5 Insane Things Superhero Movies (Correctly) Assume About Us
I know, I know: Every other blogger on the internet has a theory about why superhero movies are so popular right now. Maybe it's because millennials all refuse to grow up, maybe it's because technology has finally made it possible, or maybe it's because of the economy (things are usually because of the economy). But all those other writers made one mistake: They're dumber than I am. Every single one of them. Also, that's not what I'm going to talk about.
I don't know what made superhero movies popular, but I do know what they think about us. They think:
We're Obsessed With Tiny Costume Changes (But Don't Care About Character)
One thing the superhero filmmakers know is that we care more about a hero's costume than what they actually stand for. Tony Stark builds himself at least one new flying kill-suit per movie. Which makes sense, because technology and construction are part of his character, and he spends most of Iron Man 3 dealing with his Avengers PTSD by building suits for every possible situation. So it makes sense that he has a busier, louder, more obnoxious "look" with each subsequent movie.
He's like a guy who builds model airplanes, but cool.
But the careful explanation just brings my attention to the fact that everyone else gets new suits too -- minus the explanation, or at least an explanation that makes sense: In The Avengers, Captain America gets a new uniform that the characters call "old-fashioned," despite the fact that it looks nothing like his old uniform at all.
Past Steve is shocked to see what he will eventually be wearing.
Black Widow's outfit also keeps changing (even though her pose doesn't):
"Optimum combat effectiveness and boob prominence."
This woman is a spy. Those glowing lights would be great for a rave or a Tron cosplay, but I imagine they're a less-than-ideal accoutrement when your goal is stealth.
Weirdly, Scarlet Witch's new uniform is clearly based on the street clothes she happens to be wearing during the events of Age Of Ultron. You know, when she's brainwashed and watches her twin brother die.
"Thank god you didn't dress me like in the comics."
That's the other weird thing: The costumes never get totally redesigned. It's like all our heroes are also extremely brand-conscious. Sam "The Falcon" Wilson goes costume-less for Winter Soldier, but gets a sweet new one in time for Ant-Man ... and then yet another one for Civil War. But none of those costumes get a unique color-scheme or a strong look, because Falcon isn't really an A-list hero -- he's a spin on Captain America's "brand," and his outfit reflects that.
"It's cool; my powers suck anyway."
The common explanation for this is that it justifies creating new toys, but in what world are toy companies shackled by the rules of the film universe? Toy makers can make whatever the hell they want, as evidenced by the childish knick-knacks I keep on my desk, because I have the maturity of a 14 year-old.
This alien burst from the chest of a punk rocker.
The attention to the costume makes sense because a superhero's appearance is the most important part of their character. That's why Iron Man can switch from being hardcore Libertarian to a government stooge, depending on the needs of the story, but his costume will always be red and yellow. That's why Batman can switch from having a strict "no guns, no killing" policy to rocket-launching an entire platoon of henchman between movies, and nobody but the hardcore nerds like me will care as long as he still has pointy ears and a cape. Literally the only similarity between Henry Caville and Christopher Reeve's Superman is their appearance -- I doubt they'd even be able to agree on what movie to watch while they cuddled on the couch.
These characters have been around for a while, and I get that interpretations change, but no other characters have this much variety. Whoever plays James Bond after Daniel Craig isn't going to be a married American. We're not going to see a movie about a really suave and charming Sherlock Holmes. But for some reason, a superhero's beliefs just aren't important to us. Kinda like our politicians! Zing! That's topical, because it's an election year.
We Get Excited Only About Things We've Already Seen
This is the last clip from the latest trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse, a shot that is potentially the stupidest thing I've seen on the internet all week:
Pfft, his claws aren't even coming out of the right place!
That's the marketing department assuming that we are all going to lose our goddamn minds over the prospect of seeing Wolverine -- a character who has appeared in every single X-Men movie to date, starring in four of the five (and that's not even counting the two spinoffs he had all to himself). I don't have a problem with Wolverine being in this movie (he's fucking rad), but why are they teasing his appearance? I know what Wolverine looks like. We all know what Wolverine looks like.
