briarwood: Henry Cavil Superman (Superman1)
Morgan Briarwood ([personal profile] briarwood) wrote2017-01-03 02:33 pm

Do Superhero movies lack "story"?

Ridley Scott says superhero movies "have no story". I'm not entirely sure what he means but his comment reminded me of Amy's awesome comment on Raiders of the Lost Ark in The Big Bang Theory: that Indiana Jones is completely irrelevant to the story - if he were removed from the scripts the Nazis would still have found the ark, taken it to the island and all died as a result. (The rest of episode is taken up by the casts increasingly desperate attempts to disprove her thesis. Spoiler: they fail.)

And this in turn reminded me of an online discussion about over-masculine heroes - this is years ago. Essentially the debate centred on a certain type of protagonist who is granted "hero" status for solving problems he has created himself. Now this perfectly describes the first Iron Man movie: Tony Stark built WMDs, has some kind of epiphany where it occurs to him that WMDs make people die, decides that the solution is to turn himself into a WMD, which causes a bad guy to try the same thing... I have difficulty seeing morons as heroes.

I don't know if this is what Ridley Scott meant, but it does occur to me that for many superhero movies, it is true that if you remove the protagonist from the plot, either nothing changes (as in Raiders) or the original threat fails to materialize (as in Iron Man). It's terribly sloppy sorytelling. I don't think it automatically makes a bad story (I'll never call Raiders bad!), but I do think that, if I can figure out a way to turn this into an easy-to-test "rule", stories and movies that fail the test will be poor ones more often than not, at least in my subjective judgement.

Take Batman v Superman for example. If you can work your way through the convoluted plot (to what was really going on, it boils down to Lex Luthor was manipulating everyone because he wanted to kill Superman. So if you remove Superman from the plot, Luthor wouldn't want to kill him and so nothing would happen. [The same is true, incidently, of Man of Steel.] Contrast this with Captain America: The Winter Soldier: there the plot is about a shadow organisation, Hydra, building a super-weapon which will kill millions of people. It is uncovered by Nick Fury, prompted by Captain America's suspicions, and ultimately foiled by Cap. What happens if you remove Captain America from the plot? (Assume he never came out of the ice; don't erase him from existence entirely.) The plot is still happening independent of him and the key events of the movie would follow: Fury would have ucovered the plot, leading to the attempt on his life; the super-heli-carriers would still have launched as planned; Hydra would still have attemted to take over. In other words if you remove the protagonist, there's still a plot - the presence of the hero is what makes events play out differently.

Lest anyone accuse me of racking on DC, Batman Begins is so focussed on Bruce Wayne that there wouldn't be much story without him, but nevertheless the plot to attack Gotham was in progress before Bruce took on the cowl. This means that what Scarecrow and Ras Al Ghull were up to was going to happen with or without Batman's intervention and how other characters responded is where he makes the difference (which, IMO, is kind of the whole point of Batman). Arguably, this is where the next two films of Nolan's triloy fall down - would Joker or Bane have come to Gotham if Batman wasn't there? These show that the "disposable hero" doesnt automatically make for a poor story.

It's harder to apply that standard with ensemble movies like Avengers and Suicide Squad, but the latter, at least does support the theory. There's no one protagonist, but the film is about Amanda Waller solving a problem she created herself. That is, if she didn't have this dumb idea about creating a team of bad guys, there would have been no pissed-off Enchantress bent on destroying the city and therefore no need for the team to fix it. Since the audience wasn't privy to the key detail of how Waller got hold of the heart or what June/Enchantress was up to before that happened, there's no reason to assume she would have gone on the rampage if Amanda Waller stayed the hell out of it in the first place.

It's not just DC - as well as Iron Man, Marvel did almost the same thing with the first Thor movie, most definitely did it in Avengers: Age of Ultron and arguably again with Captain America: Civil War (though I would argue against the last of those, since that plot was built around how the heroes would deal with the consequences of their actions from earlier installments, so the trigger event in the movie itself wasn't really the thing that led to the conflict. Ridley Scott right? If this is what he meant by "no story" (and I don't know for sure), I feel obliged to point out that it also applies to Prometheus. But also - yeah, it describes some Superhero movies. But not all of them...not the best of them.