The new trend in movies actually is new
October 16, 2014 5:48 AM   Subscribe

 
Movie universes, making going to see a film seem like hard work since 2009.
posted by dng at 6:05 AM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


The specific frustration with cinematic universes, however, is that they could—and should—be stylistically discrete, but they all have to look the same anyway. Even the most accomplished Marvel efforts of late, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy, have a homogenized gloss that suggests Cap and Star-Lord could cross paths in either movie without viewers feeling jarred by the clash in style. Not that the handheld camerawork in Hancock is a model anyone should feel inclined to follow, but the menu of options shrinks substantially when filmmakers have to work toward some great team-up like The Avengers at the end of the line. The only place where they can make a big difference is in the writing and storytelling, which happens to be where The Winter Soldier, The Avengers, and Guardians Of The Galaxy are most accomplished. They turn a director’s medium into a writer’s medium. They’re great television, in other words.
Scott Tobias, The Case Against Cinematic Universes
posted by smcg at 6:05 AM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


I always find it weirdly baffling when something which has been done by narrative artists since forever is hailed as astonishingly innovative when it's picked up by a few mainstream movies. (I remember feeling that way about nonlinear storytelling when Pulp Fiction came out, and unreliable narrators when American Psycho came out.) Now, I guess, it's shared universes?
posted by kyrademon at 6:18 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Kyrademon, I share that feeling. American Psycho is also a double example since, if memory serves, Patrick Bateman is brother to James Van Der Beek's character in The Rules of Attraction.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 6:21 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Even the most accomplished Marvel efforts of late, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy, have a homogenized gloss that suggests Cap and Star-Lord could cross paths in either movie without viewers feeling jarred by the clash in style.

I don't know, I think Marvel has done a pretty good job of adding diversity to a line of movies that could suffer otherwise suffer from sameness. Captain America was a sepia-bathed WWII movie. Cap 2 was a 70's style 'who do you trust' espionage flick (complete with Redford!).

Tone is also different. The Thor movies embrace the kooky ridiculousness of their premise with both hands. Mewmew. Iron man goes for the 'sexy cool' vibe (which is honestly a bit grating). GotG has an almost DouglasAdamsque absurdity that stands apart.

I think Marvel's done a surprisingly good job of differentiating their film lines.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:23 AM on October 16, 2014 [20 favorites]


I have a fun drinking game where whenever I hear the word "reboot" I strangle a studio executive.
posted by gwint at 6:27 AM on October 16, 2014 [26 favorites]


I, for one, am on team Munch.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:28 AM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


Even the most accomplished Marvel efforts of late, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy, have a homogenized gloss that suggests Cap and Star-Lord could cross paths in either movie without viewers feeling jarred by the clash in style.

This is exactly wrong. Whatever the other problems of Marvel dominating Hollywood, you cannot seriously claim that they're all the same, unless we redefine the concept of sameness so as to create a tautology.

The shared universe phenomenon is interesting. It illustrates the place Hollywood movies have in the gestalt now.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:34 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Agreed that the sameness criticism of the Marvel movies seems off. Each of the Marvel movies feels like it has "Superhero" as a secondary genre with another, different genre and style laid on top of that (I think maybe I heard someone from Marvel say this at some point, but I'm not sure). There's not huge divergence from the style that you'll find in pretty much any big budget American blockbuster, but that's not really a shared universe problem.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:54 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think it makes total sense for Marvel to do this. In fact I'd like to see the X-Men folded into it -- none of this Hydra experimentation stuff for the Maximoff twins. They have kind of written away the possibility of a House of M movie, and that annoys me a bit.
posted by Foosnark at 6:54 AM on October 16, 2014


(Well, that is, a Marvel House of M movie. I suppose Fox could do it without the Avengers, which would be wrong. They need Dr. Strange at the very least.)
posted by Foosnark at 6:56 AM on October 16, 2014


I think there's a lot of advantages to the "shared universe" idea with loose expectations on thematic and narrative continuity, vs. the "sequel" model which has tight expectations on thematic and narrative continuity that simply can't be maintained unless the entire franchise is done back-to-back ala Harry Potter. At least half of the problems with Star Wars, Aliens, and Star Trek is that even the few people still on the team are entirely different people compared to who they were 20 or 30 years ago.

But then again, I'm of the school that "canon" is the kiss of death of comics-related and similar media because why even pretend that entirely different creative teams often separated by years or decades of time are going to have the same ideas about who a character like Batman is or should be? We don't point to Hamlet or Holmes and demand identical interpretations, so why Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark.

On the flip side, I watched the pilot of Gotham over the weekend and was disappointed at how much of the writing was spoiled by the attempt to cram as many fanservice references into 40 minutes. Print comics are already incomprehensible because canon results in labyrinthine plot lines of self-referential revision and justification. I really don't want for other superhero media to get the same cancer.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:04 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that a couple of things are being conflated here. You have a few genuinely shared universes, with the Marvel universe as the premier example, and then you have extended narratives, a la The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, Narnia. To me, those are very different things. If there were a Lord of the Rings movie that focused exclusively on what Farmer Maggot was doing while Frodo and the gang were on their way to Mordor, or a Narnia-orthagonal movie about the campus politics at the university where Professor Kirke teaches then we'd be getting closer to a shared universe. But as it stands, what you have now is one long story, spread over many installments.

What Marvel is doing is something else entirely, telling multiple largely independent stories that intersect in key places. The first Iron Man and the first Captain America movie barely intersect at all, except for the shared character of Howard Stark, but putting those films in the same universe lets you set the stage for the Avengers team up later on. That's necessary for where Marvel wants to take the stories--(so let's call that "essential univerality," maybe). Most of the other examples in the article are more like "trivial universality" you could make almost exactly the same Tarantino or Kevin Smith movies with them being in the same universe, just by changing a name or deleting a cameo. It's fun fan service that they are connected, but there's nothing essential about it.

I'm not the world's biggest movie buff, so I could be missing something, but it seems to me that Marvel is still the only franchise thus far to have true essential universality in the movies. DC hopes to do that, and Star Wars almost certainly will, but so far essential universality is a Marvel-only game.

(Now, if you add in novels, TV shows, video games, etc, Star Wars definitely has essential universality and so does DC--and, of course, the Marvel Universe gets much, much bigger. But only Marvel has really managed it onscreen so far.)
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:09 AM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


I'm sure the Wonder Woman movie they do will be much worse than the one Whedon wanted to make back pre-Avengers. Also, the idea of a grimdark, Snyder-y Aquaman movie is hilarious to me.
posted by sparkletone at 7:13 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Scott Tobias, The Case Against Cinematic Universes

Link is broken.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:24 AM on October 16, 2014


We don't point to Hamlet or Holmes and demand identical interpretations

Of course we do! Hamlet's dad is murdered by his uncle. Hamlet has to decide how to avenge him. Holmes solves mysteries with the help of his friend Watson. He has a nemesis named Moriarty.

