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Nathan Greno
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Posted: 25 January 2018 at 6:45pm | IP Logged | 1 post reply

Hi all

What tropes & cliches have we all seen a few too many times in superhero films? I thought it would be fun to put together a list (btw if this list has already been made on this site, let me know... I couldn't find it)

I'll start it off with a couple:

Love interest falls for hero -- but only when he's in costume (Spiderman & MJ, Superman & Lois, Batman & Rachel)

Villains with the same basic powers as the hero (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Incredible Hulk, Ant Man, Man of Steel, Spider-Man 3)

The villain is tied to the hero's origin (Tim Burton's Batman, Daredevil, Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man, Spider-Man 3) 

List examples if you have them :)

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Roy Johnson
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Posted: 25 January 2018 at 7:20pm | IP Logged | 2 post reply

Superhero reveals secret identity for no particularly compelling reason?
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Eric Sofer
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Posted: 25 January 2018 at 7:37pm | IP Logged | 3 post reply

The origin.

The sacrifice. No, I understand that it's heroic, and I appreciate that. But...
The Avengers: Iron Man sacrifices himself for the world.
Captain America: Cap sacrifices himself to fly that aircraft into the ocean.
The Hulk: Bruce Banner throws himself out of a helicopter after he is quite sure that he won't turn into the Hulk again.
Fantastic Four: Ben Grimm subjects himself to cosmic rays again after he is reverted to human.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Johnny is willing to sarcifice himself at the end to become the Super Skrull (kinda...). And the Surfer is willing to sacrifice himself to stop Galactus.
Superman II: Kal-El is willing to stop being Superman to stay with Lois.
Batman Forever: Bruce Wayne sacrifices his secret identity to save innocent lives.

I appreciate the beau geste. But... every movie? So often?


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Shaun Barry
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Posted: 25 January 2018 at 8:14pm | IP Logged | 4 post reply


One that I don't seem to find pointed-out too often (but got annoying for me a long time ago):

Female characters/love interests dangling, jumping or falling from a great height, superhero must catch & save!

SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, SUPERMAN II, BATMAN, BATMAN RETURNS, BATMAN FOREVER, BATMAN & ROBIN, SPIDER-MAN, SPIDER-MAN 2, SPIDER-MAN 3, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, THE DARK KNIGHT, IRON MAN 3, DEADPOOL... I'm sure I'm forgetting a few more examples!





Edited by Shaun Barry on 25 January 2018 at 8:16pm
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Brian Hague
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 12:03am | IP Logged | 5 post reply

Most of these so far seem to be cliches of the super-hero genre that the movies have recognized and embraced a little too vigorously. Being by necessity a distillation of the super-hero genre, the films strike notes found in the comics a little too hard, a little too often sometimes.

I am tired of the "same thing, only nastier" set-up for the villain, as well as the bad guy being someone who was ten feet away from the hero the whole time, but the hero just didn't see it. Weirdly, this is something the latest Spider-Man film gets exactly right... Right up to the moment when it doesn't. Keaton plays it so well that I still stayed with the film even though part of me was dying inside with a pained, "Oh, come on...!"

Often tied to that same structure is the way in which the hero lacks self-sufficiency. Tony is dependent upon Obidiah and has been his whole life. Peter is dependent upon Tony for his costume and gadgetry. Even Superman is dependent upon the technological ghost of Jor-El and the Fortress for much of his knowledge and power. 

Tearing off the mask at a crucial juncture is annoying. "Strain... is too great... Getting... stronger... Don't know... how long... I can hold out... No time... No... strength left... M-Must tear off mask... Let audience see how powerfully I'm acting...!"

Another seeming script inevitability is the moment when the hero loses all hope. "Human beings just aren't worth it. Screw this. Who needs the tsuris? You can all burn in Hell for all I care... Weak, fragile, needy humans... Always steppin' on my cape... Who needs ya? Let Zod drop a friggin' building on you... I'm done with this. Die, every single one of you useless bastards. Just die and leave me alone..." This was most prominently, and self-pityingly, on display in the third Nolan Batman film as well as every computer keystroke Zach Snyder has struck since the age of five.

One trope that I find bodily hefts and shot-puts me out of the theater every single time, and not just in super-hero films, is the post-last-moment Second Chance. The villain is about to do the one thing that he or she must NOT do...! The one thing that will bring about the end of everything! They must be stopped! They HAS to be prevented or else... Nooooo!! They did it! It happened! All is lost! It's over! We failed... Except... Waitaminnit... The Omega Thirteen! We can go back! Save everyone! Only ten seconds to... Yes! We did it! Yayyyy!!" Guys, the Omega Thirteen was a joke, making fun of a script conceit that was already worn out and tired by the time it was mocked in GalaxyQuest nearly twenty years ago. Please stop using it as if it were a Scriptwriting 101 staple. Pretty please...? No? Whatever...


