Doing a “versus” article with Cracked is kind of hard, not only because I really like the site but because it’s a comedy site that just happens to get some interesting information mixed into their comedy. I know getting my head into their style isn’t an easy thing for me, so these people are good at what they do. Maybe I’m not cut out for lists or something? Still, if this article isn’t being serious I know somebody will take it that way. Somebody once wrote a joke article about how dangerous it would be for Lois to make superwhoopie with Superman and people took it seriously, leading to the current Superman/Wonder Woman pairing at DC. It’s always possible.
So when this little number by contributor Luke McKinney crossed my path I thought it best to counter what worried me would become the norm in storytelling’s drive for a perceived realism before we actually started seeing it. Who knows? Maybe he gets one or two right? Maybe. The article is called “6 Realistic Changes That Would Improve Superhero Movies”, because nothing demands realism like people in tight fabrics flying around punching each other. Right?
Modern movies are generating more superheroes than Take Your Child to Work Day at a toxic waste recycling plant, and more money than the resulting lawsuits. But too many are ending up with the same formula: anonymous nobody, tragedy/accident, things keep getting worse until they’re forced face their problems, and everything somehow works out wonderfully. Superhero movies shouldn’t have the same structure as Lifetime specials about abusive husbands. Which is why I’ve come up with dozens of ideas to improve movies.
I have no problem with changing the formula a bit, but if we’re talking superpowered heroes you either have tragedy/accident or somebody giving you superpowers for Christmas or more likely ancestral birthright. And I’d hardly call Tony Stark, world-famous industrialist who actually built his own superpowers, or Superman, who was born with powers and abilities you know all this as part of the category, so exceptions do happen.
#6. Superhero Refuses to Foil a Bank Robbery
Modern banks are protected by insurance networks more indestructible than adamantium. Even if the world dies in nuclear fire, some exclusive bunker will hold an accountant etching ledgers in his own blood, mixed with engine oil from the ventilation system to make sure it stays in the black.
Even if the bank were to fail, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ensures people get their money back. Which means your hero isn’t fighting for justice but lowering insurance premiums. Which they’ll negate by smashing the place up and killing people. Even the insurance company would tell them to get their ass out of the building faster than the speeding bullets their presence will cause. An untrained uberhuman leaping into a hostage situation is selfish: They’re the only person guaranteed to be fine in the ensuing hail of automatic fire.
Except he uses as his example a scene from Spider-Man 2 and I don’t recall “bulletproof” being one of Spidey’s powers. However, what gets me in this one is the “who cares, they’re insured” defense. Yes, let the guy with giant mechanical arms take whatever he wants. They’re insured for it, right? Who cares about insurance premiums? Well, you know who else tries to stop Octavius from stealing stuff in the movie? Cops.
And the security guards whose job it is to stop people from robbing the bank. By his reasoning they shouldn’t try to stop him, either, because THIS is when he takes Aunt May hostage. Not because of Spider-Man but because of the police. Police who have no way of stopping this guy and they’re best hope is some kid in a silly costume who can stick to walls and shoot webs (when his powers aren’t failing, which I don’t think was ever properly explained). Because stealing is wrong and there are laws on the books against stealing. Do you know why, even though we have insurance now? How about their reputation. How about people liking to know they’re money is safe without begging the government for more taxpayer money that will be taken away from
some Congressman’s pet project the things government is supposed to be dealing with, like stopping criminals.
Spider-Man wasn’t the one knocking bank guards across the bank, possibly to die or at least suffer serious injury. He was the one trying to stop it and if there was collateral damage, it was Ock’s fault. Maybe we should let him finish building the machine that accidentally killed his wife and will destroy a huge part of New York? And speaking of collateral damage…
#5. People Care About Collateral Damage
If your cinematic street battle destroys even one car, that person’s life is screwed. Screwed! You’re either the first of a new breed of hero, a lone light in a world of crime, or a new breed far beyond mortal law, and various other things said by both “trailer voiceovers” and “insurance-payment-denying lawyers in the letter claiming it’s not covered by their insurance.” Losing a car isn’t inconvenient — it’s crippling, a savage financial attack which can seriously impact the rest of someone’s life in terms of employment, kid’s education, medical fees, everything.
Granted, but we’re blaming the superhero again for this. As if it’s Superman’s fault General Zod tossed a bus at him. I suppose it would be better to just let Zod control the world, right? A good superhero story will have the hero trying to at least get the battle out of the city but your average supervillain not only won’t care but will go out of his/her way to have as many innocents to distract the hero as possible. They’re evil, it’s what they do. This “give up and let the villain win” isn’t going to net the hero any praise, either.
Obviously we don’t want superheroes to start being careful. But it would be nice to see civilians react as something more than a casualty count evil high score. The final act shouldn’t be the hero standing up to the villain while civilians flee. It should be an entire city descending to beat both to death with cries of “#$% these guys.” Or the first villain to appear in Times Square falls under an actual hail of bullets.
So basically the first half of Watchmen or The Incredibles (talk about both ends of a scale), where superheroing is outlawed? Here’s your realism there. If the superhero is gone the supervillains aren’t going to go away. They’re going to stick around with NOBODY TO OPPOSE THEM! Those heroic civilians jumping on General Zod and Superman? Superman won’t fight back and Zod will kill every last one of them for the heck of it. There is a reason people kneel before Zod when Superman disappears in Superman II, or to Loki in The Avengers. They know the alternative is a bunch of them will die. That’s why the Angel Grove citizens standing up to Astronema in the finale of Power Rangers In Space showed how brave everyone became, especially Bulk and Skull.
