10 Annoying Things Every Superhero Movie Does –
Continuing to make bank at the box office and only increase in frequency every twelve months, it doesn’t look as though the superhero bubble is going to burst any time soon. While that can only be a good thing, with so many superhero movies coming out every year it’s no surprise that audiences have started to be subjected to a fair share of familiar tropes that make it into each an every one of these flicks.
This trend is seemingly down to two thing: studios are obviously looking to what made other smash-hits so successful and attempt to ape that for themselves, also down to the the comic-book source material itself, which is often built around its own series of repeated cliches, making it inevitable that certain beats are will eventually show up across every movie in this genre.
They aren’t necessarily bad when taken on their own, either – after all, directors use them for a reason – but they show up so often that it’s getting hard to not notice, and it might be about time filmmakers get some more ideas.
10. Characters Constantly Removing Masks
As seen in: Iron Man, Spider-Man, Venom
Though the complaint has died down a little in recent years now that audiences have realised it’s not going away, superheroes still have a bad habit of pulling off their masks/retractable helmets in the heat of battle. Heroes today – especially those in the MCU – don’t really have to worry about secret identities, but still, you’d think a big piece of armour would come in handy when you’re fighting alien invaders and literal gods.
It’s not a huge deal, but fans look forward to seeing their favourite characters all suited up and replicating double-paged spreads, but as soon as a dialogue scene starts, the masks immediately come off.
You can see exactly why studios prefer it this way, after all, when you spend $50 million to get somebody like Robert Downey Jr. in your movie, you want to show off that lovely face for as long as possible. Also it’s far easier to convey emotion, you know, when you can actually see an actor emote.
It still breaks the illusion somewhat though, and it’s frustrating to see when a movie like Dredd proved how it can be done.
9. All Corporate Businessmen Are Bad (Unless They’re The Hero)
As seen in: Iron Man, Ant Man, Spider-Man
When it comes to writing a villain evil enough to go toe to toe with a superhero, writers often boil it down to two choices: an all-powerful alien or a disgruntled businessman (usually a CEO) who ends up involved in some kind of experiment.
Going further, it’s common for these villains to be friends with the hero and, at first, appear to be on the right side of the law, eventually showing their true motives lie in greed and power. Though it’s always been popular, since the late 2000s and especially into the 2010s, big business has been repeatedly depicted as an immoral, untrustworthy force with a seemingly charming exterior, with directors perhaps trapping into real-world anxieties.
Of course, the exception to the “all business is bad” trope is when the hero – like Tony Stark – is involved with the corporate world, but even then these characters always have a sinister double like Obadiah Stane who shows them just how evil their company really is.
8. One Disjointed Scene To Set Up A Sequel
As seen in: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Batman v Superman
Since Marvel proved just how much dollar there is in creating a cinematic universe rather than simply making isolated franchises, every other studio in the game has tried to replicate that success. Attempting to catch up to the competition, instead of spending the time dropping in subtle references and making connections between characters, they’ve taken a sledgehammer to their movies and crowbarred in sequences that exist entirely to tease future projects.
This mentality led to scenes in the likes of Batman v Superman, where Bruce Wayne literally sits down to watch videos that establish the backstories of every hero involved in the Justice League, while flicks such as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 were essentially two-hour commercials for an array of upcoming projects (that eventually didn’t happen).
Marvel haven’t been free from falling into the trope either, with the most egregious example coming in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Thor went off on a random tangent to receive a premonition about Thor Ragnarok.
7. Fake Deaths
As seen in: Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Superman
No matter the medium, it’s always been a running joke that nobody ever stays dead in superhero stories. While characters will be killed off in comics regularly, they’ll always return at some point, even if it’s years down the line. Movies, on the other hand, speed this process up, to the point where “killed” characters are alive and well by the time the credits roll.
Unfortunately, this has increasingly made death lack any weight, as major characters fake their deaths all the time, with big names like Loki, Nick Fury, Superman and Phil Coulson all being “killed” at some point.
The latter is particularly egregious: his death was pretty much the catalyst of The Avengers getting their s**t together and finally being a team, yet the power of that moment was undermined when he proved too popular, and was brought back to lead the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D TV show.
It’s not that superhero movies need to be Game of Thrones, it’s just that knowing nobody is ever really dead removes some of the tension, and sets a precedent where audiences assume that major changes aren’t permanent.
6. Dead Parents
As seen in: Batman Begins, Spider-Man, Superman
Although this is very much an issue inherent to the source material, writers mining the fact that barely any superheroes have parents for dramatic tension has made every character’s origin feel a little samey.
Every one of these protagonists has mommy or daddy issues in some form, with the most extreme of course being Bruce Wayne, but dead parents have haunted everyone from Spider-Man to Superman. That’s not inherently a bad thing, of course, as there’s so many great emotional beats directors have wrung from this material, but it is starting to feel stale.
