4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre

There are tons of off-the-wall characters out there just waiting to be filmed, each providing a potential solution to certain issues that seem to plague nigh every superhero franchise.
4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre

Given enough time, all the films in a specific genre start to resemble each other. That's what took down disaster movies from the Blockbuster Throne, and what will eventually ruin superhero movies, which Marvel alone is doing its level best to accelerate as we speak.

Luckily, I'm here to fix that issue in my patented "scream at the problem until it goes away or you get arrested" method. The way I see it, the superhero genre is flexible enough to survive, provided the filmmakers choose the right superheroes to focus on. There are tons of off-the-wall characters out there just waiting to be filmed, each providing a potential solution to certain issues that seem to plague nigh every superhero franchise. If it helps get the point across, feel free to read this article in the aforementioned screaming voice. And, for that matter, every article I have ever written or ever will write.

The Phantom Would Fix The Superhero Immortality Issue

4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre

As Dave Bell previously pointed out, superhero movies suffer greatly from the fact that no one believes for a second that any major franchise character can die. Oh, there have been attempts to shock us -- I'm looking at you, Age Of Ultron-edition Quicksilver -- but they're mostly pretty predictable and, if the character is popular (lucrative) enough, ultimately reversible.

But what if we had a superhero that not only can die but is largely defined by the fact that, eventually, he will. I'm talking about The Phantom, Lee Falk's legendary 21st-generation crime-fighter whose great-great-great-ancestor got pissed off at pirates who attacked his ship off the coast of a fictional African country and inexplicably swore an oath that every eldest son in his family would spend his life fighting evil in a purple unitard.

4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre
Paramount Pictures

In the interest of fairness, it's important to point out that this has already been a movie, but the 1996 The Phantom, starring Billy Zane (pictured above), isn't exactly the most sincere representation of the character. Or a movie. Or a story in general. In fact, let's just say that the only superhero movie from 1996 that matters is Matilda, because Mara Wilson will always be awesome, and we desperately want her to star in a modern, gritty sequel where she magics bad guys' heads clean off.

But here's the catch that would make The Phantom work in the current superhero movie atmosphere: The Phantom dies at the hands of his villains. He's done so no fewer than 20 times, with the next kid in line always picking up where dad checked out (and handily helping the rumor that the hero is immortal). With The Phantom, the whole "hero can't die" issue would be averted. Want to do a period piece set in the 1950s? Johnny Phantom-Actor is still playing the role, but now he's the grandpa of the current Phantom and will die in the most gruesome fucking way in the final showdown.

Via Wikipedia

Which would add a welcome amount of tension to situations like this.

There are 21 canon Phantoms spread over four or five centuries, which means you can kill two in every movie and still have a decade-long string of summer blockbusters, all set in different eras. Locking an actor in a long contract means jack-shit spoiler-wise, because the same actor can play multiple versions of the character. A leading actor leaving the franchise is equally simple, because is there any role on Earth easier to recast than one spread over half a millennium and various people?

Oh, Marvel might start doing this anyway to their more high-profile -- and therefore expensive -- stars pretty soon. They've got a cheap future franchise figurehead in Spider-Man now, and we've all heard the rumors that Chris Evans' Captain America might follow his comic book counterpart and go belly-up in either Civil War or one of the future Avengers films with the 20,000 superheroes in them. Shit, I'll wager that the second they gain access to movie X-Men, a new, oddly fresh-faced Wolverine will turn up with a 10-movie contract (who Cracked's John Cheese insists must be played by CM Punk), at which point all first-phase Avengers can go hang. But that won't do anything to the surprise factor; we'll still know how many movies everyone has left in their contract. No one's going to die totally unexpectedly.

And, meanwhile, in the cinema next door, a pirate lord is gunning down his fifth Phantom of the week.

The Sentry Would Explain The Portrayal Of Senseless Carnage

4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre

One of the main issues massive-scale superhero blockbusters suffer from is the mindless carnage that inevitably accompanies the heroes. Literally every problem on MCU Earth we've seen so far has been directly or indirectly caused by some combination of The Avengers. Every single Spider-Man movie features a villain with a personal connection to the hero. Zack Snyder's Superman is ... just basically a scowling mass-murderer. It's far too widespread a phenomenon to go away as long as these movies make money.

So let's go for the next best thing and at least try to justify the wanton destruction from a storytelling point of view. Enter The Sentry. He is essentially Marvel's version of Superman, with godlike powers that make Wolverine seem like the garden gnome that he is. In the comics, when The Hulk goes on a planetary-scale rampage, The Sentry is who everyone immediately attempts to call.

Warner Bros

The fact that he looks a hell of a lot like Superman-beating Nuclear Man
from Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is probably juuuust a coincidence.

But here's the thing: While technically mostly a hero, The Sentry is also batshit insane. His powers are eating away at his sanity, and he suffers from various debilitating insecurities and phobias that make him unpredictable at best. This could well manifest itself as the kind of weird borderline sociopathic apathy toward wanton destruction every single other movie superhero seemingly has going, only his issues are real and integral parts of the character.

4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre

"Now, run before I eat your liver."

Shit, we already practically have a Sentry movie. It's called Man Of Steel, and boy, wouldn't all that brooding and neck-snapping and soul-searching and wanton destruction make a ton more sense if you inserted genuine mental issues into the equation. I'm not saying we should necessarily give the guy a movie franchise; audiences tend to gravitate away from movies where the protagonist stubbornly watches TV for 90 percent of the villain's rampage due to his crippling agoraphobia, then gets off his ass and God modes through an entire army in 30 seconds. Still, it would be refreshing to see one movie where the hero knows and admits that his greatest enemy is himself. (And no, the Hulk movies don't count.)

