Confession No 2: Superheroes

I thought I’d take a little break from Her Sweet Graffiti Monster this week and post about some intelligent story telling that has helped me adapt my approach to developing characters: comic book movies baby. You’ve already discovered my penchant for this kind of storytelling but I love seeing brilliance in genres that usually get overlooked.

I read an article on i09 recently about why Marvel is awesome and everyone else sucks. To sum it up, they suggest that movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are successful because they beat the “dreaded third movie syndrome”.

I would so watch this for ten years

According to the article, superhero franchises fall into these films:

  1. Origin Story – hero discovers powers, learns to use them for the good of society/friends
  2. “Crisis” Story – hero encounters new powerful villain that tests him/her and causes him/her to have doubts about their role as protector
  3. The “It All Goes To Crap” Story –  a story that’s supposed to sum up everything the franchise is about and redefine the character but it ends up being totally excessive and incoherent

Sounds reasonable, but I think Marvel works not because they do the third movie well, but because they do the second “crisis movie” right. In fact, every single movie in the MCU is a “crisis movie”.

fury 3d

You see, if you solve all your protagonist’s self-doubt with the first existential crisis they face then there is absolutely nowhere for that character to develop in any further stories/movies. Would you be 100% happy with yourself and your place in the universe after 240 minutes of screen time? Watching someone else overcome all their self-doubts in one afternoon is unrealistic, and not relatable. (For instance, I now am having a personal crisis after the word relatable has been underlined with a red squiggly line of uncertainty.) If you solve all your problems in one or two movies then it’s no wonder that the third movie sucks.

Now Marvel is different because in each movie the hero(es) face a new uncertainty, a new “crisis”, whether it’s Tony Stark’s anxiety attacks or obsessions, Thor’s indecision about his future and family, Black Widow being haunted by her past, Captain America never fitting in (in whatever decade he’s in) or Hulk’s (frankly quite justified) concern about losing his shit and turning into a giant green rage monster.


While each film has a satisfying conclusion and the heroes always overcome some aspect about themselves that was holding them back, they certainly don’t solve all their problems in one convenient ten minute resolution.  It certainly seems that Cap will be immersed in isolation and fear of not belonging well into Avengers 2 and Cap 3.

Marvel’s taught me that underneath all the capes, wavy locks, spandex and *dear god* those abs, the superheroes are still people. Marvel seems to be the only studio that gets that right now. Their characters will never be fully developed as they are always trying to better themselves, just like all of us.

This, in a nutshell, is why Marvel rules and everyone else sucks: a respect for the writing and the characters. Having Joss Whedon helps too I guess.

Sorry Spidey

So what do you think? Do Marvel develop their characters better than any other studio? Will Avengers 2 live up to the hype? Or are you waiting for Justice League? Isn’t Tom Hiddelston the dreamiest man in the universe? And is relatable a word? Why did I spend ten minutes searching through dictionaries and thesauri to make sure?


2 thoughts on “Confession No 2: Superheroes

Add yours

  1. Relatable is totally a word. But oh god that red line is there again. I do think that this is an interesting take on why Marvel seem to be doing so well. They certainly seem to have a lot of content for each character and it’s not in the goofy Spiderman “here’s a new creepy villain” way. It does seem to be more character-development focussed.

    1. Man I hate Spiderman, he’s such a dork. I could have gone on for longer about my Marvel theories but I didn’t want to write an essay! I think their choice of superheroes for the Avengers shows how focussed they are on characters. They had a lot of options yet no character in Avengers Assemble has a secret identity. Secret identities are boring and limiting.

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