Oh, clever Hollywood! In order to make the hero's travails that much more dramatic, the superhero must lose their powers, yet carry on instead of blowing their brains out. It's about the only way writers can figure out how to squeeze drama out of the story, since the whole premise is that the main character is just about invincible and there's not much drama in that. Still, for some reason, this always gets handled in the clumsiest way possible.
Superman of course has the kryptonite thing, but they can't seem to get it straight what exactly kryptonite does to him, even within the same movie. Theoretically, he should still have all his powers, but just be too weak to use them. Like in the first Superman, kryptonite makes Christopher Reeve too weak to swim, but he's still indestructible (or else Lex would have presumably just shot him) and he still is able to use his super-sexuality to seduce one of the villains into helping him.
However, in Superman Returns, kryptonite takes away his powers of invulnerability, allowing Luthor to injure and then stab him.
Of course, he's later able to lift an island containing several billion tons of the stuff. Anyway, in Superman 2 they introduced a special device that Superman was able to use to remove his powers, thoughtfully packed by his mother into a crystal placed in his escape rocket.
The Batman franchise handles this a little differently, since Batman is essentially just a normal person with a super passion for vengeance and gadgetry. So, invariably we must have him face the villain when he's out of costume. In the first film Michael Keaton gets shot by the Joker in his living room, in Batman Begins the hero gets his ass kicked while wearing a tuxedo in Wayne Manor, and must sadly be rescued by his butler.
Perhaps the most the most mysterious of power losses comes in Spider-Man 2, where Spider-Man's powers start to slowly fade away for seemingly no reason, yet conveniently return when Mary Jane is kidnapped by Dr. Octopus.
Even worse, we have the Fantastic Four sequel, where the crew get all of their powers switched around by the Silver Surfer somehow, in a series of events too pointless for us to recap here.Also ...
This rule also has the Alaskan Diner Corollary: while de-powered, the hero usually must perform one heroic act. Clark defends Lois' honor from the Alaskan Diner bully while unpowered, and gets his ass handed to him. Peter rescues a little Asian girl from a burning building.
This is apparently Hollywood trying to distract us from the fact that we're really admiring these superheroes for having powers they got completely by accident.
The aforementioned invasion and burning of Wayne Manor touches on another rule, which says that at some point, usually in a sequel, the bad guys must break into the hero's secret hideout.
This one isn't just confined to superhero movies, it's a Hollywood rule that if the hero starts the film with some kind of impenetrable fortress, it will later play host to a bunch of bad guys (see I Am Legend for a non-comic example). Like the "power loss" rule it makes for easy drama and a sense of danger for the audience. Unfortunately this also calls attention to just how easily found these hidden lairs actually are.
Superman's Fortress of Solitude gets invaded twice in five films (both by Lex Luthor). Batman's Batcave also gets invaded twice in five films, bombed by the Riddler and Two-Face in Batman Forever and then burned down by Ras Al Ghoul as we mentioned.
Spider-Man's apartment gets hit twice in three films, once by Norman Osborn, once by the alien symbiote. X-Men's Xavier School for the Gifted also gets hit twice, once by the US Army under General Stryker's orders in X-Men 2, and once by Dark Pheonix in X-Men 3.
This rule has the Cock Block Corollary: If the superhero is having trouble getting laid, letting the girl "invade" his secret headquarters will always do the trick (see Superman 2, Batman and both Fantastic Four movies.)
Everyone loves to see a good redemption story, so an easy way to engage the audience's emotions is with a villain who suddenly has a change of heart. We believe this method of storytelling was invented by the world of professional wrestling.
So we have Eve Teschmacher helping Superman in the first film, Mystique turning into a government informant in X-Men 3 and Dr. Octopus sacrificing his life in Spider-Man 2. But one film in particular has taken this rule to dizzying extremes: Spider-Man 3.
First, you've got Harry Osborn. In the first film, he's a pitiful character, ignored by his father and gradually losing his girlfriend. In part two, he's a drunk, a jerk and vengeful maniac. In the third installment, he gains redemption by riding to Spider-Man's rescue and sacrificing his life in the process.
But on top of all that you have Sandman, who goes through a similar series of steps, but solely within the third film. He gets pity banked in the beginning of the film through the manipulative use of a sick young daughter, does several dastardly deeds and then does an abrupt heel turn right at the end by apologizing to Spider-Man and sobbing like a little bitch. This seems to set off a chain reaction that has all of the characters in the film spending the last 10 minutes of screen time sobbing.
There is about a 40 percent chance that the "redemption" will turn out to be part of the villain's hidden plan. You had Lex Luthor pretending to help Superman in Superman 2, then Magneto and Mystique temporarily helping the X-Men in part two before taking advantage of the situation for their own agenda. So that satisfies the audience's other emotional need, which is to believe that bad people are bad and we should never trust their attempts to be anything else.
It's the rare franchise that makes it to four films at all, so maybe just making it there is a badge of honor. Or, maybe not. The problem is each film in a superhero franchise has to keep topping the one before it, and by the time you reach film number four, it's very hard to keep from straying into the ridiculous.
Therefore, by using Hollywood logic, if the previous film jumps the shark, the only way to repair the damage is by jumping the shark again, backwards, and continuing the series from a previous point, ignoring the movies that came in the middle.
For instance, Superman IV had the distinction of proving all the critics wrong who claimed that no superhero movie could be worse than Superman III.
It was bad enough that the studio shut down the Superman cash cow for almost two decades. So Superman Returns required a reboot for casting if nothing else, since Christopher Reeve suffered his horrible accident and eventually died, and Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) was certifiably insane, probably from the horrors of working on Superman IV. Also, actresses her age are generally not allowed to continue acting, so they replaced her with an actress young enough that, according to the film's timeline, she would have been a teenager when the original film took place.
Thus not a single actor from the original four movies appeared in the fifth, other than Marlon Brando, who was brought back from the dead specially for this film. The storyline presumably picks up sometime during the events from Superman II, specifically after Superman bonks Lois Lane (the rules and physics for alien-superhero intercourse will have to be covered in another article).
Of course Superman IV didn't hold the title of worst superhero movie ever made for very long, as the fourth Batman film (Batman and Robin) came along to take the title, with the film makers trying to cram in so many villains, costumes and sets, the whole thing became a nightmarish mess. Thus when it came time for the fifth film reboot, the decision was made to pretend the entire first four movies never, ever happened.
We guess what we're saying is if they make Blade IV next year, run far, far away from the theater. Then come back a few years later for the reboot.
The fifth film reboot doesn't only apply to superhero movies, though maybe it should. The Rocky franchise got more and more inflated over the course of four films, culminating with Rocky, a legally retarded boxer, ending the Cold War. Stallone tried to do a "back to its gritty roots" reboot (twice) but the results were less than Batman Begins. And in case you thought there was no coming back from the fourth Karate Kid starring Hillary Swank, get ready for a Karate Kid reboot directed by Will Smith and starring his son Jaden. Seriously.
If the pattern holds, we should be due for gritty reboots of the Die Hard and Alien franchises any time now. Don't let us down, guys.
If you enjoyed that, check out our rundown of 5 Upcoming Comic Book Movies That Must Be Stopped. Also, be sure to find out about 15 cool things to do with your helicopter (featuring a few you might not have even tried yet). Or find out about 5 Douchebags Whose Mere Existence Should Make You Feel Cooler.