I have never really been one for superhero movies. I didn’t grow up with Batman, Iron Man, or Wonder Woman as my idols. And as a teen, I never really got into superhero franchise movies — I felt if I didn’t already know the backstory, I would be too lost. The few superhero movies I did watch however, still failed to interest me. I felt that using an already perfect specimen as a hero defeated the point, the characters were bland, and I was never surprised. Overall, I felt the whole genre to be inaccessible to an audience that wasn’t already invested in the franchise.
Part of the reason superhero pictures feel so removed is because of how “super” the leads appear. Actors notoriously go through extensive training and dieting to attain the ideal physique for their superhero roles. And what for? To drive home the point that the characters are above the average Joe? As if demonstrating the “super” abilities wouldn’t be enough. Showing ideal characters only alienates the audience, making the characters more difficult to relate to. Yet, in a wild turn, the extreme disfigurement in Deadpool proves to make the lead more relatable. Deadpool’s constant awareness of his appearance makes him feel more human than any of the picture-perfect stars of other hero flicks.
Beyond physical perfection, the stereotypical superhero displays a consistently upright character arc, with little true personal development They are upright, moral, and respectable leads (heroes, if you will) from start to finish; the greatest amount of personal growth seen is often in the form of tackling new responsibilities, or fighting increasingly difficult foes. Doctor Strange, though, provides a refreshing counter to this stereotype. Initially, Strange is prideful, overconfident, and condescending. Yet, by the finale, he is humbled by his injury, and ultimately feels more human than before he attained his powers. Seeing a human — a person who goes through real struggle and comes out a changed person — become a hero is far more inspiring than watching an already perfect specimen conquer wondrous feats. To truly strike awe in their audience, superhero movies must show personality and growth in their leads.
From a more cinematic point of view, the superhero movie format is incredibly recycled. Live-action movies heavily dependent on explosions, though exciting individually, are the backbone of most every superhero movie. The style is visually redundant. Yet, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse offers so much flavor. The palette is vibrant and bright, and the synthesis of multiple comic styles creates a beautifully exciting picture. Doctor Strange, too, incorporates innovative visuals to keep the audience on their toes. And, though not every superhero movie can be as stunning at Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, a new bar has been set within the genre. This diversity in style shows the great potential that exists for the genre.
Superhero movie studios have seemingly recognized the overused tropes that have come to define the industry. Excitingly enough, filmmakers are beginning to reconstruct the blueprint. By appealing to the audience’s humanity and introducing new cinematic styles, studios can reach a vast new base.