Similarly, with Batman, we have the basics: a rich boy's parents are killed by criminals, and he decides the best way to exact justice is to dress up like a big scary bat and fight petty criminals. Tony Stark is a billionaire genius who builds a robot suit and fights monsters/villains.

In both cases, we have basic outlines of the characters that are fleshed out in different ways, and canon lets us know that there's an attempt to flesh them out within the same storyline that has come before. In cases where the author doesn't want to do that, they can always reboot, as with the new Ben Affleck movie or the many new Batman franchises (new 52, Infinite Crisis, Elseworlds, and so on). The notion of Canon is not a particularly hard restriction to get around, and not a particularly hard restriction to work within.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:35 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


And yet, I think this is probably true:

Though no details have leaked out about why Edgar Wright is no longer directing Ant-Man, the safe assumption is that his universe and Marvel’s weren’t compatible, despite the second-tier funkiness of the character.

If you tried to put Hit Girl or Nite Owl or Christopher Nolan's Batman (possibly even Tobey Maguire's angsty Spider-Man) into an Avengers movie, it totally wouldn't work, ignoring their non-Marvel origins and just considering the tone and style of those movies. I agree that the Marvel movies are more stylistically diverse than he admits, but there are definitely some restrictive boundaries. So far, I think that's been a good thing for the Marvel franchise, but I am sorry we're not getting an Edgar Wright Ant-Man.
posted by straight at 7:37 AM on October 16, 2014


But then again, I'm of the school that "canon" is the kiss of death of comics-related and similar media because why even pretend that entirely different creative teams often separated by years or decades of time are going to have the same ideas about who a character like Batman is or should be?

Serial fiction is a genre with advantages and disadvantages. There are things you can do with character development and plot twists in a 5-year TV series or comic-book run that you could never do in a movie or novel.

Another cool thing you can do in serial fiction is take a seemingly insiginificant detail from a previous story and use it as hook for a new story in a way that makes it seem like it could have been planned that way from the start. A good writer of serial fiction will write in a way that can be enjoyed by fans who have seen every episode and people new to the series. But fans who know the details from previous episodes will get the most satisfaction from seeing them pay off in subsequent stories. And that's what creates the obsession over continuity. To get maximum satisfaction from well-written serial fiction, it pays to know all of the details.
posted by straight at 7:46 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


The stylistic and tonal similarities between the Marvel CU movies have less to do with conscious creative limiting of directors and more to do with the use of an increasingly stable team of second unit directors, production designers, and special effects crew.

Tobias may be right in saying that lining up this same support team over and over turns the MCU films into writer's vehicles. But I suspect his rant is less an indictment of the "sameness" of the films themselves--which as has been pointed out are actually fairly different, even to the point of subgenre--but because he's pissed their system requires just enough continuity of style that Edgar Wright walked away.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:52 AM on October 16, 2014


I'm hoping at the end of the last of these movies it all turns out to be in Tommy Westphall's imagination.
posted by JHarris at 8:05 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised that they didn't take the cinematic universe route with the new Star Trek, given how developed the Star Trek universe is and how easy it would be to make up a new ship and crew and insert them into the timeline somewhere. One of the stories that pioneered the shared universe idea isn't even taking advantage of a shared universe in its current cinematic iteration. TNG seems to have had a massive resurgence in popularity recently, so rebooting the TOS era seems like a weird idea in retrospect.

Tangentially, I just realized that Spock is basically the Tony Stark of Star Trek. He can essentially show up whenever, and when it doesn't make sense his dad shows up instead.
posted by a dangerous ruin at 8:12 AM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


I remember when the first Star Trek reboot came out thinking the same thing : why go to all the trouble of creating a convoluted and largely non-sensical plot to bring the younger versions of Kirk and Spock, et al, together when you can just take the Star Trek name and do whatever you want? Today's average film goer was born long after Star Trek aired and hardly remembers the original crew at all.

Having a universe also means that you don't have to do boring origin stories all the time. No one cares about origins, they are the worst part of any action oriented film. Just jump into the story - nobody cares.
posted by AndrewStephens at 8:29 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


The stylistic and tonal similarities between the Marvel CU movies have less to do with conscious creative limiting of directors and more to do with the use of an increasingly stable team of second unit directors, production designers, and special effects crew.

There actually is a six-member creative committee at Marvel Studios headed by Kevin Feige with members like Joe Quesada and Brian Michael Bendis that oversees the cinematic universe. I'm sure that, though they must give their directors artistic leeway, they have some guidance on overall house style.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:32 AM on October 16, 2014


No one cares about origins, they are the worst part of any action oriented film. Just jump into the story - nobody cares.

This is a very odd statement; lots of people care about origins. That's why they keep doing them again and again in movies like Superman and Batman, and is basically the whole reason M Night Shyamalan made Unbreakable rather than The Adventures Of Strong Man That Cant Get Wet.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:36 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Why go to all the trouble of creating a convoluted and largely non-sensical plot to bring the younger versions of Kirk and Spock, et al, together when you can just take the Star Trek name and do whatever you want?

Because even after a dozen years of spin-offs, no other Star Trek characters ever reached the level of mainstream iconic status as Kirk and Spock. And the alternate timeline was a device for preempting nerd rage about doing a different take on the characters. They couldn't just say, "This takes place in a world where Kirk grew up without a dad," because nobody knew whether the original Kirk had a dad or not. They had to have a way to show "this is a different universe" to people who had no idea what the original universe was like.
posted by straight at 8:58 AM on October 16, 2014


lots of people care about origins. That's why they keep doing them again and again...
Yes, and they really need to stop. The origin story (for familiar characters) sucks the life out of the first part of the film - we knew Kirk would end up captain, we knew Superman would grow up with a secret identity, just start the damn plot.

I forget who once said that almost any film you could think off could be improved by lopping off the first 25 minutes. Origin stories are that 25 minutes stretched to the entire film (or three films if you are George Lucas).

They can be done well (Iron Man was a good example, I think), but are too often not
posted by AndrewStephens at 9:02 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is a very odd statement; lots of people care about origins.

Nobody does. It's just movie makers underestimating their audiences and assuming that they don't know who Batman or Spider-Man are and need to get the origin with each new reboot.

But Batman's origin in the comics took 1-2 pages, Spidey was a fifteen page story in Amazing Fantasy #15. You could do it in five minutes in the pre-credits teaser.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:15 AM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is how to do an origin for a well-established character if you have to at all. Just touch on it in a conversation or flashback or a blip at the beginning and move on.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:18 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


... when the first Star Trek reboot came out thinking the same thing : why go to all the trouble(?) ... just take the Star Trek name and do whatever you want ...