But regardless of how new and clever and innovative a given movie is, they'll usually market it to us by promising that it won't be any of those things. That's why the first trailer for this movie started with Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy reciting the exact dialogue that Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart delivered 16 years ago as those same characters. It reminds me of before the release of Guardians Of The Galaxy, when Marvel took their most unique and brave property (and, for my money, their best movie that isn't The Avengers) and buried it in stuff they knew we'd think was familiar.
Hypocritically, this is an image from an old article I already wrote.
I get that this is something all movies do to some extent, but isn't the entire point of superheroes the fact that they're limited only by imagination? Isn't the fun that we can explore beyond the boundaries of what's possible? So how come, even when that is the explicit purpose of the story, they still try to sell us the movie by promising that won't happen? Like, if I were trying to sell a cool sports car, I wouldn't make up posters talking about how the seats are made of boring old leather and the car is made from the same kind of metal that a Honda Civic is made out of -- I'd talk about how the car sounds like a dragon and makes women's underwear catch fire. I'd talk about how, when you stomp on the pedal, you can't tell if you feel light-headed from the burst of speed or from the vibrations traveling up your leg to your prostate from the pedal. I'd be really good at selling cars to lonely men, is my point.
We Have Very Short Memories
Nick Fury showing up at the end of Iron Man to talk about "The Avengers Initiative" was the big movie moment of our generation, on par with Han Solo saving the day at the end of Star Wars or whatever things happened in movies before then, I dunno. But somewhere along the line, they stopped saving those scenes for the end-credits stingers and started working them into the actual plot.
"Whaaaaat is going on!?!?"
We mentioned a while back about how Joss Whedon was forced to include a Chris Hemsworth bathing scene in Age Of Ultron, or Marvel wasn't going to let him include scenes of character development, because sometimes making a movie is like a stand-off with an angry 2-year-old. Allegedly, it foreshadows ... something, but unless you're fully versed in Marvel lore it just seems like the projector operator accidentally put in a reel from a Lars Von Trier film for a few frames. This was the most criticized part of the movie, but then Batman V Superman: This Is What The Movie Is Really Called, Believe It Or Not did exactly the same thing by having The Flash time travel into Bruce Wayne's dream sequence to tell him about something that doesn't even happen in the movie.
"And then Jon Snow wakes up and it's supposed to be a shock, but come on, we all already knew."
And it works! We gobble that shit up! That's insane, because in my mind, audiences are smart. My instincts say that if you put The Flash and Batman in a movie together, they're going to understand. You'd think that they're not going to be confused, shouting at the screen and throwing popcorn because you didn't have The Flash show up in a burst of lightning and shout a bunch of non-sequiturs two movies ago. I'd even argue that magic and gibberish is more confusing than just having The Flash show up and say, "Hi, I'm The Flash."
But apparently I'm wrong. Apparently nonsensical, awkward setups that don't pay off for two or three movies are the way to go. So, because I want this article to be a big hit, here's an image and caption from a column I'm going to write in August of 2018.
"ONLY RAW FLESH CAN APPEASE THE CHOOSERS."
Haha, what on Earth could that mean? Find out in just over two years.
We Need To Invoke 9/11 To Get Serious
This is one of those entries where I can already hear the comments. "Who goes to a superhero movie and is surprised when buildings fall down?" Yes, I realize that costumes, exploding buildings, and wise-crackery have been the three hallmarks of the genre since 2008. In our Civil War Cracked Responds we noticed that the trailer goes out of its way to promise that we are going to see some new buildings explode.
"Thank God. Right?"
