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Origin Stories in Superhero Movies

I like superhero movies. I see them all, when I can. Sometimes I end up waiting for them to come out on Netflix, but that’s mainly because I have a family, and it c
osts between fifty and a hundred bucks to take everyone to the theater. And believe me, if I snuck out and went by myself, I’d never hear the end of it. So, if we have the disposable income, we’ll go see it, otherwise, I have to wait.

But, that’s beside the point. My point is, I love the movies, especially the ones that Marvel’s putting out. The DC flicks are fine, too, but spotty. I think they do a much better job on the Warner Brothers Animation pieces. I love the TV shows too. But, I’m mainly talking about movies, here. I love ’em.

But they piss me off.

The reason they piss me off is that they always end up wasting a third of the movie retelling the damned origin story.

Bruce Wayne’s parentsspiderman-xlarge were murdered. A Kryptonian baby winds up on Earth, gets adopted by a nice family. Peter Parker got bit by a radioactive spider. Steve Rogers was an experimental super soldier. Tony Stark, crazy billionaire. Diana, Amazon princess. Bruce Banner, a cautionary tale about playing with radiation. Hal Jordan found a ring. The list goes on.

My point is, we all know this stuff. If you’re making a movie about any of the above characters, you don’t need to spoon feed it to us again.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But Nick, we want to draw in a general audience. Not everyone’s a comic book geek.” Yeah, I get that. But, people who have never been into comic books aren’t going to go to these movies on their own. They’re getting dragged there by someone who is. Let their dates explain it to them. Maybe you can just call a five minute intermission to give them time to do so. Then, put the rest of the time into the actual story.

Let me ask you a question. What’s James Bond’s origin story? In the old, pre-Daniel Craig, 007 franchise, we don’t really know. We know he was in the Royal Navy. He’s addressed as “Commander” every now and then, so we know he was an officer. But they never bothered to tell us how he got recruited to MI-6, how he ended up with his “double-oh” status, or any of that stuff.

Now, did that ruin the movies for any of you? Did they draw a general audience?

That’s what I thought.batman-025

Now, I know we’re talking about two different genres, here, but I think my point stands. If a story’s crafted well enough, an origin story just takes us space. Worse, it gets in the way. In Batman Begins, not only do we get Batman’s origin taking up half the movie, but we’re also locked into the Ra’s al Guhl storyline. In the Tim Burton Batman, the origin locks us into a storyline involving the Joker, who we find out is the guy who killed Bruce’s parents. Now, those are both awesome villains. Don’t villains like those deserve better than to die in the first movie? (Alright, that’s another blog post)

Now, I get that there are some superheroes who need a little explanation. Deadpool’s a good example. He’s newer (to me, anyway), and his story isn’t part of our cultural heritage. Maybe the origin story is long-overdue for an update, like Ant-man. But, they both fall into the same trap. Once you blow a third of your budget on retelling the origin, you almost have to spend the rest of the story dealing with the fallout from that. I mean, that’s your first act. In a three-act structure, you don’t have the time to do anything else.

MV5BMTUyNzk3MjA1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTE1Njg2MQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Now, let’s consider a case where I think they got it right. In 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, they knocked out the origin story in the credits. That meant that the story could begin with Bruce Banner looking for a cure. No wasted time.

Look, I’m not saying an origin story isn’t important. Where superheroes are concerned, you have to establish certain facts. How the hero’s powers work. What limitations he has. What crippling psychological trauma led to him doing the crazy things he does.

I’m just saying that it’s not the first act. In comics, print, and even TV shows, there’s plenty of time to explore this, although since it’s all exposition, even then it needs to be done in small doses. In a movie, you don’t have that kind of time.

Alright, I’m done with my rant. What do you think? Am I right, or am I full of crap?

Let me know in the comments.

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