Fortunately these days nobody is afraid to reboot the reboot, even if the last installment was just a few years ago (Spiderman, Superman, Battlestar?).

Now I'm hoping for a de-reboot so we can just forget the Abramsverse like it was a bad holodeck episode. Back to the 2370s and Admiral Janeway!
posted by General Tonic at 9:21 AM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


The best origin story I've seen in a movie was Rocket Raccoon's in Guardians of the Galaxy. It took all of a minute, literally, and combined with the character's actions, perfectly explained why he was angry and surly being who despised most people around him. It set a new gold standard on how to do it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:29 AM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


Nobody does.

Wow, I stand corrected
posted by Greg Nog at 9:37 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


When they announced that Man of Steel would cover the Superman origin again, I desperately wished I was the kind of person who could get a meeting with the producers. My idea was to pass around DVDs of all of the myriad times the origin had already been covered. Then I would bring in a four year old child and have them explain the origin, because even small children already know this story.

Then I'd have giant carts wheeled in containing the entire runs of Action Comics, Superman, and all of the other Superman comics.

And then I'd ask: why do you want to retell a story that's been told so often even tiny kids already know it when there are thousands of issues of other material to draw on?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:38 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm ok with this as comics have been doing this forever with the occasional crossovers and teamups. What the "movie universe" concept needs as an anchor, to gel the ideas, a common thread (the Stan Lee cameos notwithstanding): more Harry Dean Stanton.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:40 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The specific frustration with cinematic universes, however, is that they could—and should—be stylistically discrete, but they all have to look the same anyway. Even the most accomplished Marvel efforts of late, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy, have a homogenized gloss that suggests Cap and Star-Lord could cross paths in either movie without viewers feeling jarred by the clash in style.

I think visually they're a bit similar, but in terms of genre, they're completely different movies. CA was a fairly serious political thriller and Guardians of the Galaxy was a goofy space opera.
posted by empath at 9:43 AM on October 16, 2014


I like origin stories. The character is the end of the origin story, and for me that character is a much more interesting destination that "vanquished yet another outlandish foe".

I like reboots. I like origins. So its more than "Nobody".
posted by samworm at 9:43 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


They can be done well (Iron Man was a good example, I think), but are too often not

It's worth nothing that comic book superheroes are almost never introduced with an origin story.
posted by empath at 9:45 AM on October 16, 2014


No one cares about origins, they are the worst part of any action oriented film. Just jump into the story - nobody cares.

Most of the MCU movies have been origin stories though.

Iron Man - Origin of Iron Man (The last line of the film could be changed to, "[and that's how I came to be] Iron Man.")
Captain America - Origin of Captain America and how he came to be in the modern day
Thor - Introduces us to Thor and tells us how he came to be on earth and why he cares about it.
The Incredible Hulk - How Banner became the Hulk and learned to control his powers enough to be an Avenger (though there is a movie missing between that and The Avengers that explains how he turned into Mark Ruffalo)

All of these stories are basically "How this person got their powers and became the hero they are today." One could even argue that everything through The Avengers is the story about how this super hero team gained their powers and became the team that we know today.
posted by VTX at 9:45 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


We don't point to Hamlet or Holmes and demand identical interpretations

Of course we do! Hamlet's dad is murdered by his uncle. Hamlet has to decide how to avenge him. Holmes solves mysteries with the help of his friend Watson. He has a nemesis named Moriarty.


You're conflating central plot/narrative points with interpretation. Yes, there are details that make most adaptations of Hamlet or the Holmes stories fairly similar. But this is different from issues of canonicity and interpretation that arise when we're talking about sprawling narratives across multiple franchises in a shared universe. Is Hamlet a spoiled brat? A disturbed mama-lover? An introspective depressive? A raging madman? Is Elsinore a medieval castle? A Victorian manor? A New York skyscraper? A Canadian brewery? Is Watson a British man from the 19th C? An Asian-American woman from the 21st C? Is Holmes an asexual sociopath? A sex-crazed sociopath? These are all different interpretations of a set of narrative fixtures, not different stories from a shared universe undergirded by a more-or-less unifying tone or vision.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:47 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The best origin story I've seen in a movie was Rocket Raccoon's in Guardians of the Galaxy.

My forever gold standard is the opening credits background info montage of Watchmen.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:49 AM on October 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


The best origin story I've seen in a movie was Rocket Raccoon's in Guardians of the Galaxy.

I wasn't much of a fan of GotG but I did appreciate that sequence. More origin stories should be told in short montage sequences. The entire Phantom Menace could have been told in five minutes at the beginning of Clones and nothing would have been lost.
posted by octothorpe at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


kiss of death of comics-related and similar media because why even pretend that entirely different creative teams often separated by years or decades of time are going to have the same ideas about who a character like Batman is or should be

But that's the beauty of canon. It gives writers a vast history and tradition to play with and the ability to add to that in their own way. It's a challenge, but only a weak writer is going to be stymied. A good writer can look at what's come before and still shine. Canon allows the construction of a gigantic, living, changing shared world that's the product of literally hundreds (thousands?) of creative minds that's far richer than anything any one person or team could produce.

I remember reading an essay a while back comparing comics continuity to jazz standards: the same songs have been played the same way for decades, but renditions of a song by Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, and Miles Davis will be hugely different.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:55 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


The best origin story I've seen in a movie was Rocket Raccoon's in Guardians of the Galaxy.

I haven't actually read the books, but based on the wikipedia article about him, his origin story is balls-out crazy.
posted by empath at 9:56 AM on October 16, 2014


The origin story (for familiar characters) sucks the life out of the first part of the film - we knew Kirk would end up captain, we knew Superman would grow up with a secret identity, just start the damn plot.

I try to be open-minded, I do. But you are completely, 100% wrong about this.

Origin stories do, in fact, get done over and over because people like them. Origin stories, fundamentally, are about discovery. People love watching a protagonist discover their superpowers. By far the most fun, most joyful part of the entire Tobey Maguire Spider-Man run were the scenes in the first movie when he was learning how to use his new powers. Everyone wants to imagine that they could wake up one day with superpowers; everyone wants to imagine what that would be like, to discover that they were the hero, the chosen one, etc., etc. Origin stories let us do that, by showing the main character do basically just that.

Besides the fact that people love them, origin stories get done over and over because they are the key to getting the audience to empathize with the hero. They introduce the audience to the hero at the hero's most accessible point in time. Superman, with no origin story as growing up just a regular farmboy, is possibly quite literally the most impossible-to-identify-with character that's ever been written - I mean the dude is nothing like human in most respects. But if you guys think we should just lop off the beginning and start the damn plot? You try showing Smallville (10 seasons total) to someone who's never seen it, by just showing them only the last five seasons, and see what they think of it. Then find somebody else who's never seen it, and show them only the first five seasons, and see what they think of it. And then tell me nobody likes origin stories.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:58 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Of course we do! Hamlet's dad is murdered by his uncle. Hamlet has to decide how to avenge him. Holmes solves mysteries with the help of his friend Watson. He has a nemesis named Moriarty.

