I’m not sure why, but I’ve never been much interested in Superheroes. Okay, I was a bit attracted to Batman since he could pull off his miraculous saves without having any super powers. For Superman to fly, bend iron crowbars and see through walls, well . . . that seemed to be cheating. After all, I could save the world if I could melt lead with my eyeballs.
As a result I’ve pretty much avoided the superhero movie genre, leaving it in the domain of squealing young girls and over-testosteroned adolescent boys, but in an effort to keep up with what my students are talking about I bit the speeding bullet and slapped down my cash to see Justice League, the newest entry in the leotard-ed hero market.
Yes, I was the only one in the theatre of my age. In fact, my socks were older than the average audience member that night. In brief . . . and this is no spoiler since the plot is the least important part of a superhero movie . . . Batman is inspired by Superman’s selfless act so he grabs Wonder Woman (figuratively speaking), and they enlist Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash to save the planet. It really doesn’t matter what’s threatening planet since the earth is always in trouble in these movies.
So instead of the silly plot I found myself dissecting this movie to see what makes a superhero flick work. What do all these movies have in common? I think I may have discovered the formula.
Tights. Lots-and-lots-of-tights. You just can’t be much a superhero wearing khakis and loafers. You need tights that are color-coordinated with the rest of your outlandish outfit and they should be tight enough to reveal any recent scars.
Bass speakers. If you attend a multiplex theatre with several auditoriums to choose from, you don’t even have to read the movie titles in the hallway if you’re looking for the superhero movie. Just listen for the boom of the bass speakers and notice the carpet bouncing in front of the theatre door. And God help you if you are in an adjoining theatre watching a quieter flick like “Finding Nemo.” The booming of superheroes next door will splash the fish right out of their bowls.
Witty repartee. In a superhero movie it is absolutely essential that any dangerous act be preceded by a clever remark. No more bland dialogue like, “Gee Whiz, Batman!” The modern superhero must toss off a nonchalant line to show us that he isn’t really frightened by the fact that he’s surrounded by radioactive ooze up to his neck. To die in a superhero movie without being at least a little bit funny is a major sin. You must go out with both a tear and a laugh.
Hunkiness & Beauty. It goes without saying that you can’t be a superhero if you’re shaped like Elmer Fudd. I have a feeling that a good many patrons of these movies don’t go for the intricate plot or the great music. They want to see sexy people wearing as few clothes as possible. I’m sure there’s many a teenage girl who could care less if the Earth gets destroyed by a disease-laden comet as long as she gets one more profile shot of Thor. I doubt that the young boys in the audience that night came to study biology instead of cinematography.
Blow Things Up. You cannot have a superhero movie without blowing things up. The more you can blow up the better. But the things you blow up must be loaded with fuel or explosives so they can blow up bigger than the average thing. Even inanimate objects containing no explosive properties whatsoever must cover the screen with their fire and disturb the fish cartoon next door.
Keep Death Clean. When you blow up something like a building that must surely be full of people, don’t show anyone actually dying. No drawn out hyper realistic Saving Private Ryan death scenes. If you hit a guy so hard that he goes into cyberspace, don’t actually show his splattered body landing on Neptune. Yes, on the rare occasion when a superhero or an arch villain dies, you can prolong the scene, just don’t let it be a screaming, messy death or you’ll get a rating that will prohibit most of your intended audience.
Easy on the Acting. If you cast a real actor with worthwhile lines in a superhero movie you’ll make the other actors look bad. Keep it to two syllable words, lots of exclamation points, and whatever you do, don’t be subtle. Don’t say, “It’s been creeping up on me, this burning, this terror, this fear.” Simply make it, “Damn! My foot is on fire!”