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Out With Origins, In With Universes

The notion of superhero fatigue sparks an ongoing debate which rises to the surface every time a new superhero film comes out. These franchise juggernauts are vacuums consuming the box office numbers and are the only examples when a $180 million opening weekend can be contemplated as a disappointment. Even if Civil War numbers don’t match Avengers numbers, it’s clear these movies still turn in a profit. When one stops and considers how many non-comic fans actually go along with all this, it’s rather incredible that these colorful, grandiose properties can make the money they do. As geekdom now sits comfortably in the mainstream conscious,  these studios are fighting to construct their own movie universes and out-nerd each other. For the sake of staying relevant, superhero films do need to take narrative risks as well as getting excessively grander with each subsequent release.

The most direct pinpoint to address regarding potential fatigue for superhero movies is the origins. Origin movies, while fine when introducing characters relatively unknown to the public, can feel like repetitive strolls through basic plot points: We have ordinary character, they get extraordinary power, they become titular hero. With Ben Affleck as Batman and Tom Holland as Spider-Man, both actors were given roles carried over from enough preceding actors to feel like the 007 franchise. We were fortunate to sit through a relatively brief origin in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice before going right into the character. The film establishes the character and his position in this world without recycling the backstory which everyone knows at this point. Instead of showing Batman just starting out, we get an older Batman whose beatdown and branding will leave you (literally) scarred for life. It’s the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Adam West and gives a refreshing take that has not been done before on screen.

Holland’s Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, was given a flawless scene revealing the summation of his character’s traits and motives without even needing to say Uncle Ben’s name. Spider-Man was more of a teaser than anything else, but it worked perfectly to garner more hype for his official portrayal in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Spider-Man and Batman are characters who transcended genre before comic books were a thing of popular interest and are as familiar in media as anyone. Introducing these seasoned heroes in less conventional ways saves everyone the trouble of sitting through yet another rehash of their origins and moves quicker into the expansiveness of the cinematic world.

Wonder Woman’s first time on screen may have been even more of a tease than Spidey, but it worked with the uproarious cheer in everyone’s theater when she shows up for the climax. A simple smile when battling Doomsday was enough character insight to prove the complete badassery that is her character. Black Panther, however, was given a complete entrance and proper character arc all within the narrative of Civil War that did not distract from the primary conflict. The sequences of events that lead him to assuming the mantle and donning the costume operate in a reasonable runtime that doesn’t feel forced.

All four of these characters will get their own films which will most likely flesh out their stories and bring in their supporting casts existing in their specific settings. The necessity to include more and more characters into each new superhero epic will feel tired and convoluted (depending on which studio you are) but giving new and old characters more simplistic intros without losing gravity can only elevate their appeal to everyone.

Are you tired of origin stories? Are the studios doing a good job of introducing these characters? Comment below or on Twitter!

About the author

James Leggett