Edited by Brian Hague on 26 January 2018 at 12:05am
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Trevor Smith
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 5:10am | IP Logged | 6 post reply

Can the whole idea of a "redemption arc" be considered a
trope? Or is that too broad?
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John Byrne
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 7:25am | IP Logged | 7 post reply

And how about those damn Westerns? Always with the horses and six-guns!
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Eric Sofer
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 8:58am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

Mr. Byrne - well, at least they don't overplay the Indians rebelling against the cowboys and attacking and- oh, wait.
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Peter Martin
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 9:15am | IP Logged | 9 post reply

It's a cousin of the already-mentioned hero reveals identity, but having the villain discover the hero's secret identity is one that crops up too often for me.  
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Kevin Brown
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 10:17am | IP Logged | 10 post reply

Peter, to add to your comment:  Not only does the villain find out the hero's identity, but they never reveal it to the world for some odd reason.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 11:38am | IP Logged | 11 post reply

Not only does the villain find out the hero's identity, but they never reveal it to the world for some odd reason.

••

Too easy. Villains want to win on their own terms.

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Brian Rhodes
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 11:54am | IP Logged | 12 post reply

Sacrificing and saving...isn't that what heroes do?

Being saved and being the savior are both powerful fantasies. Call me a Neanderthal, but chicks want someone to protect them, and dudes want to be able to do that. Real world example? Watch the women in the room when a man in uniform walks in. Marine, cop, UPS...it doesn't really matter. It's just the idea of the uniform, I think: this man has purpose, he gets things done, when it comes down to it, this man can protect me (or my packages, at least).

The superhero is a natural extension of that. Not only a distinct uniform (costume), but also, those "power and abilities" (yes, Batman qualifies).

It works in reverse, too, as the huge success of WONDER WOMAN demonstrated.

Beyond the sexual component, there's the more universal escapist attraction: They fight for us. They save us. Because they can - and because they wish to. Because they are stronger than we are, physically and morally. They are good. And they want to contribute that good to the world. We should sometimes be able to relate to their problems, but we should always be able to aspire to their ideals.

I'd rather watch a superhero save a faller/dangler dozens of times than to watch them yearn to quit - or not even start - being a hero. "The ever-ending battle" that Snyder-Man has brought to the fore misses the point. True enough, this world doesn't owe anybody anything. But, heroes rise above all that.
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Nathan Greno
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 12:21pm | IP Logged | 13 post reply


Here's another one...

Hero saves a large, transportation vehicle filled with innocent civilians (Superman - school bus, Superman 2 - bus, The Dark Knight - ferry, Spider-man - tramcar, Spider-man 2 - train, Spider-Man Homecoming - ferry, Man of Steel - school bus)





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Peter Martin
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 2:10pm | IP Logged | 14 post reply

You're quite right it happens a lot, Nathan, but I quite like the hero saves a large transportation vehicle trope. For example, the ferry scene in Spider-Man: Homecoming didn't feel old hat to me. Superman doesn't just save a school bus in Superman: The Movie, he also saves a passenger jet and the film's no worse off for it, because -- along with rescuing kittens from trees-- I think those kind of  acts of heroism are so core to super heroes that they pretty much have to be there. Superhero: fights crime and saves people.
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Eric Sofer
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 5:31pm | IP Logged | 15 post reply

Brian R. - Sacrificing is certainly what heroes do, but as we've both seen in comics we read, it doesn't happen every single issue. "I must sacrifice my identity, my powers, my life" - it makes good drama and a good story. But I contend that a good story can be occur without the sacrifice bit. Heroes can be just as heroic having to make a choice or putting themselves in terrible danger. "Risking" isn't necessarily the same as "sacrificing", but it can still make a damned fine movie... "Superman the Movie", "Captain America: Winter Soldier", or "Batman."
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Robert Shepherd
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 6:31pm | IP Logged | 16 post reply

Sacrifice ( or martyrdom) is a part of story telling 101. It just happens to be obvious in super hero stories while other stories do it subtly. 

In a 4-act story.
Stages of a hero's growth*
Act One - The Orphan - Literal or figuratively speaking, alienated or isolated.
Act Two - The Wanderer - Feeling lost, defeated, torn down.
Act Three - The Warrior - Rebirth, remade - Finding the strength to do what needs to be done
Act Four - The Martyr - There is almost always a personal sacrifice or lose the battle.

In a 3-act story, steps 3 and 4 are combined into one act.

• Info pulled from the Contour app.


Edited by Robert Shepherd on 26 January 2018 at 6:34pm
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David Miller
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Posted: 26 January 2018 at 10:36pm | IP Logged | 17 post reply

Hero wears a leather jacket which may or may not evoke the comic costume.
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Doug Jones
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Posted: 27 January 2018 at 12:07am | IP Logged | 18 post reply

1) THE CLOCKPUNCHER:  The hero doesn’t just step down, but actively abdicates his duty—most often creating additional problems in the process. Practically a staple of WB/DC adaptations:

SUPERMAN II — Gives up everything for some silver sack time with Lois, leaving Kryptonian criminals to take over the White House.


