Thursday, 9 April 2015

Breaking the Origin Story Cycle (VOR)


Spider-man, Batman and Superman. Three superheroes whose beginnings and backstory we’re all familiar with, unless of course you’ve been living under a giant Kryptonite rock for your whole life.

And herein lies the problem - we all know these stories. Over the last two decades, comic-book characters have exploded from the pages of dusty books stored away in basements and propelled themselves into the wider cultural zeitgeist. So why do studios constantly insist on retelling these 'origin stories' again and again?

You know how it goes – a dead uncle here, some murdered parents there. The odd destroyed planet and baby rocket. It’s what we call the ‘origin story’ – the initial set-up of how and why a gangly teen or a tortured billionaire goes on to become your friendly neighbourhood vigilante and spend their nights beating goons to a gooey pulp.

Thomas and Martha Wayne lie dead in FOX's Gotham -
I don't know why anyone is surprised
As superhero films continue to snowball in popularity and attract new audiences, these stories increasingly form part of our contemporary cultural zeitgeist. Films like The Amazing Spider-man and The Avengers do big business at the box office, meaning even comic-book novices such as myself are becoming increasingly invested in the shared universes of Marvel and DC. Hell, even your doddery old Nonna could probably recite when and where Thomas and Martha Wayne met their grisly demise.

The problem is, Hollywood is insistent on telling us the same story over and over again. Year after year, more superhero stories are retold and rebooted, each time with a fresh cast, crew and vision. Tim Burton’s enchanting 1989 Batman film (and the 1992 sequel, Batman Returns) has been wiped clean by Christopher Nolan’s brooding Dark Knight trilogy. Sam Raimi’s delightful Spider-man trilogy soon became redundant once Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-man swung into cinemas a few years back. And now, the iconic web-slinger is starting from scratch again (again) in 2017 with a new cast and a new direction.

He’s not the only one. Ben Affleck is stepping into the cape and cowl of Batman for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice next March, a mere four years since we bid farewell to Christian Bale’s gravelly-voiced Caped Crusader in The Dark Knight Rises. He's not starting over (Affleck will be older and meaner than what we've seen before) but it's yet another incarnation that doesn't tie-in with anything that has come before. Superman himself was rejigged in 2013 after 2006’s Superman Returns crashed at the box office.

On top of that, Green Lantern will be returning before the end of the decade – but not before all memory of the disastrous 2011 effort are erased from our collective consciousness. Meanwhile, The Flash (who is consistently winning audiences over with his own weekly CW show) will be beginning again on the big screen a few years from now.

A similar story is playing out for numerous Marvel characters as well. The Fantastic Four are getting a fresh coat of paint this August and all recollection of their previous cinematic ventures are being forcibly forgotten (but let's be honest, that's a good thing). Lesser-known characters such as Deadpool and Gambit are also being reset in 2016 whilst Daredevil is arriving once more in his own Netflix TV show next month.

Marvel's latest TV endeavour
is Daredevil, a show exclusive to
Netflix
It’s getting to the point where I can’t stand to watch another origin story. There are only so many times I can watch Uncle Ben get gunned down before I lose interest. I simply can’t sit through Clark Kent’s childhood again before it becomes utterly meaningless and banal (kind of like Man of Steel, amirite?).  

We’ve been battered over the head with so many origin stories that they’re starting to lose all weight and meaning. These new films feel like they’re just going through the motions, ticking off the necessary plot points from a long list that starts with ‘dead parents’ and ends with ‘acquire superhero suit and stare wistfully off into the middle distance pondering a more hopeful future'.

It’s quite frustrating and insulting to be honest – don’t make your audience pay to see a film where the hero doesn’t become ‘the hero’ right up until the credits begin to roll. I don’t want to sit through that and have to wait another two years to actually see some actual ‘hero’ing – just get on with it! It’s like a book snapping shut after Chapter 1 and making you wait ages until you can keep reading the rest. I haven't yet seen it, but I'm going flip my shit if Marvel's new Daredevil show ends with him properly becoming Daredevil right at the end of Season 1. 

Which leads me onto this - it’s not just film. Television is getting in on the cyclical origin story action as well. The poor Wayne family were once again lying face down in an alleyway with bullet holes in their back at the start of Fox’s new Batman prequel, Gotham. The entire show is one big origin story and will never be anything more than an extended, unnecessary prelude to something greater. 

There are rumours swirling that Superman is getting a similar treatment soon whereby audiences are treated to a lengthy, utterly meaningless exploration of his home planet, Krypton – right before it collapses in on itself and everyone dies of course. Oh, oops - spoiler alert. I mean, c'mon - what's next? An Aunt May TV show before Peter Parker is born?

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate the superhero genre. On the contrary in fact, few films in the next year excite me as much as Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron or Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man. The aforementioned Flash TV show is simply amazing. It’s colourful, funny, inventive and always exciting to watch. On top of that, video games like Rocksteady’s Arkham series are both widely loved by fans and critically-acclaimed. When done right, the superhero genre (and yes, it is now a whole genre to itself) can be enthralling, captivating and more entertaining than anything else currently in production.

Sam Raimi's Spider-man (2002) - the best we've seen so far?
All I’m trying to say is, enough with the origin stories and constant 'do-overs'. Anyone who cares about Peter Parker’s story has already seen Spider-man (2002) and Amazing Spider-man (2012). Heck, if they’re a fan they’ve probably watched numerous animated shows and read various comic-books in between the films. Safe to say, they know the origin story. They’re more than familiar with how Peter Parker’s story begins. They don’t want or care about a third (!) retelling of how he became Spider-man – they just want to see their favourite superhero done right.

Beginnings are important, there’s no denying that. The way your story starts has to grip the audience and hook them into wanting to learn more about the characters. If you’re just telling the same tired story over and over like a broken record, interest is going to wane. Fast.

So, Hollywood, here is my message to you – just skip it. Skip the beginning. We don't need to see it again. You know it, we know it, Keith Chegwin knows it. Just fast-forward to the good stuff like a horny teen glued to a 20-minute porn video – please, spare us from suffering through another Spider-man origin film. Poor Uncle Ben needs a break, bless his little heart.

4 comments:

  1. Great post! Films like Iron Man and Thor got me into comic books so a few years ago, origin stories were great for me as I had no idea how these guys even became superheroes. But you're right, we've seen enough now, let's just skip to the ass-kicking!
    - Allie

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    Replies
    1. My thoughts exactly - I was never a big superhero fan until films like Spider-man came along, and now I know the basics back to front. I don't want to watch a complete do-over with the same plot points every other year :) Thanks for commenting Allie!

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  2. I agree with you, here. However, many people enjoy the origin story more than anything else, and, while we expect superhero films to be good, the studios just expect them to make money. In my opinion, the superhero-movie world has nowhere to go but down. So, sit back and enjoy the next year or two, before we enter the era of one superhero film per month... because we can all expect it to go to crap at that point!

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    Replies
    1. That's an interesting point because you're right in thinking the fatigue will set in eventually. Are people going to be as excited for more superhero films in two or three years? It's hard to see where the genre can go from here. Thanks for commenting Tanner :)

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