I saw this article from The Guardian last week, on The Amazing Spider-man and why people like superheroes to be not-so-super. If you don’t have time to read it (because it is a large article), in summary: the more popular superhero films all feature heroes that don’t spend as much time in costume. Peter Parker is a “normal” guy in The Amazing Spider-man, and it’s nearly an hour into the film before we see him in his Spider-man outfit. The two most popular characters in The Avengers are Tony Stark/Ironman (who spends a lot of the film out of his red and yellow suit), and Bruce Banner/the Hulk (who spends the vast majority of the movie trying not to be his alter-ego). The author of the article also mentioned that in The Dark Knight, Batman is only on screen for 16% of the film – the other 84% is made up of Bruce Wayne or other characters. (You can see all the figures here. (Yes, it’s on a forum for superheroes. There’s a forum for everything.))
So what does all this superhero talk have to do with writing? The news article essentially boils down to one point: moviegoers prefer superhero films with protagonists that aren’t that super – viewers like their heroes to be human. As the author of the article wrote:
Here are some of the things that Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, gets up to in the course of his new movie, The Amazing Spider-Man: he shuffles along the hallway of his school, mumbles, gets bullied, rides his skateboard, skips class, fails to finish his sentences, broods like James Dean over his parents, catches a cab, catches a subway, smashes an alarm clock, and has Branzino for dinner with his high-school crush Gwen Stacy.
Peter Parker suddenly sounds pretty ordinary, right?
The lesson for us here is that the best characters are the ordinary characters. In real life, people don’t go swinging around New York from webs, or engage in fistfights with gigantic lizards. So when our characters do that, it’s easy to get detached from them because we can’t relate to them.
I think being able to relate to characters goes hand in hand with caring about them. If we can relate them then we can care about what happens to them because “oh my goodness, that could totally be me!”
I could delve deeper into this topic, and branch into creating flawed characters, but there are countless blog posts on that topic already. I think it’s just interesting to see this topic come out in several blockbuster movies.
For the comments, what are your thoughts? Do you think ordinary characters are good? Or perhaps, do you think extraordinary characters are needed to pull us out of the mundane? And, if you’ve seen The Amazing Spider-Man, what did you think?