Had the actual Rangers decided to rush off and prepare a better attack Angel Grove would be a pile of destroyed bodies. Strength in numbers is great when your foe can’t survive a nuclear bomb or sent a few thousand friends to make you pay for it.
#4. Ignoring Standard Procedures Screws Things Up
Both superheroism and science-fictionry suffer from hotshots skipping the scientists’ quarantines and tutorials to get out there and kick @##! Hooo-ah! He doesn’t have time for all this nerd $##@! You know, this nerd $##@ that makes all the things he’s doing possible in the first place. The implication is that science, standard practices, and safety checks are stupid chores designed to get in the way of the jock fun. So those dumb scientists had better listen to the tough guy!
Remember how I said there might be one or two I agree with? This qualifies. It’s one thing if there’s a crisis situation and you have to learn as you go or people will die or be turned into radioactive zombie mummies who turn people into other radioactive zombie mummies but when you have time to actually learn stuff…LEARN STUFF! The Power Rangers had an excuse in that they seemed to gain the knowledge to run a Zord as part of their powers, at least in the first episode. Most heroes don’t when they get a new toy. In the original TV version of The Flash, and it looks like the upcoming version may be smart as well but I haven’t ranked high enough to get early pilot videos, Barry started learning his powers and even after going after Pike before another officer died like his brother (everybody has to have the Batman origin) he took time to study his powers limits and the impact they were having on his body. This is smart.
Also, just once, I want to see “overloading” a machine immediately break it. Because it was overloaded and couldn’t take it. That being precisely what overloading means.
I’ll take that one case by case.
#3. The Helicarrier Works
He means the SHIELD Hellicarrier and I completely agree. Those things get shot down more times than me trying to play a flying game just so the superhero or kaiju can look awesome by defeating someone powerful enough to take out a flying fortress. So why do they have the darn thing? The Helicarrier gets its butt kicked more than Worf, but only because they have more years and continuities to get knocked out of the sky. Doesn’t it even have weapons or a force field or something?
#2. Being Brilliant at Something Isn’t Good Enough
Superheroes are often the greatest at something before they even get their powers. But you simply can’t be good enough at some things to beat other things. It’s full-contact rock-paper-scissors: The world’s greatest backflipper can’t evade even an average-to-middling automatic-weapon-user.
We should see heroes go up against things they actually can’t beat with their current strategy, forcing them to learn and try new things, instead of brooding for the second act before trying the same thing harder. Wolverine already has a lot of problems, and charging into machine-gun fire shouldn’t be “soaks up a few hits then starts stabbing everyone”; it should be “immediately collapses into a pile of shredded guts because his indestructible bones are no longer connected to the muscles required to run.”
Hey, anything that puts Wolverine in a world of pain is fine with me. This is another good point. Watching the hero lose and have to formulate a plan to win the final, most important battle is something I grew up with and rightfully so because this is where the drama comes from. Not only is the villain proven to be a threat but the hero also proven to be, as Logan would say, “the best there is at what I do”. It also makes you forget the hero has his or her name in the title (unless you’re playing Donkey Kong or watching Spaceballs) and that there is a chance they might lose. Watching them overcome tragedy (instead of breaking even) is what we came here to see.
#1. Dealing With Their Origin Stories
The origin is just an excuse to give someone powers, but including it as part of the story and then ignoring it just makes the hero look stupid. Daredevil gains incredible super-senses when he’s blinded by toxic sludge, then uses them to throw sticks at people. Because that’s obviously what you’d do with a functional cure for blindness.
That stuff probably gives you the eyes of a hawk if you don’t use it as a facial scrub, and as a lawyer even his civilian identity has the power to track down the toxic chemicals that blinded a child. And if Bruce Banner hadn’t gotten himself blasted by his own bomb, making him the worst military researcher ever, the first time the military used it they would have turned an entire enemy city into indestructible hulks. Making him an even worse military researcher. Including the origin and then ignoring it means you spend the entire second act with the hero not merely dropping Chekov’s gun, but actively unloading it and throwing it away.
Except that gamma radiation in the Marvel universe doesn’t have the same side effects. The Leader just got a super-large brain and a desire for conquest. The Abomination isn’t as dumb as the Hulk and wasn’t exactly on the good guys side to begin with, and still isn’t now. She-Hulk obtained her powers through a transfusion and all she got was green skin and a huge confidence boost…which tends to come free with the ability to bench press a semi truck. Doc Samson got super strength and anime hair. Also, if you accept the original Mirage continuity the same stuff that gave Daredevil radar sense in place of their normal eyes (and no proof it will benefit blind people) also turned Splinter and the Turtles into humanoid bipedal creatures capable of speech and being taught ninjitsu so that’s not exactly predictable, either.
Starting super-sequences with an origin story means wasting at least a third of every movie on a random non-super @#$hole, then the whole “zero to hero” arc — one we’ve already seen about everything from boxing to bloody breakdancing — and the movie finally ends at the point where it should have started: the superperson in the movie’s title.
Generally speaking an origin story doesn’t bother me for a new character. We at least want to see where the superhero came from and if applicable how they obtained their ability to fly at Mach 20 and fire lighting bolts from their nose. In sequels we then get to see a full hero story but watching someone learn their superpowers, done right, can be interesting.
That said, I don’t think we ever have to see Superman’s origin ever again, or at least not for a few decades…unless we can wash the failed origin of Man Of Steel out of the franchise by doing so. It is also possible to have an origin that gets explained to someone or utilized flashbacks better than the aforementioned not-Superman movie. Still, an origin story can be done right for someone we haven’t seen before and isn’t part of our culture.
So Mr. McKinney and I didn’t completely disagree. Just enough to keep this a “versus” article.