You may have noticed I’m rather fond of superhero movies. I usually enjoy them, I do, but I have to admit most of them just aren’t very good. There have been some exceptions, but by and large the best that can be said of a superhero movie is that it’s entertaining. I’ve been pondering why this is so, and I think I’ve figured out why it’s so hard to make superhero movies. Superheroes, by definition almost, are superhuman. Either they have a power, or brains, or something that makes them more than human. And movies are also, by definition, fantastic. Herein lies the problem. In a movie about supposedly ordinary people, they are shown performing superhuman feats, especially the main characters. Main characters are punched nine or ten times, and still manage to stand up and beat the person who’s hitting them. They are thrown around like ragdolls, but stand up and fight, or stand up and run away. They are in car crashes that total the car, but they walk away with a few scrapes and cuts.
Consider James Bond. A dashing British super secret agent who is smarter than MacGyver and more agile than Gumby. And while Bond is supposed to be the best, he’s also supposed to be just a guy. That’s the problem. No one in movies is really just a guy. It wouldn’t be very cinematic for Bond to fall down after one or two punches to the gut, unable to breathe or fight, although that’s what would happen to an ordinary man. It wouldn’t be very cinematic for Bond to actually get his butt kicked against five people, although that’s what would happen to an ordinary man (the latest Bond movies not withstanding). It wouldn’t be very cinematic for the five guys fighting the main character to jump him at once, rather than one at a time, although that’s what five thugs would actually do.
Or consider the Die Hard series. John McClane is supposed to be the “everyman” cop put in a very bad situation. He takes punishment like a champ for pretty much the entire series. But the appeal of this movie is that John is supposed to be an ordinary guy under extraordinary circumstances. But really, is anyone in an action oriented movie really ordinary? Does every CIA agent have the training of Jason Bourne? Or the training of Ethan Hunt? Heck, even Sarah Walker and John Casey from “Chuck” are total bad-asses.
So the bar is already set pretty high for the fantastic because no one is just an ordinary person. When superhero movies come along, the director is forced to walk a very fine line between spectacular and just cheesy. And it’s a problem. Sure, your average superhero can beat five guys in a brawl, but so what? So can James Bond. So some superheroes have super dexterity. So what? Even “Charlie’s Angels” fly through the air with the greatest of ease (and wire-fu). So some superheroes have nifty powers. So what? Spies always have access to super-nifty high technology. Superhero movies almost have to end up cheesy, because the audience’s baseline for what is “believable” in movies is so high already. Superheroes are supposed to be more than mere mortals, so they have to be even more fantastic than ordinary people, but that’s hard to do, which is why so many seem almost silly.
But then again, enjoyable and entertaining are not bad qualities in a movie, or else I wouldn’t see so many superhero movies. Also, it makes the movie summaries entertaining to read and write.