WriteMovies Director Ian Kennedy explores the works of Stan Lee and why superhero stories unleash our imaginations better than any other kind of stories…
At the heart of every superhero story is a central question that fires our imaginations every time, and nobody took it further than Stan Lee. The extraordinary array of well-known characters he brought into the world, which return again and again across many formats and platforms, is testament to that.
Cosmic stories like the creation of the universe are just too big to really relate to as stories, at least in the scientific telling – but many mythologies and religions make these stories relatable by ascribing these vast events to recognisably humanized figures. Gods like Zeus/Jupiter and Odin/Woden are presented like more powerful versions of human beings, able to shape the world with their powers and the sometimes arbitrary logic of their choices and lives; ancient heroes like Hercules and Beowulf are humans but given extra powers or significance. Superhero stories are clearly following in this tradition – and grasp towards almighty powers at times (DOCTOR STRANGE, CAPTAIN MARVEL, The Phoenix in X-Men).
By bringing these forces down (or up – SPIDER-MAN!) to our scale, we get to explore how people like us would act if they were capable of so much more than we are. It’s no coincidence that the modern superhero genre and many of its biggest characters have their origins in the Great Depression – when ordinary people were powerless against global economic forces. The flimsy justifications that the storytellers find for giving these figures their powers, are really just an excuse to let our imaginations run riot, and are quickly delivered and forgotten about in most of the origin stories, so that we can get onto the fun and exciting bit.
Nobody grasped the potential of these stories more, or took them further, than Stan Lee and the teams of writers and illustrators and filmmakers who he has worked with – the list of now-famous characters he created is vast. But at the heart of all these stories is just one very powerful central question, which is deceptively simple but really fires our imaginations. “What would you do if you could…?”
Superheroes and supervillains both play out these powers and their potentials and hazards throughout every story. Here are some of our favorites at WriteMovies from Stan Lee’s creations.
If you could… move and sling webs like a spider!
On the one hand, Peter Parker is just an ordinary teenager, worried about the same kind of things as any other teenager – on the other, he finds himself equipped with the awesome powers that make him SPIDER-MAN. We can all relate to his troubles at school while rooting for him to become a true superhero as he learns an important lesson: “with great power comes great responsibility”.
If you could… fly around in an armored suit!
IRON MAN’s Tony Stark is basically another Bruce Wayne, but with much quirkier personality. As an outright arms manufacturer, he’s also more morally compromised than Wayne. While Wayne has an orphan sob-story, Stark has an ego. And unleashing an ego that size, on a suit that powerful, creates excellent conflict throughout – so much so that in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, he can fight against many of our other heroes, without losing our empathy.
If you could… use you other senses to fight despite being blind!
DAREDEVIL has found immense success on Netflix, and with good reason. Matt Murdock is a deep, conflicted character, living in a world of darkness after being blinded as a child. With his other senses heightened, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen is so captivating because he doesn’t just overcome his physical disability but turns it into a strength, proving that anyone – even someone who is blind – can become a superhero.
If you could… shrink to the size of an ant!
Scott Lang may be a former criminal, but his desire to reform himself makes us support him all the same. As ANT-MAN, he proves that even the smallest person can make a huge difference – and all while showing us a crazy world around us too small for us to even see!
Stan Lee has given us plenty of amazing creations over the years, and the world is a lesser place without him. Take a look too at our thoughts on two films based on his other superheroes, THOR: RAGNAROK and BLACK PANTHER!
With the recent announcement of a BLACK PANTHER sequel, we look at why this will be a good thing for superhero films.
They are just not going away. Disney, Marvel, DC, and any other company making superhero films will continue to make them. They just make too much damn money. At least, in the case of BLACK PANTHER and its potential sequels, we might be going in the right direction.