SUPERMAN LIVES — Embarking on the most poorly planned vacation ever, Superman leaves Earth for five years to find nothing left of Krypton. In the meantime, Lex Luthor walks into a unsecured Fortress of Solitude and leaves with a tool powerful enough to allow him to create his own island off the coast of Metropolis.


THE DARK KNIGHT — A year into being Batman, Bruce is already talking about retiring. 


TDKR — At the beginning of the film, Bruce has been retired for eight years in an attic, allowing a terrorist network to grow and ultimately hijack the city. By the end of the film, he retires permanently, leaving Gotham a complete mess.


GREEN LANTERN —  Hal quits in the middle of the film when the going gets too tough.


BATMAN VS SUPERMAN — Wonder Woman confesses she rode the bench for 100 years during “a century of horrors”, a statement so cowardly and out of character that even Gal Godot made a point to publicly retcon it.


2) FASHION POLICE: Unnecessary moment in which a character (or the plot) mocks superhero costumes, as seen in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER and INCREDIBLES. Even more egregious: the blatant cheap shots which play out as complete non sequiturs, like Cyclops’ “yellow spandex” line in X-MEN, or Carol Ferris deriding the effectiveness of Hal’s mask in GL.

3) THE ASSHOLE’S COMEUPPANCE: The hero goes out of his way to enact petty revenge on some annoying civilian jerk— usually in an over the top, violent fashion. As seen in SUPERMAN II, MAN OF STEEL (arguably twice in the same film!), and THE INCREDIBLES.

4) I, GENIUS: Grotesquely excessive camera and/or editing and color grading gimmicks utilized by the director, who apparently believes comic-familiar members of the audience are too stupid to realize they are viewing the character in an entirely different medium. As seen in BATMAN FOREVER, BATMAN AND ROBIN, CATWOMAN and HULK (2003).


5) CLIMAX INTANGIBLE: Hero squares off against giant, amorphous and creatively ill-advised menace. As seen in HULK (2003), FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER and GREEN LANTERN.



Edited by Doug Jones on 27 January 2018 at 2:06am
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David Miller
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Posted: 27 January 2018 at 1:53am | IP Logged | 19 post reply

On the plus(-ish) side:

Movie compensates for empty, repetitive tropes with idiosyncratic character details and outsized performances. Hel in RAGNAROK didn't do nothin' but Cate Blanchett rocked her lines while not doin' it. Ant Man's presence in CIVIL WAR, a cameo of the sort long-justified by the comics that still reeked of functional corporate synergy, was redeemed by Paul Rudd retrieving Cap's shield and proudly announcing, "Captain America, I believe this belongs to you!" Ant Man's own colorful supporting cast of good-natured thieves. Cap's methodical ongoing investigation into contemporary culture. Rocket Raccoon developing a taste for Earth pop music and especially for utilizing Earth pop music to instill terror and disorientation into his victims, I mean enemies. Baby Groot doesn't like hats because they confuse him. Thanos likes sitting in his chair. Peter Parker isn't afraid of heights but is still intimidated by his first climb higher than 500 feet. "STAY!! Please." Doctor Strange can't hold his own in a fist fight. The Ancient One has lost at least one student to sink-or-swim teleportation training at the peak of Mt. Everest. "The guy in the chair." (Besides Thanos.) 

I know this stuff aggravates the hell out of some people but it's these textures that keep me coming back.  


Edited by David Miller on 27 January 2018 at 1:54am
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Conrad Teves
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Posted: 27 January 2018 at 8:31am | IP Logged | 20 post reply

The Whole World Is In Danger.  (In no particular order: Superman II, Superman IV, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Green Lantern, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, The Avengers, Avengers 2, Dr Strange, Thor: The Dark World).  It's a list that's going to get longer...
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Nathan Greno
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Posted: 27 January 2018 at 11:06am | IP Logged | 21 post reply

Peter: You're quite right it happens a lot, Nathan, but I quite like the hero saves a large transportation vehicle trope. 

---

I agree with you, Peter! I think some of these ideas are quite effective! That's why they've become tropes :) 
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Doug Centers
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Posted: 27 January 2018 at 12:37pm | IP Logged | 22 post reply

"What tropes & cliches have we all seen a few too many times in superhero films?"

...

Hero Pose.
By that I mean the landing with 1 knee and 1 fist on the ground.
I'll admit it was cool the first few times, but now when it happens it gets the eye roll.  Overused.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 27 January 2018 at 12:39pm | IP Logged | 23 post reply

Sounds like you guys have seen too many of these movies. Time to move on.
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