In a previous podcast Barry and Dave discussed whether superhero movies really needed to show the origin of the character as their major plot point and character arc. Barry and Dave ultimately decided that in some cases a dedicated origin story was necessary, though in general all that was needed was the origin story to be integrated into a wider plot and in some cases no origin story was needed at all. I loved this idea, and below I look at some upcoming superhero releases and classify whether I think their origin stories should be Dedicated, Integrated or Not Needed.
A quick aside: I reckon in general we have seen enough superhero movies now to understand the basics – a person gets powers, struggles with them, figures them out and becomes a hero. Sometimes they try to be a hero while still figuring out their powers (like Spider-Man), while others wait until they have all their training down and then do the hero thing (Batman). As such, I think the best way to show the origin is as a pre-title sequence, or during the credits. We should only have to see an origin if there is an interesting twist in it (e.g. Despite his best efforts to be a hero and work with Charles Xavier Magneto ends up being a baddie), the origin itself is convoluted and needs extra explanation (like Cable from X-Force) or the character is better understood in the light of their origin (as it is with Moon Knight). OK, enough of the entrée, here comes the main course !
Doctor Strange: Integrated. I would like to see him as the Sorcerer Supreme right from the start of the film, kicking some mystic bottom in an arcane dimension like he did in the old Steve Ditko stories (This could be a cool pre-title sequence a la James Bond movies). As the film starts we meet Nightmare, who has been pressed into servitude by the big bad Dormammu to torture Dr Strange with all of his old doubts, guilt and consequences of his arrogance. So we see Stephen Strange as the arrogant a-hole he was as a young surgeon, then the depths he falls to when he has the car accident and becomes an alcoholic, the desperation to reach the temple in Tibet and gain the use of his hands, doubts he has as the student of the Ancient One etc. That way the origin becomes part of the overall character study in the movie, and an emotional/psychological arc (rather than a straight up action one) in which Doctor Strange defeats his own demons to defeat Nightmare. Then lots of cool magic pyrotechnics as he takes on Dormammu in the climax !!
Wonder Woman: Integrated. This would work best as the pre-title sequence- what can I say ? I like pre-title sequences ! – showing Diana winning the tournament, gaining her famous lasso and bracelets and flying off (in the invisible jet of course) to begin her mission in The Man’s World. For a more epic fell, make this like the opening scenes in Lord of the Rings with a voice over speaking of a princess made of clay who disguises herself to fulfil a destiny not expected of her and wins the right to be the ambassador of the Amazons (us geeks will enjoy the nod to the mythic feel of the George Perez Wonder Woman comics of the 80s). During the title sequence we see some of her adjustments to her new surroundings – eating a hot dog from a cart in New York, taking down some baddies, rescuing some kids from a collapsing building. We pick up the main story “a few years later” when she is ready to spread the word about the Amazonian ideal – basically use Greg Rucka’s run as a template. The gods, other Amazons and classic baddies are all in this run, and it would be awesome to see it on the big screen !
Black Panther: No Need. I agree having him mentioned in the Avengers movie would be super-cool, perhaps we could even see him fighting Ultron robots in Wakanda as we flash to different crisis points around the world. In his own movie he goes to the USA as he does in Chris Priest’s run, where we see him as the hero who is as smart as Reed Richards, as cool as Tony Stark and as well-prepared with cool tech as Batman.
SHAZAM: Dedicated. As you mentioned, it is way too easy to see “The Big Red Cheese” as a Superman rip-off (which, in all fairness, he was !). I reckon the way to go with SHAZAM is to make the movie a family one, and retain the magical elements of the original stories (which were captured in my favourite SHAZAM story, SHAZAM and the Monster Society of evil by Jeff Smith). Also keep in some of the “silly” elements, like Tawny the talking tiger and make it a superhero film which has the characters awestruck in wonder at the situation they find themselves in. Not every superhero movie needs to be serious, and this would be the perfect one to make into a family-friendly entry point. Sadly, this will not happen as the Rock has been cast as Black Adam so it seems it will be grim n gritty all the way.
Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers): Integrated. I originally thought – like Monts and Nuge – that Carol’s origin was so complicated and derivative of another character that it needed to be a dedicated story. After thinking about it more though, I realised an integrated origin which cuts out a lot of the extraneous stuff and gets to the core of the story would work much better. So we have a set up where the aliens have invaded Earth and Air Force captain Carol Danvers is on hand to help repel them. In the midst of the battle she is blasted with an alien ray and gains powers. The twist can be that she – like Rick Jones did in the original Captain Marvel comics – is linked to an alien hero called Captain Mar-vell (he should be Kree, like in the comics. So the aliens invading earth could be their old foes the Skrulls). Both Carol and the good Captain exist at the same time, and they share memories and sensory experiences. To unravel the mystery of this link Carol ventures into space, hoping to find Captain Mar-Vell and solve the conundrum. Perhaps they have been linked by the Kree Supreme Intelligence to become a Kree super-soldier or something. Carol calls herself Captain Marvel as a calling card “Tell the Kree with the white hair Captain Marvel was here”.
Aquaman: Not Needed. As Barry and Dave said, we all know who Aquaman is and most of us think he is a joke. We know he is a half-human Atlanteam King who can talk to fish and delving into detail on this will just lampshade how silly that premise is. Geoff Johns had the right idea in his New 52 run on Aquaman, where he igmored the origin and jumped into telling a story. Sadly for this old time geek, he made Aquaman an ultra-violent hero who loves to stab stuff with his trident. I would prefer Aquaman to be like the one on the Batman: Brave and Bold cartoon – a character who is tough and has cool powers, but is a bit of a blowhard who loves the sound of his own voice ! He is a king, but is full of over the top bluster like Brian Blessed’s King Richard IV in Blackadder (I suppose I just want to hear Aquaman say “Out-RAGE-ous !” once again !). Anyway, forget the origin, have Aquaman the king of Atlantis involved in some Game of Thrones type shenanigans with a rival undersea empire, or protecting Atlantis from both humanity’s exploitation of the ocean and an invading army led by his evil half-brother Orrin and containing the mercenary Black Manta.
I think it is time for superhero movies to become more clever in the way they reveal their protagonist’s back stories and origins and have them weaved into the greater action. This means the action can kick off from the beginning of the movie, and not be sidetracked until the hero has received their powers, worried about and/or be overjoyed about having them, and then learning how to use them. Even the most casual fan knows how the whole superhero thing works so we can use some shorthand to get the origin done and get to the real fun ! After all, last year’s most successful superhero film did not have a huge origin story for any of its characters. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord’s origin was the pre-title sequence (YAY !), Rocket’s and Gamorra’s were explained in a couple of lines (“He was created in a lab” and “she is the daughter of Thanos) and Groot’s not revealed at all ! I think this shows much like Marvel themselves, movie fans have finished with “Phase One” where the origins are all laid out and ready for “Phase Two” where the stories become more free to explore many other exciting aspects of the superhero’s story.
GS Blogger: Brett Harris