“Kind of makes you mad not to know who you are. Your soul disappears, nothing is as bad as uncertainty. Listen, maybe you’re not supposed to be Spider-Man climbing those walls. That’s why you keep falling. You’ll always have a choice Peter.”
– Dr. Davis, Spider-Man 2
Note: For this series, I will be using “sequel” to refer to the second movie in a trilogy and “threequel” to refer to the third.
About a year after the events of Superhero: The Movie, we return to see the Hero’s story continue. He has been successfully protecting his city, but is still having trouble finding a way to balance his two new lives. As the sequel progresses, the Hero begins to question his choice to become a superhero and decides that he wants to live a normal life. He gives up his powers and his calling, only to realize that it is not in his nature to surrender. It is not his abilities that make him a superhero, it is his heart.
There are three main factors that go into the Hero’s decision to give up being a superhero, each of which is introduce in the first act. First, the Hero will find that he is not needed and that there are people who can replace him, then he will realize that his heroics are endangering as many lives as they save. Finally, he will decide that he wants to be with the Damsel more than he wants to be a superhero and give it all up.
While the Hero begins to doubt how necessary he really is, a new Villain surfaces with a personal vendetta against the Hero. Whether it’s the Joker’s simple desire to ruin the order that Batman has brought to Gotham, Ivan Vanko’s desire for revenge against the Stark family, Harry Osbourne sending Doc Ock after Spider-Man, or Zod’s attempt to destroy Superman’s home planet once again, the Villains in sequels are always out to get the Hero and they don’t care how many innocent people get hurt in the process. These personal vendettas cause the Hero (and the public) to wonder if he is creating more problems than he’s solving.The first step towards the Hero relinquishing his duties comes when he realizes he is no longer the only one who can protect his city. In Iron Man 2 and The Dark Knight, this comes in the form of outright imitators, people trying to duplicate the armor these heroes use so that they too can become keepers of the peace. In Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Blade II, there are others with similar abilities taking on similar roles. Reed knows that if he and Sue quit the FF, Ben and Johnny will still be there to pick up the slack, while Blade could delegate his duties of keeping vampires in line to the Bloodpack. In other cases, the Hero might simply see himself as having had a good run, but ready to return the responsibility to the police, such as Superman and Spider-Man.
The final straw for the Hero comes when his superheroing starts to drive an even bigger wedge between him and the Damsel. The Hero is shown to have made sacrifice after sacrifice in both his personal and professional lives, but the one thing he refuses to give up on is his relationship with the Damsel. But when the Hero finally becomes confronted with the choice between a life with the Damsel or a life as a superhero, he will inevitably choose the Damsel. He sees his superhero-self as unnecessary, easily replaceable, and making life too difficult for him and the people around him. He gives up, throws in his cape, and resigns himself to lead a happy, normal life. This is seen most poignantly at the end of the first act of Spider-Man 2, as Peter Parker throws away his Spider-Man costume and dramatically declares, “I am Spider-Man no more.”
After giving up being a superhero, the Hero begins to enjoy all the things he was missing before. This usually focuses on his relationship with the Damsel, but can also include him having more time for other parts of his life that he was ignoring. For instance, in Spider-Man 2 Peter’s grades start to improve and he is finally able to be there for Mary Jane. He is no longer obligated to protect people and can ignore crimes in progress. In Superman II, Lois and Clark are able to consummate their relationship. There will also be a party of some kind around this time, which helps to emphasize how much fun the Hero can have.
Much like the middle of the first film, the Villain will usually spend the second act preparing his attack against the Hero. If the Hero and the Villain do face off in the first half of the film, the fight will end in either a stalemate or with the Hero winning, unlike the first film where the Villain is more likely to win. Suffering from the humiliation of defeat makes the Villain even more determined to take down the Hero in the end.
Right before the Villain strikes, the Hero will be faced with a situation where he needs to rescue someone without his abilities. For instance, Peter Parker runs into a burning building to save a child, while Bruce Wayne causes a car crash to protect Coleman Reese. Clark Kent gets into a bar fight defending Lois and experiences pain for the first time. Yet, even without their powers, these Heroes are able to demonstrate their heroic nature.
This is where the Hero is faced with the hardest choice of all. He has seen what his life could be as both a superhero and as a normal citizen. But even without his powers, he can’t resist helping people. Being a superhero is a part of who he is, and nothing and no one, not even he himself, can change that. And when the Damsel is put in danger once more, the Hero knows that he must don his costume once more and save the day.
As the Hero decides to rejoin the fray, he gets an upgrade to his abilities. In some films, the upgrade is quite literal: both Batman and Iron Man get new suits with better capabilities, while the Fantastic Four get the Fantasticar. Superman and Spider-Man regain their powers and come back stronger than ever. Now, not only is the Hero absolutely determined to beat the Villain, he has even more firepower to use against him.
This leads directly to the final battle. Like the first film, the Villain will directly threaten the Damsel; however, in the sequel, the Damsel is chosen exactly because she is important to the Hero, and not by happenstance. The Hero will also generally have to turn to the Secondary Hero to help him beat the Villain (or Villains). Iron Man could not have beaten Vanko without War Machine, just as Batman needed Gordon to defeat Two-Face. In the end, it is the Villain’s own hubris and anger that brings about his defeat. His fixation on killing the Hero makes him careless, giving the Hero just the opportunity he needs to win
With the Villain taken care of, the Hero will return to the Damsel once more. Since the Damsel almost always knows the Hero’s secret identity, they are finally able to start an honest relationship, his reward for becoming a superhero once more.