That's not canon, that's not even a story. That's just a premise.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:58 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Being a long-time comic reader, the idea of a shared universe is not only unsurprising but natural. There is a pull in this direction for non-comic stuff (the Buffyverse, PJF's Wold Newton Universe, etc) and it even popped up in some of the late 70's/early 80's TV serials (though rarely).

Thing is, it's really a narrative trick for a much larger world than you can effectively show in a standard 2-hour movie; it's best for a much more episodic medium, like TV. But, TV tried (and failed) to do the comic book thing, so meh. I had high hopes for Agents of Shield, and still hold out hope for the Netflix stuff (esp. Daredevil), but the perfect match would've been TV and comics, back when TV was still relevant, and comics were beginning to tip into more mature, serious fare.
posted by eclectist at 9:58 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I do agree that re-telling origin stories is often troublesome. The re-reboot of Spiderman is a good example. It's basically the same as the Tobey Maguire movie with slightly different details.

Batman Begins is an origin story but they get through the part about Bruce Wayne's parents being killed pretty efficiently. We see young Bruce for about 7 minutes then a later flashback of a young adult Bruce before he leaves Gotham. The rest of the first half of the movie is still the, "How he got his powers" part of the story but I thought it was all very interesting stuff that we hadn't seen on film before.

The Michael Keaton Batman just shows a young Bruce witnessing his parent's murder and then we join him in the modern day when he has already been batman for a while
posted by VTX at 10:00 AM on October 16, 2014


I'm hoping at the end of the last of these movies it all turns out to be in Tommy Westphall's imagination.

‘Breaking Bad’ Ends With Reveal That Whole Series Was Plot Of Book Marie Shoplifted

It's worth nothing that comic book superheroes are almost never introduced with an origin story.

Exactly. The origin story in comic books is almost always something that comes later in the series, and in some sense that makes it a bit more satisfying: we've seen this mysterious and/or amazing character, but we don't know exactly where s/he came from, so it's something of a payoff to learn how we got to the present. In the best cases, it then gives you the opportunity to re-visit what you've already read and interpret it in a new light. Although sometimes the reveals are disappointing and lame, *coughWolverine:Origincough*

The problem with origin stories in films is that they take TOO MUCH DAMN TIME. Now, seeing a younger Bruce Wayne training with the League of Shadows in Batman Begins wasn't bad, but the mopey-dopey stuff with his parents was boooooooring (and, as said by others, done to death already). Think of how terrible The Dark Knight would have been if it had started with the Joker's origin story?

Horace said it best:
"Nor does he begin the Trojan War ab ovo, but always he hurries to the action, and snatches the listener in media res."
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:02 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, the best origin story was the old man's in Up. It explains everything that comes later while still being a knock-out story in its own right.
posted by Mogur at 10:03 AM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


And then I'd ask: why do you want to retell a story that's been told so often even tiny kids already know it when there are thousands of issues of other material to draw on?

Guy in a suit: "So you're telling me your origin script is a story audiences have been buying over and over and over again for 75 years? How much money do you want?"
posted by straight at 10:09 AM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


And that is how you end up with General Zod and Pa Kent over and over again until you pray for death.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:13 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Origin stories, fundamentally, are about discovery. People love watching a protagonist discover their superpowers.

The best movie superhero origin story ever is that moment in The Incredibles when Dash looks down, realizes he's running on top of the water, and gives a delighted little chuckle.
posted by straight at 10:13 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


You try showing Smallville (10 seasons total) to someone who's never seen it, by just showing them only the last five seasons, and see what they think of it. Then find somebody else who's never seen it, and show them only the first five seasons, and see what they think of it. And then tell me nobody likes origin stories.

I try to be open minded, but your'e being 100% ridiculous.

No one is saying just drop the first 25 minutes and let everything else run as usual. Rather, don't spend 25 minutes of a 2 hour movie going over well known stories. Instead, spend that time developing the plot, other characters, etc. Don't drop anything, just restructure the plot.

Back to the Rocket Raccoon example: once reason it works so well is that we see him in action for most of the movie, just being himself aka a wisecracking surly being. We also see how other people react to him, by calling him names, mocking him etc. So when he finally breaks down in moment of drunken vulnerability, it all makes sense because we've seen how he act and how others react to him. Guardians of the Galaxy does a fantastic job of putting out all the dots and then letting the audience connect them

And we didn't wast half an hour of navel gazing at the character and his odd relationship with a middle aged butler who was his father figure/employee.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:25 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The origin story in comic books is almost always something that comes later in the series

The best example that I can think of is the character Wolverine. The character was created in 1974 but it wasn't until 2002 that they told his origin story (at least, the part where he went from a normal human to super powered one).

But I think a delayed origin story like that really only works if the character has a mysterious past like Wolverine or the Joker. People like those characters, in part, because we've been shown bits and pieces of how they came to be who they are today and it's been implied that at least some of those bits are false which allows each member of the audience to choose whichever parts they like best to the "real" parts for them. But there is always this tension since everyone know that they don't know the real story until someone comes along and gives it to them.
posted by VTX at 10:26 AM on October 16, 2014


...Smallville (10 seasons total)...
Episodic TV is a good example of what I am trying to say. I didn't really watch Smallville, but I enjoyed a couple of episodes without being formally introduced to the characters and their powers tediously explained. Likewise Buffy, didn't know anything about it when I randomly watched a season 6 episode but didn't really feel I missed anything.

A lot of TV shows used to just outright recite their premise during the opening credits to get the audience up to speed, but these days the producers don't even bother doing that. People just don't care that much.
posted by AndrewStephens at 10:36 AM on October 16, 2014


We need a shared Comedy Bang Bang cinematic universe.
posted by kittensofthenight at 10:39 AM on October 16, 2014


Rather, don't spend 25 minutes of a 2 hour movie going over well known stories.

I find it odd that you keep going back to Rocket as an example, considering that A.) I would bet a majority of people seeing GotG didn't already know Rocket's origin story (or probably any of the Guardians, for that matter), B.) it does not require much explanation to convey to the viewer that the talking raccoon on the screen is a talking raccoon (there's a case to be made that we know more about Rocket's origin than he does, since he doesn't seem to know what a raccoon is), C.) we spend the first 10-15 minutes of GotG purely on Starlord's origin story and D.) the entire length of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie essentially serves as an origin story for the Guardians, as a team.

