Thursday, January 3, 2013

It's Time To Kill The Origin Story

We’ve been so inundated with super hero movies in the last decade that we’re now well into reboot territory.

In 2012 Spider-Man was rebooted, in 2013 Superman will be rebooted for the second time in less than a decade, in a year or so we’ll get a Fantastic Four reboot, and now that the rebooted Batman Trilogy has ended, it’s only a matter of time until that’s rebooted too.

I don’t think there is anything objectionable about this — if you have an interesting character why not keep telling new stories?

But what doesn’t make sense is the obsession with retelling the same origin story over and over again.

For starters, when everyone knows the character’s origin, do we really need to waste screen time with this material?

This was the case with The Amazing Spider-Man — a solid hour spent reminding us that Peter Parker was raised by his aunt and uncle, he was a geek in high school, that his powers come from a mutated spider that bit him, that his uncle was killed shortly after that, etc.

And based on the trailers for Man of Steel, we’re going to be told what we all already know about Superman — he’s an orphan from the Planet Krypton, being omnipotent when he was growing up resulted in an awkward childhood, etc. Is there really anyone alive that doesn’t know these biographical bullets about Superman?

Superman coming from Krypton is as ingrained in our popular culture as Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s father. Even if you’ve never read a Superman comic or seen one of the movies or TV shows, you know these topline facts.

And this isn't even all of them

Besides the needless repetition, origin stories really aren’t that interesting.

Virtually all super heroes are motivated for the same one or two reasons: they simply feel obligated to use their powers for the benefit of mankind, especially because humans cannot defend themselves against super villains. Further, often their motivation is the result of some trauma — they were the victim of a crime so now they are compelled to stop crime. If you’re making a superhero movie and this is what your origin story boils down to, just skip it and start the film knee deep in the plot.

Now I know you’re saying, “we, the audience, need to know what makes the hero tick in order to understand them — their origin is key to that.” The problem is that heroes are generally unremarkable for that reason. That is, if you had super powers you’d either be robbing banks or putting bank robbers in jail — you’re going to use the powers either for good or bad — you’re not going to let them go unused. So there is no great mystery to why super heroes are super heroes — they have powers; of course they’re going to use them.

What I really don’t understand is why no one ever changes the origin story. Isn’t the point of a reboot to blow things up, to let new writers and directors take ownership of the character? This was my major criticism of The Amazing Spider-Man — the first act was almost identical point-by-point to Spider-Man 2002. The only new variation is that Peter’s father was involved in some shady scientific stuff and then mysteriously disappeared.

Let’s consider Superman.

With a few tweaks to his origin story you could change the character in all kinds of interesting ways. What if he was exiled from Krypton —maybe he’s then motivated to fight crime not for any love of humanity, but as a way of self-atonement for some crime he committed in the past? Maybe he also isn’t quite omnipotent — dramatically lower the bar for what can kill him so he actually is putting his life on the line for humanity.

You might think that it’s sacrilege to be changing these core characteristics of iconic heroes, but let’s remember that comic books are constantly relaunching characters.

Why not take a cue from them?

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