The idea of stripping superheroes of parents to give writers and characters more freedom and not marry them to boring real-world issues might have been liberating back in the day, but now it’s been covered so thoroughly that it might actually be more interesting to see how a hero would cope in that context.
5. Stripping Heroes Of Their Powers
As seen in: Thor, Spider-Man 2, The Wolverine
It goes without saying that the best part of watching superhero movies on screen is seeing how filmmakers have been able to bring to life the limitless possibilities that illustrators have on the page, revelling in the creative powers and abilities that define these characters.
Why is it then, that directors are so preoccupied with stripping the heroes of the distinctive skills that make them who they are?
Admittedly, I’ve just answered my own question; filmmakers love taking away the “super” part of superheroes to really dive into what makes each of these characters tick, away from the costumes and theatricality.
It’s a noble aim, and the trope has acted as the focus of some of the best entries in the genre ever, from Spider-Man 2 to Black Panther, but there should be a way to make these characters feel human without sacrificing the visual spectacle and creativity of the source material.
4. Hero Vs. Hero Fights
As seen in: Captain America: Civil War, Justice League, The Incredibles 2
Even though superhero comics birthed thousands of villains big and bad enough to take on any beloved hero on-screen, filmmakers seem utterly preoccupied with making heroes fight amongst themselves.
While this is most readily apparent in flicks specifically designed around these conflicts – such as Civil War and Batman v Superman – the trope is just as prevalent in regular flicks.
Between The Avengers coming to blows in the first two Joss Whedon movies, Thor laying the smackdown on the Hulk in Ragnarok and the entire Justice League facing off against a recently-revived Superman in DC’s latest effort, if there’s more than one hero featured in a film, it’s inevitable that at some point they will fight each other.
It can be cool to see them come to blows, but the problem with these scenes is they lack tension because you know they can only end one way, and it feels like wasted time when they could be facing off against a genuine threat.
3. A Not-So-Secret Identity
As seen in: Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming
Back in the early years of the genre, it was pretty much mandated that every superhero had to wrangle with their secret identity. From Nolan’s Batman films to Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy, the struggles of maintaining a secret identity was at the heart of these stories.
However, perhaps in response to the prevalence of this trope, the pendulum has now swung entirely the other way. It’s now uncommon for a hero to have a secret identity at all (especially in the MCU), and even if they do, it’s rarely considered a problem.
DC’s new version of Batman never seems to worry about people finding out who he is, and Bruce Wayne’s private life is rarely even brought up, never mind mined for dramatic material. Likewise, Spider-Man: Homecoming constantly compromised Peter Parker’s alter ego, with the Vulture, Ned and even Aunt May all figuring it out in the space of one movie.
Again, this seems to be a response to the genre’s early years, but there must be a middle ground to be found somewhere.
2. Henchman All Being Connected
As seen in: The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Man of Steel
Before The Avengers came along, superheroes only really fought a couple of similarly-powered villains and maybe a few goons in one movie. Joss Whedon changed that entirely with his first Marvel movie, however, by introducing a sense of scale to battles that justified the need for seven superheroes to team up, pitting them not only against a super-villain, but an army.
However, there was an obvious issue born from this approach: how the hell do you get rid of so many enemies by the time the third act wraps up? Unfortunately, most writers settled on the idea of having them all be connected somehow, making it so they could all be destroyed if the “queen” is killed (whether that’s a mothership or the actual main villain, in the case of Age of Ultron).
It’s extremely convenient, as it essentially means the filmmakers can have these sprawling battles while not having to worry about their long-term effects, essentially awarding the heroes with a reset button. That makes for cleaner storytelling, but the novelty certainly wears off when every movie relies on the trope.
1. The Hero And Villain Have The Same Powers
As seen in: Black Panther, Logan, Ant Man
A super-villain is always constructed to be the perfect ying to their hero’s yang, but studios like to make this relationship as explicit as possible, often making heroes and villains share the same powers, and often even the same costumes.
Perhaps the most recent example came in Black Panther, where the titular hero went toe to toe with Killmonger, a villain who donned a strikingly similar suit and the exact same set of powers as the protagonist. It made for a great showdown, as the only thing differentiating the two was their ideological alignment, but it would have landed so much better had audiences not seen superheroes fight their exact doubles so many times before.
It’s no lie that some of the best super-villains are mirror images of their foils, but there’s a way to retain this dynamic without literally making them exact doubles. The Joker and Batman are defined by being two sides of the same coin, but that relationship is so interesting because physically they’re so different, unlike, say, Iron Monger and Iron Man, who are distinguished simply by one being “good” and one being “bad”.