Must Haves of Any Cape Movie: Part 2

I heard someone say recently that superhero movies should cut some of those cliche action scenes in which the characters do stuff like throw cars at each other and engage in other assorted mayhem.

My reaction? Wrong! While, in some cases, action scenes are gratuitous, more often than not, they add to our understanding of the super's story. I think I'll start compiling some rules that future filmmakers can utilize to make their cape films true to the genre's conventions.

Here's one of my rules (as of now) of cape movies: "At a minimum, twice during the course of the film, each super powered character, whether hero or villain, must display his or her unique ability, preferably in an action set piece."

An example of this rule is perfectly illustrated in The Incredible Hulk (2008). No less than three times, we see Dr. Banner transform into his monster persona, and wreak destruction on a variety of buildings, vehicles, and people. These scenes should not be regarded as cliche. On the contrary, they are integral, even indispensable, in order to demonstrate the unpredictable rage and potential danger of the Hulk.

Here are a few other examples that come immediately to mind- In X2 (2003), we must see Nightcrawler 'port or hang by his tail, in Iron Man (2008) Tony Stark has to blast someone with his repulsors, and in Superman Returns (2006), Supes must fry something with his heat vision. Cliche? - no, vital character traits that distinguish the super from the ordinary hero.


  1. I totally agree. How do we know they are super if they don't use their powers? Now I suppose their powers don't have to be violent in nature, but if they are, then we have got to see 'em.

    Although, Superman Returns probably isn't the best example. I would say that for the most part, it would be an example of how not to use a character's powers in a movie.

  2. So, it seems to me we have a conflict between what fan-folks want out of superhero movies (and fiction in general), and what people who aren't totally enamored with the conventions of the genre but still like the idea of people with powers want.

    In terms of costumes, it seems to me that the whole colourful costume thing was brought forth by four drivers:

    1. Comics were in colour, something most publications didn't do back when they started, and bright costumes were the best way to take advantage of that in a highly visual medium.

    2. Originally, the art was not particularly detailed. With four male characters with brown hair wearing jeans and a t-shirt (or more likely a suit, back in the day), it would be hard to tell them apart when they weren't actively using their powers. Bright costumes dealt with the issue nicely, giving the readers/viewers an immediate method for telling the different characters apart.

    3. Comic book artists are inherently visual thinkers, and gravitate towards the iconography that superhero costumes and, more importantly, the symbols on their chests provide. The symbol becomes the character -- and we know how powerful that can be, because the introduction of little graphic icons in computer systems is what made them accessible to all, and not just the die-hard geeks in their basements.

    4. Superhero comics were originally marketed to children and young adults -- the kind of people who are attracted to bright, shiny objects and fantastic images. Costumes made money.

    So, now, after all these years, we're finally in a position where superheroes are truly entering the mainstream, with lots of people paying lots of money to make and see superheroic movies and TV shows. And just like what Clint Eastwood did for the Western in Unforgiven, there's no reason why the genre can't rise above its formulaic and flashy roots to produce works that truly resonate with the masses.

    Now, don't get me wrong. I love the conventions of superheroism, but I can totally see why others might want something different. People always want their gods to look cool, and right now, cool means street clothes. Cool street clothes, but still street clothes.

    (I suspect, by the way, that Rorschach will become the most popular character from Watchmen, because he successfully marries the street clothes with the costume-ish mask, and therefore looks modern cool and superheroic at the same time. Plus, of course, madness and angst always has its fans.)


  3. Thanks for both the comments- glad I touched a nerve on both powers and costumes. H- your remarks sound almost like a book abstract.

  4. Actually, it's just a quick outpouring of my thoughts on the issue. I hadn't actually ever written that all down before, just had minor discussions on certain bits of it. As a writer and reader of superheroic short stories, I've given a fair bit of thought to the whys and wherefores of the genre. I could probably produce similar stuff on just about any topic/trope in the superhero canon, given the proper stimulus.

    BTW - I like what you're trying to do with this blog. Keep it up.

    ABTW - I agree that for sheer depth alone, Marvel and DC have each produced a mythos that surpasses everything except that of the Indian subcontinental pantheons (and maybe the Egyptians, if you evaluate all of the layers separately).



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