Saturday May 11, 2013
The Superhero Trilogy: Powers Revealed, Lost, Turned Evil
An observation about superhero sequels.
The first superhero movie of the modern era, the one that caused Hollywood to realize the money to be made from men in tights, was “Superman” in 1978. What happens to Supes in that Donner/Lester trilogy?
- I: Superman's powers are revealed
- II: Superman's powers are lost (so he can be with Lois)
- III: Superman turns evil (via synthetic kryptonite)
It doesn't seem like much of a formula—the box office for each sequel kept dropping—but we haven't gotten far away from it. The Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” movies follow it exactly:
- I: Spider-Man's powers are revealed
- II: Spider-Man's powers are lost (psychologically)
- III: Spider-Man turns evil (via intergalatic space goo)
There are subtler variations, certainly. At the end of “The Dark Knight,” Batman agrees to be perceived as evil, which, I've argued, is a smart move that prevents the series from descending into camp; and for the first half of “The Dark Knight Rises,” he's lost his powers through old age, injuries, and cynicism. He has to build his way back. Twice.
Even fucking Ghost Rider lost his powers in “Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vegeance.”
Of course, what matters is less the formula than the variations within the formula. Losing powers worked in “Spider-Man 2” and “Iron Man 3” (the Tennessee portion was the best part of that movie) but not “Superman II” or “X-Men 3.” And while turning evil is a tired plot device, the ways Bryan Singer handled it in “X2” and Christopher Nolan in “The Dark Knight” were inspired.
Even so, can't we get a new story now and again?
Apparently not. This summer, “The Wolverine,” sequel to “Wolverine,” opens in July. The big line from the trailer? “I'm not healing.” Apparently Logan loses his powers. Never saw it coming.
The classic superhero trilogy: powers revealed, lost, and turned to evil.