But why? It's not the same in comics -- there are no buildings destroyed in The Killing Joke, for example. Comics spice it up by having Reed Richards spend time with a dying man or showing us a scene of Superman saving a little girl from suicide. Aside from superhero movies, the thing most Americans associate "falling buildings" with is 9/11. Is that ... is that weird? That our most favorite kind of blockbuster re-creates our most recent national tragedy over and over and over?
Shot with shaky-cam, for maximum haunting realism.
Not really, because it's exactly what Japan did with nuclear weapons and giant lizards. After the U.S. dropped nuclear weapons right on top of Japan at the end of World War II and then all around Japan for about a decade after, the Japanese people had a pretty clear idea of what a destroyed city looks like. And, like us now, they decided to take the kaiju myth, an ancient part of Japanese culture, and repurpose it as a metaphor for the horrors they had seen in real life. And they did it over and over, through a dozen variations, because they were trying to figure out what it meant. Just like we are, still, a decade and a half after the attacks. Only instead of giant sea monsters, we have space-vikings and alien robots. Which is also why ...
We Want Superheroes To Solve Everything
Superheroes may sound like a good idea, but, as the movies keep reminding us, there are often unintended consequences. Superman struggles with the weight of his responsibility all through both of his most recent movies and is heavily criticized for his failures. In one of those same movies, Batman complains to Alfred that there are no good men left in Gotham. And even though the Marvel movies are way more optimistic about this, it still hits the same points: Captain America learns in The Winter Soldier that the government isn't trustworthy. And now Civil War will start with (SPOILERS) good superheroes accidentally killing a bunch of people. The movies are asking a tough question: "Are superheroes really a good idea?"
Except that's not a tough question. The answer is no. The full answer is, "Seriously? Fucking absolutely not. Do you know how controversial the actions of ordinary, non-super-powered police officers are? This idea is, look at me sir, the worst. You should not be allowed to make decisions that matter. You are fired from The Illuminati, Mr. Sargent."
Thankfully, they let me keep my decoder paperweight.
Pretending a superhero is a good idea is the fun part, not a distracting deviation from reality that needs to be addressed. That's why Superman acting like such a mopey bastard is so obnoxious: When I see an alien in blue tights who gets superpowers from the sun's rays, my first thought isn't, "It sure is unrealistic that he's so nice all the time." I've written about how everything Iron Man does is a violation of international law, but that's not a criticism of the story. The movie doesn't actually need to explain why it's not. We all know the answer is "because superheroes." You can actually buy a lot of nonsense with those words. Our ability to suspend disbelief is practically a superpower in itself.
But right now it seems like every single superhero movie is eagerly trying to fit superheroes into the real world, a place they were never meant to belong. Batman V Superman is about an inability to do good in a broken world, and Civil War takes its name from a comic that was written as a political allegory. We're trying to talk about real-world problems through the context of magic space-hammers and super-soldier serums. We're trying to do Watchmen-like deconstruction with every franchise, which completely misses the point of Watchmen.
We even missed the point of Watchmen when we made Watchmen.
It's not just that we want superheroes to fix the real world, we want them to fix other movies too. FiveThirtyEight did an analysis of superhero movies at the box office and found that they do best when they're blended with other genres. We want superhero spy movies, like Winter Soldier, or superhero heist movies, like Ant-Man. Even when we're making non-superhero movies, we still pretend that's what we're making (most the cast of Furious 7 or John Wick could hold their own against The Avengers).
In 1988, Die Hard came out, and America clapped and hollered with glee to see a hero like John McClane: a vulnerable, normal guy caught (barefoot!) in the wrong place at the wrong time, with nothing at his disposal but his wits and some duct tape. He is us, basically. Today, we want something very different: a hero who exceeds our capabilities in every way, is never in any real danger, and promises to solve problems using either techno-babble or actual magic.
You know: just like that political candidate you don't like.
Learn why you could never afford to live in the Avengers universe in 5 Problems In The Background Of Every Superhero Movie and check out why we want a live-action movie for 'The Sentry' in 4 Superhero Movies That Can Save The Genre.
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