Most origin movies do work that way - either the whole movie is an origin story, or none of it is. Nobody's arguing that the first 25 minutes of every 2-hour movie should be basically just an extended version of "Previously, on The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man", because that's not a thing that actually happens. Yes, origin stories usually do involve a "first villain" but that villain is usually (hopefully, if the origin story is done well) somehow tied to completing their origin story with making them not just a super-powered being, but a super-hero (note that Rocket, when we first meet him, is the former, and spends the rest of the movie becoming the latter).

I think part of what I'm getting at is that origin stories offer something for these characters that most stories about them can't, which is a character arc. It makes for a stronger story when the characters change over the course of it, but these well-known, well-defined characters who are so much bigger than any one story can't really be changed by one story anymore. Batman will always be Batman, so how can you tell a story where Batman is still Batman at the end of the story, but changes over the course of the story? Well, the obvious way is to tell a story where he doesn't start out as Batman. Otherwise you're either just telling another story where Batman defeats a bad guy and saves Gotham and is, himself, completely unaffected by the whole thing, see you next Tuesday same Bat-time same Bat-channel!, or else you're going to shoehorn in some major character change (Batman decides he's done fighting crime, retires to Italy with Catwoman) that I already know doesn't matter because it's just going to get ignored or reversed by the next person to come along and tell a Batman story.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:49 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


To throw in on the origin story side-thread, I think origin stories are like movie comfort food. Everyone knows them, but lots of people enjoy seeing them again and again. I used to, but these days I'm starting to get tired of it. It might have been the reboot from Raimi's Spider-Man into Amazing Spider-Man where it started to pall for me, starting a series over that wasn't even all that old. What was it that killed Uncle Ben this time, his converted rice?

But then, I think movie superheroes are approaching their sell-by date. It's steadily getting harder to get me interested in whatever new thing Marvel's doing. Guardians of the Galaxy was, admittedly, terrific, but I hardly knew anything about those guys, and that helped, I think. What little I've read since the movie came out about Comics Groot conflicts with what I liked about Movie Groot.
posted by JHarris at 10:53 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Instead, spend that time developing the plot, other characters, etc. Don't drop anything, just restructure the plot.... Guardians of the Galaxy does a fantastic job of putting out all the dots and then letting the audience connect them

&

But I think a delayed origin story like that really only works if the character has a mysterious past like Wolverine or the Joker. People like those characters, in part, because we've been shown bits and pieces of how they came to be who they are today and it's been implied that at least some of those bits are false which allows each member of the audience to choose whichever parts they like best to the "real" parts for them. But there is always this tension since everyone know that they don't know the real story until someone comes along and gives it to them.

There is obviously no one formula. Sometimes audiences want to be led through the story from start to finish in a more straightforward way. At times, this makes for a less challenging -- and for me, at least, less rewarding -- experience. But sometimes it works: I think it works for the most part in the first Spider-Man because of the type of character he is: a regular kid with a lot of problems who stumbles into amazing powers that he then has to come to terms with. On the other hand, I think a character like Batman works better without a long, detailed origin story that gives away everything about his motivation. Batman's whole modus operandi is that he's a TERRIFYING GIANT BAT THAT SWOOPS IN FROM NOWHERE TO BEAT THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF PEOPLE. Is he a real person? A monster? A collective hallucination by tweaked out criminals? No one knows! I think we as audience members lose a little something if we can't identify at least a bit with the other in-universe characters, to whom Batman is a complete mystery. I think Begins would have worked better if rather than doing a straightforward chronology, we would have seen elements of his origins interspersed throughout the narrative of the present.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:58 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


There are things you can do with character development and plot twists in a 5-year TV series or comic-book run that you could never do in a movie or novel.

But which you can do in a series of novels. In general you can do more character development and plot twists if you're given lots of installments than if you're given one. It's not inherent to comic books that having lots of them will allow for lots of content.
posted by jeather at 11:04 AM on October 16, 2014


Saxon Kane might be onto something. Imagine a caper movie, the kind where the protagonists are down-and-out, low-level schemers, except they keep having run-ins with a strange person/creature called The Bat, who messes up even their best plans. We would never find out who The Bat really is, just that whoever it is is terrifyingly competent and may, from the perspective of the protagonists, be supernatural.
posted by JHarris at 11:24 AM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Robin Laws argues that there are two kinds of heroes -- Dramatic Heroes and Iconic Heroes. We engage with the Dramatic Hero to see that hero change and grow, but we engage with the Iconic Hero to see the hero return order (or, occasionally, disorder) by doing their "signature move." Holmes deduces, Batman scares the crap out of criminals, Captain America throws his shield, House is an asshole to everybody and then pulls a cure out of his ass and so on. We do not want to see the Iconic Hero change, except maybe, briefly, as a break from the routine.

The problem is that movie makers want dramatic arcs, because they think that is what the audience wants. So we get endless stories of Iconic Heroes growing and changing, which always seem a little off, since, at the heart of it, we don't want those characters to grow and change.

I think the origin story is one easy way to force change on an Iconic Hero.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:44 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Otherwise you're either just telling another story where Batman defeats a bad guy and saves Gotham and is, himself, completely unaffected by the whole thing

I think the Nolan Batman movies actually do a good job with this. The first movie is an origin story.

The 2nd makes him deal with the consequences of his "I don't ever take a life" rule. We see him going from a Batman that is trying get things in the city good enough so that it doesn't need Batman and he can retire to a Batman that realizes that he is always going to be Batman.

In the 3rd one, he goes from being a broken down, sad, reclusive Bruce Wayne, back to Batman, then retiring while setting the stage for Gotham to always have A Batman just not a Bruce Wayne Batman. And he does a great job of making "Batman more than just a man" since the whole city saw him get exploded and put up a memorial statue of him but pretty soon they'll start seeing Batman around again (though we won't ever see that movie because Jason Gordon Levitt doesn't have the chin to play Batman).
posted by VTX at 11:51 AM on October 16, 2014


Robin Laws argues that there are two kinds of heroes -- Dramatic Heroes and Iconic Heroes. We engage with the Dramatic Hero to see that hero change and grow, but we engage with the Iconic Hero to see the hero return order (or, occasionally, disorder) by doing their "signature move."

This is the old difference between three-dimensional characters, who we appreciate as human beings, and two-dimensional characters, who are more embodiments of principles. Neither is necessarily better than the other, they just have different purposes in a story.
posted by JHarris at 12:00 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Superman's origin story is absolutely vital, because it counteracts Superman's fatal flaw - i.e., that he's a perfect, unstoppable alien with no weaknesses. Seeing him lose his adopted dad, or get made fun of by the kids in school, allows the audience to see him as one of us. One of the things I love about the Donner Superman movie is that you don't see Superman at all until like 45 minutes into the movie. You just see Clark Kent.

