So… Is It Good?

A blog featuring the various writings of E. H. Lau.

Archive for July, 2017

What Makes a Movie a Superhero Movie?

Posted by cyberpfalcon on July 29, 2017

This is a response to Zap That Movie’s article “Why The Matrix is a Superhero Movie”, which I posted in their comments section. But, it was so fun to think about and put into words, that I wanted to repost it here.

The original article and comments can be found:

In case that article disappears for whatever reason, the four main points that was argued by that article about why The Matrix is a superhero movie was:

  • The Matrix (1999) is essentially Neo’s Origin Story
  • Neo has a love interest – Trinity
  • “Not only does Neo reach his superhero potential, but he learns to bend the rules of the Matrix.” – a.k.a. – Neo gets superpowers
  • Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving) is a great villain.” – a.k.a. – superheroes fight a supervillain

Below is my own response as to why The Matrix isn’t a superhero movie, while other movies (like the MCU catalogue) are.


Ooooh, you have me so riled up that if I had stuck with just tweeting at you, it would have taken a few hundred posts. πŸ˜‰

As someone who’s read superhero comics, watched superhero movies and tv shows, played superhero video games, wr- er, okay, let’s just say that as someone who has absorbed a lot of superhero media, I disagree with you.

In my opinion, the four things that you have pointed out are not the essential criteria that make up a superhero story. Even if we were to just stick to movies, just having those four things do not make the movie a superhero movie.

Firstly, I believe that those four points are too generic to be just specific to superhero movies. If those are the only four things that make up a superhero movie, then plently of other movies would also be a superhero film.
For example, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope is Luke’s origin story; Luke’s love interest is Leia (this was before the reveal that they were brother and sister, and the film itself portrays this relationship as a potentially romantic one, hence, in that film, Leia is a love interest of Luke’s, in my opinion); Luke learns to use the power of the Force and how to use a lightsaber, which normal people of that universe can’t do; and Darth Vader is a great villain.
Another example would be Hercules (the 1997 Disney film): the movie is Hercules’s origin story; Hercules’s love interest is Megara; Hercules has superhuman strength and learns how to use his godly powers; and Hades is a great villain.
One more example is Ghostbusters (the 1984 film): this film is the origin story of the four Ghostbusters; Dana is one of the Ghostbuster’s, Venkman’s, love interest; the Ghostbusters learn how to use their proton packs and various other gadgets to fight against ghosts, which normal people in that universe don’t do; and Gozer (and Stay-Puft XD) is a great villain.
Yet, none of these are considered superhero films (if you want to argue that they are, then just skip the rest of this and we’ll agree to disagree XD).

Next, I believe that a superhero film doesn’t necessarily need an origin story.
All the squels, spin-offs, crossovers, etc. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (for example: Iron Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers) are examples of this.
If we are only sticking with films that were released without any pre-existing continuity, a few examples would be The Incredibles, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Also, a superhero film doesn’t need a love interest for the main character(s) for it to be counted as a superhero film (I believe, by that point, you meant that the love interest has to be central to the plotline, and not just a tossed out line with a person saying, “Oh, I have a girlfriend/boyfriend/paramour/significant other/etc., by the way”?), in my opinion.
Some examples are The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (in my opinion, the film makes it pretty clear from beginning to end that Natasha and Steve don’t even remotely see each other as love interests, and Sharon Carter’s relationship with Steve did not reach the love interest level in this film), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

If I am reading your third point right, meaning that the main character(s) having some sort of ability or power that most people of that world don’t have, then I would agree with you on that one.
Even Batman – who doesn’t have any superpowers – has martial arts abilities, above average detective skills, and the ability to get all those fancy gadgets – things that your normal person in that world doesn’t have.
So, I do agree with your third point.

And I agree with your fourth point as well, a superhero film does need some sort of villain (whether they are great or not is the viewer’s opinion), though I would mend it to say that a superhero film needs someone or/and something to fight against, and that someone/something doesn’t necessarily have to be a villain.

So, then, what makes films like The Incredibles, The Avengers, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier superhero films while films like The Matrix, Hercules, and Ghostbusters are not?
Well, in my opinion, for a film to be a superhero film, the film’s main character(s) (or the majority of the main and supporting characters) has to have extraordinary powers and/or abilities that the vast majority of the people in that setting don’t have, the main characters(s) (or the majority of the main and supporting characters) also need to have costumed identities (whether or not their true identities are known to the public is irrelevant; I am talking about how the identity that they present to the public when performing superhero deeds is separate from their normal everyday identity; for example, Reed Richards’ costumed identity is Mr. Fantastic); the main character(s) needs to have had taken up this costumed identity because they want to protect the innocent/save lives/some heroic thing (or, at least, eventually use their costumed identities for those purposes, as seen in Guardians of the Galaxy) (whether or not the story focuses on their heroics is also irrelevant, as seen in Captain America: Civil War); the story main focus should be on the consequences and the effects caused by a main character (can be more than one) taking up a costumed identity to perform heroic deeds (for example, in Captain America: Civil War, the consequence is… the civil war); and, of course, someone or something to fight against.
Which, of course, is a very versatile definition, allowing for many different genres of work to be counted (Batman is usually crime fiction, Guardians of the Galaxy is usually sci-fi, Dr. Strange is usually fantasy, etc.), and that is partly why I love superheroes so much. πŸ™‚

Anyways, that’s why, in my opinion, The Matrix isn’t a superhero film. Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus don’t really have costumed identities. And the story is more focused on science-fiction elements of The Matrix, the world after the humans lost the war to the machines, and the human rebellion against their machine overlords.
Yes, you could argue that the trenchcoats, sunglasses, and hacker names are their costumed identities (which I would disagree with, because the movie presents the hacker names more as if they’ve changed the names and shed their old identities, instead of a separate costumed identity while still keeping their normal identities intact; and also because the trenchcoat and sunglasses aren’t presented as a core part of their identity, whereas things like Iron Man’s armour, Batman’s Batsuit, etc. are integral to the costumed identities of those characters, but not part of Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne’s norma identities).
And yes, you could also argue that the human rebellion is a consequence of the humans gaining superpowers (which, I would argue that, while true, the film’s main focus isn’t on the rebellion as a consequence and effect of the powers, and more focused on the powers being used as part of the rebellion).
Then, if so, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. πŸ™‚

Anyways, sorry about the long reply.
You’re probably going to toss it into the trash, call it the rantings of a fanboy, ban me, or something.
But, hey, we all have our passions. πŸ˜‰

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