BLACK PANTHER shows us cinema currently evolving. It has a strong black lead (and incredible supporting cast) and it has very sparing references to the wider MCU, almost making it a standalone film. We’ve written why both of these things already, so go check those two articles out! (Links below…) But in short, BLACK PANTHER allows black audiences, regardless of nationality, gender, religion, etc. to relate to a superhero character, for almost the first time. Sure, Blade and Storm (X-MEN) kinda count, but this is the first time that a superhero film has had a majority black cast, and the reaction to the film has been great. This has been a rare film where both critics and audiences agree on how good this film is. And now the film has even surpassed $500 million at the Box-Office – overseas! (Over $1 billion worldwide, which is just as incredible).
But BLACK PANTHER really sums up the way cinema, and specifically superhero films, is going. Black leads are becoming more prominent and production companies can bank on black actors more and more. But I particularly like BLACK PANTHER because it was essentially a standalone film. You don’t need to have seen IRON MAN, CIVIL WAR (which was Black Panther’s live-action debut), or any other Marvel flick to understand what’s going on with this film – and that’s great. Marvel seems to be adapting and evolving and moving away from every film being inherently connected – and that’s just fine with us!
Read more about BLACK PANTHER’s Box-Office success here: http://deadline.com/2018/03/black-panther-china-tomb-raider-wrinkle-in-time-international-box-office-weekend-results-1202334223/
Read about why scripts with black leads are big right now here and why it might be time for superhero films to stand alone here.
After the less-than-super Summer Box-Office, the power and attraction of superhero films may be declining. Some are suggesting that the expanded universes are on their way out and that stand-alone superhero films are back in (see this article). Jamie White discusses this potential new trend for superheroes…
This summer has shown some signs of this. LOGAN is pretty much a stand-alone in its own right and has little connection to the rest of the X-MEN universe really. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2 hasn’t shown much of a connection to the wider MCU (yet) either – and has a strong enough team not to need one.
Even looking at WONDER WOMAN, this was set way way out of the way from the already established DC universe. Maybe this was to distance it from the terrible DC films released recently to give DC the option to do stand-alone only films in the future.
Can standalone superhero films re-fill Hollywood’s empty summer theatres?
There have even been strong rumors that DC is considering a Joker origins story starring Leo DiCaprio and produced by Martin Scorsese – which I am not cool with. But, this does kinda indicate that Warners and Disney could be tempted into stand-alone films with no connection to their current universes.
Now, this does not mean they will stop milking their expanded universes, but this could present an opportunity to writers…
There could be the chance that more studios will be persuaded into producing superhero films that have no existing relation to Marvel or DC. We’ve all seen the praise for LOGAN for breaking the superhero mold, and there could be a chance that more of these types of films will be produced.
Let’s quickly look at the best stand-alone superhero film, or should we say films, arguably ever… THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy. This isn’t even thought of as a standalone trilogy, but there’s no connection to the expanded DC universe, and it would be almost criticizing the films to call them superhero films – they’re anything but really.
This trilogy takes Batman and the superhero genre to the most realistic and thematically mature place it’s ever been, and its success, both commercially and critically, speaks for itself. It’s realistic, it’s tragic, it’s pessimistic and noir-esque – it’s an all-round excellent subversion of the genre while still paying homage to it. With the mention of films that are sorta stand-alone (GUARDIANS, LOGAN, WONDER WOMAN) we forget that the stand-alone hero used to be the norm, and that pulling together all those worlds adds so many separate suspensions of belief that any failings of the movie are amplified. And let’s face it, two out three of those films above are in the top 10 best superhero films ever. It’s a little odd then how Hollywood is only just catching on to this again, especially with franchises like Bond and Indiana Jones not needing expanding universes to carry them.
So, THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy can be seen as the ultimate example of the promise of stand-alone superhero films, and if Hollywood can exploit this angle properly… it could be amazing.
We’ll likely just end up seeing the odd Joker origin film (sigh) but audiences are hungry for variation in their supers. Hell, who wouldn’t want to see more imaginative and original superhero stories?!
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