I say that I'd rather see a long origin story than the now-standard 45 minutes of unmitigated carnage and destruction at the end of every superhero movie (and every action movie, for that matter).
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:21 PM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Fortunately for the folks who like origin stories, virtually every single goddamned superhero movie starts with an extended one. If you happen to want to see the other 99.9% of a character's adventures, just cross your fingers that the producers get to one or two of them before the grosses die down or the studio reboots and shows the frigging origin again.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:59 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Interesting to see some people talk about superhero origins coming much later than their first appearances, because I can think of just as many examples that go the other way - Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk... the standard in the 1960s was origin first, adventure later. Of course there were exceptions (Dr. Strange, for example, and I don't think they explained how the X-Men got their powers at first, just how Xavier trained them to be a team) even then. But once a stable of characters were in place, new characters (like Wolverine) were often added without an origin explanation first.

For Marvel at least, a headliner character in the 1960s probably got their origin first. Before and after the 60s, though, it could go either way.

A good origin sets up the initial conflict, but it's just one conflict. If you think a lifetime can only have a single moment of interesting conflict in it, well...
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:03 PM on October 16, 2014


So one thing missing from this discussion about origins, I think, is that 15-20 years ago super heroes were a lot more opaque than they are now. I seem to remember it being a pretty nifty thing if you could point out to someone that, aside from being bit by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker also is plagued by guilt for passively allowing his uncle to be shot.

Of course we're all thoroughly familiar with that story - but also with a lot of other stories, and, in general the fabric of our cultural discourse is interwoven with comic lore and its tropes much, much more than when this new wave of super hero movies began with Spider-Man in 2002.

Yes, origin stories are played out, but there was a time when they were mysterious, inviting the audience member to gain some insight into this figure they had seen and whose general deal they were familiar, but whose motivations and drive were mostly unknown.
posted by Tevin at 1:10 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


But which you can do in a series of novels. In general you can do more character development and plot twists if you're given lots of installments than if you're given one.

Yeah but you can be sure that if the next Game of Thrones book came out and ignored or contradicted a bunch of stuff in the first couple books, complaints about that would not be dismissed as whining about canon and continuity.
posted by straight at 1:18 PM on October 16, 2014


I had this entire joke written proposing an olive branch to the origin lovers. It would be a Superman show that was all origin all the time. Nothing but Ma and Pa Kent and young Clark and... Then I realized that was Smallville. And Gotham is practically the same.

Maybe the expanded cinematic comic universes can get us past this stuff so that we can start to tell the 99.9% of non-origin stories out there.

I mean, until Skyfall there never even *was* a Bond origin story really. And that franchise did just fine.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:30 PM on October 16, 2014


Interesting to see some people talk about superhero origins coming much later than their first appearances, because I can think of just as many examples that go the other way - Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk...

True, although the origin stories were often sort of pro forma exercises that established some very basic facts about the character as a way to establish the basics of the scenario before moving into the adventures. It seems to me like the sort of in-depth histories that are the standard for many comic book movies nowadays would usually come much later in comics.

This isn't to say that the movies should imitate the comics. They are different media, and what works in a comic book series that revises and rewrites its own continuity over a period of decades is obviously not going to work in a 2 hour film.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to how the film deals with the origin, particularly if it is one that everyone already knows. In such cases, a straightforward chronological narrative structure can just sap the energy from the story. If you're going to tell us about Bruce Wayne's parents getting killed or Peter Parker getting bitten or whatever, do it in an interesting way that we haven't seen before.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:39 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Origin stories are pretty much shit. Like I said around here a year ago, we don't need an origin story for Jason Statham movies or Jackie Chan movies and let's be real, fucking Magneto does not pull half the shit Statham does in Transporter 2. I mean, I blinked a couple times, but I'm pretty sure Statham telekineses a submarine at one point.

Yes, The Transporter 2 is absolutely ridiculous, but the comparison here is to superhero flicks.
posted by furiousthought at 1:48 PM on October 16, 2014


I find it odd that you keep going back to Rocket as an example, considering that A.) I would bet a majority of people seeing GotG didn't already know Rocket's origin story (or probably any of the Guardians, for that matter), B.) it does not require much explanation to convey to the viewer that the talking raccoon on the screen is a talking raccoon (there's a case to be made that we know more about Rocket's origin than he does, since he doesn't seem to know what a raccoon is), C.) we spend the first 10-15 minutes of GotG purely on Starlord's origin story and D.) the entire length of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie essentially serves as an origin story for the Guardians, as a team.

A) That's the point B) You're completely missing the point that Rocket's origin is shown by his actions and others reactions to said actions C) Touche! D) Sure, but will future generations have to be told that origin story again, similar to the repeating of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man's origin? I suspect not, as we're completely different generations now, where the origin story is less important.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:52 PM on October 16, 2014


I love origin stories, even if I already know every detail ahead of time.
posted by echocollate at 2:45 PM on October 16, 2014


I love Werther's Original stories about grandpas giving candy to their grandchildren.
posted by Tevin at 3:06 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Ray Nicollete represent!
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:20 PM on October 16, 2014


It's odd to me how many folks here seem to be fond of origin stories, even as talk of remakes and reboots is usually met with palpable contempt here. So the same thing over and over again, but different this time? But you know, not too different.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:22 PM on October 16, 2014


I'm another "nobody", in that I enjoy a good origin story, but, like with any other kind of story, it has to be done well, and it has to be somewhat novel (to me). I loved the first half of the first Raimi Spiderman. It was an excellent origin story. The second half, with the Green Goblin, was far less interesting. But I didn't enjoy, and now barely remember, the origin story from Amazing Spiderman. It may be that it wasn't done as well as Raimi's, but, far more likely, it's that I had just seen the same story a few years earlier. It was a remake of a new movie. Same with Superman: I've seen that particular story enough times that another origin story would be boring, but it's not because origin stories are boring in general, but because I've already seen that story so many times. Captain America, on the other hand, was very enjoyable because it was totally novel; I knew nothing about Captain America's origin other than "He was a supersoldier from WWII". Ditto for Iron Man.

TL;DR: Like pretty much every other kind of story, origin stories can be great if 1) Done well, and 2) Not repeats of identical, recent stories. There is nothing special about them that makes them inferior to other kinds of stories.
posted by Bugbread at 4:33 PM on October 16, 2014


DirtyOldTown: "It's odd to me how many folks here seem to be fond of origin stories, even as talk of remakes and reboots is usually met with palpable contempt here. So the same thing over and over again, but different this time? But you know, not too different."

If you consider making any two origin movies to be "the same thing over and over again", then, well, I guess all movie genres are horrible. I mean, there was Die Hard, so making any other action movie again is bad. And Psycho, so all other thrillers are bad. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so no need for any more horror movies. Airplane, so no need for any other comedies. Etc. etc. etc. I'd be hard pressed to think of a single movie from the last 20 or 30 years which wouldn't be knocked out by this approach. But if you think it's okay to have multiple movies within a single genre, why doesn't that extend to the genre of "origin story" as well?

