Supertropes: Age of Unoriginality

With a huge amount of superhero films on the market, Jacob Clarke examines the existing tropes and questions whether they are improving in the light of new releases.

Jacob Clarke
7th November 2016

Superhero films are now staples of our summer cinema experience; this all started with Marvel’s Iron Man back in 2008. Witty, charming, real, action packed, plot driven, philosophical - themes that make a superhero film. Jon Favreau knew it when he gave us Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, sparking Marvel’s Phase One of endlessly popular films.

Iron Man was true to the source material, gave us action sequences difficult to forget, and an internal struggle over Stark’s own ego and warmongering morality. Overall it set the tone for the recent greats: The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy etc. However, there were excusable flaws in the film, expected for a new era of cinema. Yet have these flaws become tropes that run through our understanding of superhero films eight years on from Iron Man’s release?

Flaws such as a weak or uninteresting villain are starkly prominent when viewing such films. However witty or cunning they seem, they always appear to be beaten rather easily in the climax of the film. Take The Avengers for example; Joss Whedon’s 2012 mega film saw the god Loki beaten in the final battle in a matter of moments, despite his portrayal throughout the film as scheming and brilliant. He literally is the God of Mischief yet he is beaten rather rapidly by the brute force of the Hulk.

“It leads us to such forgettable villains that we often confuse them - what were their names? Oh well, the good guys won at least”

This pattern continues into almost every recent superhero film, and leads us to such forgettable villains that we often confuse them. The most recent Thor film gave us yet another cloaked madman set on, what was it? Destroying the good guys, wait no, wasn’t that the villain of Guardians of the Galaxy? What were their names? Oh well, the good guys won at least.

Another seemingly entertaining, but overused, trope is the charm of the main character. In almost every superhero film of the modern day, you will laugh multiple times at the impeccable comic timing of a group of people in an incredibly tense and stressful situation. Tony Stark’s wit is second to none, Thor’s deadpan rhetoric somehow seems to hit at exactly the right moment, and Captain America always knows what to say. It’s as if they don’t understand the dire situations they are in. The need for comic relief is understandable and plays a role in the source material.

However, this is very much overplayed, such as in The Avengers in the heat of battle where seemingly for no reason the Hulk punches Thor across the room; it adds very little to any sort of character or plot development but is an expectation of superheroes on screen.

Though this may be changing. After the hugely positive reception of the subversive Deadpool this year, filmmakers may be putting aside their convention tool kit for something different. With the announcement of upcoming titles, it appears they are ditching the charming white male protagonist with films such as Black Panther and Captain Marvel; introducing a complex black protagonist, and with a female protagonist such as Captain Marvel who will give an alternative outlook on the superhero universe, rather than the trope of the macho, womanising man we’ve come to expect from characters like Star-Lord and Stark.

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