in this respect.

I think this comes from the belief that actors need face time to do their jobs well and that general audiences don’t really want to see crazy people in stupid, dorky costumes.  This is the same urge that gets the crew in Prometheus, or the Hollywood writer pulling their strings, to remove their helmets.

The Second Crime:  Intertwined Hero/Villain Origins.

Whether or not the heroes’ origins are tied into that of their movie foes, or any foes at all, they are often forced into that mold.  I’ll just mention a few rather than making a list.  In the first Tim Burton Batman movie, the Joker and Batman “make each other.”  In the Nolan version, Batman’s origin involves the villain Ra’s al Ghul.  Neither were involved in the original Batman origin.  Daredevil suddenly gets the Kingpin messing up his childhood.  The new Spider-man helps create the Lizard…who was involved in creating Spider-man.  Iron Man’s villains have stolen, or believe he stole, the same technology.  The Red Skull is the Nazi super soldier to America’s Captain America.

The funny thing is that Lex Luthor, Superman’s nemesis, actually has a vendetta against the hero due to an accident leading to the loss of his hair, arguably caused by Superman.  In the movies…no relationship there.  Maybe revenge for hair loss is not Hollywood worthy.  Okay, it is kind of stupid.  Maybe for the next reboot, however, we can shave Fabio for the role and I’d believe the rage.

In any event, yeah, it makes a nice, tight storyline to have intertwined origins but I’ve now seen it a dozen times.  I’d like to see the heroes move on with their lives and face some new, unrelated villains.  The Joker in The Dark Knight…who knows his real origin or motivations?  They probably have nothing to do with Batman, but he’s still a great character in a great story.

The Third Crime: Superpower Training Montages

Movies with these also often have a cliched end scene with the hero, now finished with the main story line, out doing their thing and having a great time.  This probably results from, in part, the fact that so many superhero movies insist on being origin stories and the desire to show the audience the powers without belaboring them.  Still…I’m pretty sick of it.  I usually say to myself, “Okay, self, 45 seconds of training now…and probably one clever bit to smile at in there, too.”

It was pretty bad with the new Spider-Man movie since so much closely paralleled the recent Raimi movies.  The only new thing was the shots from Peter’s point of view.

The X-Men, Batman, and the Avengers actually do spend a lot of time training in the comic books.  A lot of them just do their thing, or the training is implied.  I’m just tired of seeing the same movie solution of the 1980s montage and would like to see some other takes on it than I have been seeing regularly.

What about you?  Any pet peeves with the recent superhero movies?

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