Nobody in this thread, as far as I can tell, is saying "I'm fond of the specific origin story of Superman, and like to watch that origin story again and again". That would be comparable to "the same thing over and over again but different this time? But you know, not too different". What I see people as saying is more like "I like origin stories, so I'd like to see the origin of Aquaman, and the origin of Ant-Man, and the origin of Arm-Fall-Off-Boy". They're not saying they want to see the same thing over and over again. They're saying they want to see lots of very different stories within a particular genre.
posted by Bugbread at 4:48 PM on October 16, 2014


Actually, Bugbread, people in this thread have expressed a fondness for seeing the origins of heroes, even if they are already seriously well-trod, like Superman and Batman.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:03 PM on October 16, 2014


"Origin story" is not a genre in the same way that "action," "thriller," "horror," and "comedy" are.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:18 PM on October 16, 2014


Actually, if anyone is a fan of superpower stories and sick of origins and origin cliches, I highly recommend the first season of Misfits in which a group of asshole estate kids on community service get superpowers from a freak lightning storm.

It includes how the young folks get their powers, yes. But they do not investigate it. They do not ruminate on the incident. They do not wonder what it all means. They do not struggle to understand their changed place in the world. They do not reflect on their responsibilities.

They just keep on being asshole kids, only now with superpowers.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:23 PM on October 16, 2014


DirtyOldTown: "Actually, Bugbread, people in this thread have expressed a fondness for seeing the origins of heroes, even if they are already seriously well-trod, like Superman and Batman."

Yes and no. I've only seen one person saying that they would like to see the Superman story told again and again, and only one person saying that they like seeing Batman origin stories told over and over again (in both cases, the person was mstokes650, whose also straight up says "Origin stories do, in fact, get done over and over because people like them.") The rest of the comments read to me more as defenses of the origin stories that have already come before. Like "Batman Begins did it well" or "What I liked about the Donner Superman movie was..."

For example, if this thread were to have been posted in 2011, I would have said "I loved the first Raimi movie, because I think it was a really well-told origin story". That comment would not have meant "and now I want to see that same origin story told again in a reboot".

Saxon Kane: ""Origin story" is not a genre in the same way that "action," "thriller," "horror," and "comedy" are."

True. It's a subgenre of superhero, so more like "military action", "revenge thriller", "zombie horror", or "parody flick". And I think even those subgenres are broad enough that it isn't unreasonable to say "I like zombie movies" or "I'm a big fan of Airplane, Top Secret, and the like", and to want to see more movies in those veins, but at the same time dislike constant reboots and remakes.
posted by Bugbread at 5:25 PM on October 16, 2014


furiousthought: "we don't need an origin story for...Jackie Chan movies"

You didn't like Drunken Master?!
posted by Bugbread at 5:27 PM on October 16, 2014


The best commentary on excessive origin-telling I have ever heard came from my kindergarten-aged son.

"Maaaaaaannnn... they are always killing Bruce Wayne's mom and dad, huh?"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:32 PM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]




I don't know if I'd say it's even a "subgenre" -- I mean, genre is a very problematic term anyway, but it seems like it's a sub-sub-sub genre... it isn't exactly a bildungsroman or a coming-of-age story, but it adopts aspects of those forms...
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:46 PM on October 16, 2014


Wait

Are you guys saying Batman's parent are dead?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:03 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ray Walston, Luck Dragon: "Are you guys saying Batman's parent are dead?"

Watch out, guys, that may look like Ray Walston, but I'm pretty sure it's Bizarro in disguise.
posted by Bugbread at 7:09 PM on October 16, 2014


Origin stories can be good. Sometimes they're even great! But usually they're not.
The new, let's say Green Lantern movie to kick off a trilogy is either going to show him getting the ring and later saying "This power is a lot of responsibility, I'm not sure I'll be able to handle it, I'm going to give it up" because he just got it twenty minutes ago and he also has no idea how to be a responsible, likeable human being or it could be an adaptation of a much later story in Green Lantern's life where he says the same thing because ten years after getting the ring (MONTAGE) he's made a seriously bad call that blew up his home city, prompting a frank look back at whether the power's actually a net good for the world and/or delusional rampage. I think there's a lot more room for an interesting story if they skip the setting up sequence.

It's true that the comic versions of these characters are more iconic than dramatic since they generally get back to a pretty similar status quo, but Spiderman was married for years and only went back to the status quo because Mary Jane made a pact with the devil for his life (how memorable would THAT Amazing Spider Man 1 have been?). Carol Danvers was pissed about the rape apologetics in the Avengers for more than a decade. Barbara Gordon was paralyzed and fighting crime in spite of her injury for some of the best Batman runs yet. These characters have tens-dozens-hundreds of stories, many of which change how they interact with the world, but many of these movie franchises spend the entire first film showing the same basic character arc as every other superhero goes through.

I don't want to see Ant Man invent a new suit, learn his powers in a montage, and wrestle with his conscious about the power/responsibility thing for the first time; I want to see Ant Man the experienced professional argue for AI rights in spite of his guilt from creating an AI supervillain. I don't want to see Batman Begins: now starring Dr Strange, I want to see the Sorcerer Supreme leading his most powerful acolytes on a raid through bugfuck acid trip hell. And honestly, I don't buy that just-minted hero is the most interesting version for the same reason I don't buy that anime fifteen year old is the best warrior in the world- starting early means even more suspension of disbelief that this is the best Earth can do at the same time it gives the character less history to pull from for building dramatic tensions.

Luckily for me, Marvel seems to agree that too many origin stories can easily blur together. Ant Man's going to be as much the story of how Hank Pym gave it up in disgust as how Scott Lang appears. DC's wised up too; most of their solo films are coming out after Justice League and probably won't be flashbacks.
posted by sandswipe at 7:22 PM on October 16, 2014


Sure, but will future generations have to be told that origin story again, similar to the repeating of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man's origin?

A good question. So far, since Marvel embarked on their MCU project, they haven't retold any origin stories AFAIK. It'll be interesting to see how long they keep that up; their actors are going to start aging out of being able to play the roles (with RDJ being the first looming case of this) - so they'll have three options: recast, reboot, or abandon those properties and keep developing new/different properties. Obviously they're working the third option, but I can't see them doing that exclusively. I don't know if they have a plan in place for recast vs. rebooting, but I'm sure they've thought a lot about it.

In the Guardians' case specifically, I imagine if they reboot they might just go for a different set of team members, with maybe a few of the same characters. (Groot and Rocket seem to have been a big hit, and being CGI, don't have the same degree of aging-out problems to worry about...)