4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre

The Great Machine From Ex Machina Would Show Us The Consequences Of Superheroing

4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre

Iron Man is easily the biggest name in the MCU, having been around the longest and benefiting from the rascally charisma of Robert Downey Jr., without whom the know-it-all billionaire alcoholic character could easily be pretty damn insufferable.

Despite being technically grounded in science, the Iron Man movies are also among the most unrealistic Marvel has to offer. In reality, I find it a lot easier to believe in super-soldier serums or a magic space dimension ruled by Anthony Hopkins than the news that Tony Stark has managed to build umpteen fully functional, mechanized superhero suits without once ending up in a wheelchair thanks to a Mark 158 suit taking his spine through a mangler like those hapless Chinese knockoff Iron Men in that throwaway scene in Iron Man 2. That's not how engineering works, no matter how much of a genius you are.

Sure, some of Tony's creations malfunction or break down in an amusing manner, but they give him exactly as much trouble as everything else in his life, which is barely. Yes, he has woman trouble, and people try to kill him, and his house gets blown away, and the government wants to take his toys away. Still, Tony Stark always remains rich, clever, and cocky, and he never ever faces a problem that those traits can't solve, even when he essentially destroys a city. It's cool, sure, but no matter how many potential heel turns and character arcs he undergoes, he's going to remain defined by those three traits like a caricature of a deeper character, simply because he doesn't deal in mundane shit.


Pictured: relatability.

Which is why I'd like to see a movie featuring a more down-to-earth gadgeteer superhero. My suggestion for that is Mitchell Hundred, aka The Great Machine from Brian K. Vaughan's Ex Machina. He's what I picture a real-life engineer would be like if given superpowers: an awkward sack of fuck who randomly gains the ability to communicate with machines and soon finds they're often lying and treacherous dicks. He manages to put together a jetpack and a bunch of gadgets, dons a frankly horrible costume and starts kind-of fighting crime, until he semi-accidentally manages to stop a major terrorist attack and winds up the mayor of New York City.

And therein lies the catch. Mitchell Hundred is a poor man's Tony Stark that actually has to clean up after himself. Whenever a villain attacks and starts killing people, Hundred is the guy who has to listen to the cops' bitching and investigate in secret (because mayors flying around the sky are generally frowned upon), while simultaneously making sure that the snow plows run as planned because there's been a winter storm and the city needs to function, no matter how many bad guys are running around.

4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre

The number of movie superheroes that have said this sentence and not
immediately followed it by wrecking the nearest city block: precisely zero.

That's the way the normal world works when you have responsibility, and let's face it: Beyond the usual "kill the bad guy, save the world," few movie superheroes have displayed much of that. Wouldn't it be a nice change of pace to peek into that world instead of just the constant zapping across the sky?

Mandrake The Magician Would Remove The Fighting Element

4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre
King Features Syndicate

Everyone loves a good superhero fight. I know I do. But for how long and to what extent? Suppose DC gets its own movie universe running and Fox keeps churning out X-movies; even without taking smaller players into account, those two combined with Marvel will be churning out five or so superhero movies a year. All of these movies will feature several fight scenes. How many will you remember after a few years? I'm already starting to confuse them, and it's just a matter of time before I thoroughly embarrass myself drunkenly explaining to some confused and frightened stranger how cool the battle between Batman and Winter Soldier atop that offshore oil rig was.

So, why not start digging up some of the nonviolent superheroes, such as The Phantom's King Features colleague Mandrake The Magician? Considered by some to be the first comics superhero, Mandrake -- a top-hat-and-cape-wearing magician with hypnotism and invisibility powers -- has been going strong since 1934, which is a noteworthy trait, because he's pretty damn far from your average kick-ass caped crusader. Although Mandrake is not above punching the occasional space invader, roughly 99 percent of his arsenal is nonviolent hypnotism that disarm opponents by making them think the curtains magically tied them up or whatever.

King Features Syndicate

We, uh, probably should do something about the sidekick guy, though.

Sure, Marvel has a Doctor Strange movie coming up, but you can bet your finest butt collection that the good doctor will not punch people only in the sense that Iron Man doesn't punch people; there are too many interesting things in his arsenal to actually go melee. Mandrake is a different beast altogether; he's basically MacGyver that uses magic instead of a pocket knife and three thumbtacks, a largely nonviolent hero that relies on subterfuge, guile, and badass imaginary visuals to save the day.

And, hey, if you absolutely need your heroes-punching-villains fix, Mandrake has been known to team up with The Phantom and a certain fellow King Features alum known as Flash Gordon.

I'm talking about Defenders Of The Earth, bitches. Actually, why not just add a new Flash Gordon movie into the mix? I loved this show as a kid; I've probably been subconsciously building toward it anyway. Eh, who am I kidding? They'd just throw in a shitload of sky-singeing fireballs and call it Explosion Punchers ... and I'd still end up buying a ticket.

Pauli is a Cracked weekly columnist and freelance editor. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and YouTube, where you can catch all our video content, such as Great Superpowers Are A Huge Pain In The Ass and other videos you won't see on the site!

Check out more from Pauli in 5 Classic Games That Desperately Need A Movie Adaptation and 5 Insane Sports We Brought Back (In The Worst Possible Way).


Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?