Superhero Power Creep

lead_960A few days ago I went to see Batman vs. Superman: A Movie Mostly Spoiled by Trailers. As the title suggests, the movie leads up to a fight between Batman and Superman, with one of the big questions throughout the movie being, “How can Batman possibly compete against Superman?”

Superman can fly. He’s incredibly strong. Bullets bounce off of him. He has heat-ray vision. Sure, he has one notable weakness–kryptonite–but without it, he’s nearly invincible.

This makes Superman both really fascinating and really boring.

It’s fascinating because I think we geeks like power creep. What’s better than a 12 foot giant? A 20 foot giant! What’s better than someone who can run faster than the speed of sound? Someone who can run faster than the speed of light! We love that stuff.

But…it doesn’t work cinematically. Particularly when two near-invincible forces fight each other. In both recent Superman movies, there are epic battle scenes where Superman (and General Zod, in the first movie) just punch each other a lot. For those punches to resonate with the audience, though, they need to matter, and they don’t. They don’t even hurt.

The solution to making those action scenes more interesting, in my opinion, is to give the invincible characters interesting choices. Save one or save many. Reveal your identity or remain anonymous. Team up with one person or the other. Chase the bad guy or run away. That kind of thing.

To Zack Snyder’s credit, he does give Superman a few interesting choice in between all of the meaningless punching. I’m looking forward to see how Marvel deals with this issue with Thor and Hulk in their next movies.

What do you think about superhero power creep?

9 thoughts on “Superhero Power Creep”

  1. Superheroes need to be superhuman enough to be interesting and human enough to be relatable to. Superman for me fails on both accounts. Batman on the other hand works very well (he is after all actually human).

    I’m still doubting whether to go see the movie though…

  2. If you want to get really nerdy another great VS would be Juggernaut (an unstoppable force) vs Blob (an immovable object).
    Before going with my dad he asked “how can Batman even compete?!?” To which I responded “Kriptonite, and/or the sun”. As far as I’m aware, they ALWAYS give them a weakness!

  3. Conor: Juggernaut vs. Blob would be awesome. 🙂

    I thought the movie would reference the sun as a source of Superman’s power as well, but it never came up.

    Bastiaan: Well said. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Batman has had a number of more successful franchises than Superman.

      • That’s true, I see what you’re saying. I thought it would come up the opposite way, like Batman would try to fight Superman deep underground where he might be weaker.

        • To be honest that was more what I was expecting too: “blocking out the sun”. Like in Superman Vs Aliens (check it out if you haven’t!).
          But I don’t think the general public knows his need for the sun and I was surprised the movie DIDN’T come out and say it directly like they usually do.

  4. Superman has always been pretty boring to me when he punches his way through a problem. I haven’t seen the new movie yet, but I think this is superman at his best:

    On the other hand, I liked in Hush when Poison Ivy turns him against Batman. I think this is a more interesting, but sometimes overlooked, weakness that Superman has – succeptibility to mental and emotional deception. He is ultimately powerful, and even though he is a paragon of virtue, it makes him predictable by the likes of Lex Luthor. He can often be misled, entranced, or controlled by his more cunning opponents, and his raw power can be turned to their purpose.

    • So in other words, I think superpower creep is ultimately detrimental to these movies. Not so much a superhero movie, but even the Hobbit trilogy needed to ‘top’ the action of LOTR, and as a result I felt like the emphasis on story and mood of the films declined, and at times during the 40+ minute action sequences I felt like I was just watching an elaborate pinball machine.

      • Michael: Wow, that’s a beautiful scene you shared via that link. Thank you. It’s very powerful. That would make an incredible scene in the movie.

        Given what you said, you might be interested in one of the tough decisions Superman has to make in the movie.


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