Thursday, May 08, 2008

Defining a Hero

I think super heroes suffer from a problem that no-one seems to have talked about before. This is very much tied up with the rules of the genre.

The thing is about any super hero/science fiction/fantasy film is that there is a need to establish the rules. You aren't existing in the same universe as yours, and things like, for example, people flying may happen here. The viewer needs to have a good idea of these so they can not feel cheated if a hero does something unexpected- as long as they are following the rules the film has set itself. This is important, and is what many people miss when they laugh at people pointing out odd continuity errors or jumps of logic "it's a world in which people can fly!" Well yes, yes it is, but it doesn't mean they can also inexplicably take a bullet then just get up a minute later and not mention it anymore. This is, by the way, why the excuse "a wizard did it" does not really work....

Now super hero films usually only have a few rules to tell- our characters power and abilities. Normally this is easy to find out. The issue comes in terms of mortality. Spiderman is clearly mortal. He's fast, strong, and tough, but bullets are still going to kill him, so we can guess how much danger he's in. When doctor octopus claw almost rams into his head, we know if they hadn't, he would have died.

But then you go up in the power level- Hulk, Iron Man, Superman. These beings are damn near invunerable. So tension is harder to generate. A plane is about to fly into our hero.... will that even scratch them? We don't know, as often the powers are ill defined, so we can't really feel that worried. Even super man's nemesis, kryptonite, appears to only deeply inconvenience him- he just looks a bit ill when it's about. Some films with big nasty heroes and villians will end with a big old brawl, but it will be meaningless. An excellent example of this is Neo versus Agent Smith in the final matrix film. Ignoring the rest of the nonsense, theres a big fight going on.... but theres no way to tell who is winning! They blast energy at each other, but it really doesn't have a huge amount of effect, and the only way to guess how each one is doing is the expression they are pulling.

Fights always have more tension if we recognise our hero can lose, and are very much aware of the conditions when they are going to lose. If we are told that superman is fighting someone with a kryptonite blade, which, if it cuts him, will kill him, then we can become involved in the fight again, because not only do we know our hero is in genuine danger, we know exactly what that is.

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1 Comments:

At 1:56 pm, Blogger Hilarious Catastrophes said...

Not only the danger, but the level of human frailty also makes a difference to how one gets involved. For example, the fact that we see Spiderman apparently give in to the dark side. Not only is he a hero, but he is vulnerable also, which fuels the premise that our hero may not win, or at least, will have to overcome conflicts within themself.

Another tool used is revenge... the threat to those most close to the Heros personal life... whether friends or family...And this adds another dimension to the mix... will they seek revenge when loved ones are lost; will it push them to breaking point?

Ahhh.... such questions... Whatever makes these characters Heros, it cannot be their superpowers alone... They have to be convincingly flawed to make their struggle seem worthwhile. :o)

 

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