I've only seen one person saying that they would like to see the Superman story told again and again, and only one person saying that they like seeing Batman origin stories told over and over again (in both cases, the person was mstokes650

That's not an accurate reading of what I've written. (To be honest I have little-to-no interest in Superman even at his most interesting. I'm much more of a Marvel guy.) What I have done is offer a lot of reasons for why I think origin stories tend to make good stories. Superman, in particular, I think desperately needs an origin story for the reason Ben Trismegistus mentions. Smallville's the only Superman story that has ever held my interest at all. But just because they make good stories doesn't mean I want to watch them on repeat, anymore than I want to listen to a good song on a perpetual loop.

What I see is a lot of people here saying "Origin stories are terrible" but what they actually seem to object to is mainly just that they already know the story, or that it's cliched and hackneyed. Neither complaint is origin-story-specific, and origin stories that don't have those flaws seem to get a silent pass (Guardians, for example). "I already know the story" is partly just a weird objection to me - I mean, do you make that same complaint about every new film version of Hamlet? (no, I am not saying superhero movies are equivalent to Shakespeare!) - And partly just seems to be vague annoyance at the fact that Hollywood isn't more original. Which, you know, I totally agree that Hollywood is in a sad tragic state these days, originality-wise, but whether the Batman XVI: Batman In Space is a reboot or just a sequel doesn't have much to do whether it's going to be good or terrible, or if it'll be cliched and hackneyed or not, and if anything I lean towards it being quite probably less terrible if it's an origin story, for all the pro-origin-story reasons I've raised above. None of that means I'd personally want to go see it, though.

So, look, if you don't want to go see the next Fantastic Four movie (a reboot! with no doubt an origin story!) then don't go see it. Lord knows I probably won't, but that's because I never much liked the Fantastic Four. But don't say "Origin movies are terrible," because that's frankly a less defensible statement than "Superhero movies are terrible," or "Action movies are terrible." And when you say "no one likes origin stories," then you're just wrong.

I'd rather watch five more Batman origin stories than another Batman and Robin, though, I'll tell you that.
posted by mstokes650 at 11:42 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's so much that "origin stories are terrible" as "origin stories are only one kind of superhero story, and 1-2 issues of a 200 issue comic run is a much smaller percentage than 1 movie out of 1-3, and there's no reason they couldn't tell a different story once in a while."

As far as origin stories go, Arrow Is interesting because, two seasons in, it's still an origin story. Oliver Queen is fairly good at fights and breaking in and stuff, but he doesn't have a firm grasp on what "being a hero" means. And neither do any of the other costumed characters, for that matter. They are making it up as they go along, badly.

The pouty angst gets old, but there is a lot to like in Arrow.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:15 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guess nobody here read comics when I was growing up in the late 70s, early 80s, because they managed to shoe-horn a mention of the origins of most of the characters again and again. They were always doing flashbacks, recalls, extended versions, different perspectives, and alternative histories.

Still waiting for a movie version of the Fantastic Four myself. I know the name's been on a few films, but I haven't seen the team I loved for all those years.

I'm actually hopeful for the new version, even with the "controversy" over the actor playing Johnny Storm. Some people say it's going against canon to change one sibling's race, but for me F4 was all about family, and more specifically the fact you get to define your own family however you want.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:04 AM on October 17, 2014


I guess nobody here read comics when I was growing up in the late 70s, early 80s, because they managed to shoe-horn a mention of the origins of most of the characters again and again. They were always doing flashbacks, recalls, extended versions, different perspectives, and alternative histories.

They were still doing that in the late '80s, early 90s and it was really annoying to me personally, though I understood the rationale.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:03 AM on October 17, 2014


I'm coming a bit late to this thread, so this is pretty far back in it by now, but I'm still mildly astonished by this:

I'm surprised that they didn't take the cinematic universe route with the new Star Trek, given how developed the Star Trek universe is and how easy it would be to make up a new ship and crew and insert them into the timeline somewhere.

I know that we're talking about movies and not TV, but I think that you have to remember that they did this with four spin-off series, which collectively encompass several hundred TV episodes and four movies. I think that that mine has been pretty well mined out, and the fans seemed to agree, with average ratings falling for each subsequent spin-off. (The shared universe still survives, sort of, in the F2P Star Trek Online MMO, as well as novels.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:14 AM on October 17, 2014


As far as origin stories go, Arrow Is interesting because, two seasons in, it's still an origin story.

But boy do they ever lean on the "secret identity as a plot device" crutch.
posted by VTX at 9:05 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guess nobody here read comics when I was growing up in the late 70s, early 80s, because they managed to shoe-horn a mention of the origins of most of the characters again and again. They were always doing flashbacks, recalls, extended versions, different perspectives, and alternative histories.

I think that at least in part that was due to a desire to lower the barrier for entry for new readers, like the kid who might grab a 25c copy of a comic book off the newsstand because of the cool image on the cover. There were also endless editorial footnotes about plot events in previous issues and even other comic series so that you could have some sense of what was going on.

I also think, although I don't really have anything to back this up, that there was a more relaxed attitude towards continuity until the 80s or so. Perhaps a bit less on the side of readers than of writers. So you could have all sorts of crazy shit happening where one month Superman gets married to Lois, the next month he turns her into a gorilla, the next month Lois complains that Superman never pays any attention to her, the next month he meets some long-lost Kryptonian relative, the next month he moans about how he's the last survivor of Krypton, whatever. The writers were just trying to write crazy, entertaining stories, the readers just sort of went along with the ride. Total random hypothesis: perhaps the modern obsession over continuity began when, in the 70s and 80s, more and more of the writers and artists were people who had grown up on earlier comics. While the first creators were sort of making it up as they went along, now you have people who had more of a sense of who they thought the characters should be, what their history was, etc. And now with modern fandom, it's another generation or 2 after that -- people who grew up with comics that had a greater sense of a consistent historical narrative, albeit one rife with retcons and parallel realities, so the notion of continuity became a stronger part of the zeitgeist. Hence the scriptural devotion to the text and the passionate debates about canon vs. heresy.

Anyway, I think that origin stories probably tend to work better in TV series because they have an extended period over which to explore the character's self-discovery, the consequences that come with their powers, etc. etc. In films, there's the chance that it can feel rushed (25 min of a 2 hour story) or, if it takes up the whole film, it can feel tedious.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:15 AM on October 17, 2014


I personally don't see any problem with sequels. I wonder why does the film industry has to change their trends so quickly.
posted by denisehilton at 1:17 PM on October 17, 2014


They just keep on being asshole kids, only now with superpowers.

That is not what Misfits is about at all. They don't keep being assholes, and they definitely don't get superpowers.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:46 AM on October 19, 2014


« Older But who WAS presenting the Nine O'Clock News on 24...   |   The Mother of All Supercuts Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments