Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
“Back to formula.”
In the first Spider-man blockbuster (2002), these were the last words one poor lab assistant ever heard. Norman Osborn, a scientist on military government contract to develop a chemical that makes soldiers genetically-superior (i.e. jumping, punching and healing) defies strict orders to abandon the project and secretly starts testing it on humans– namely himself. But the compound is unstable, and so is he.
The lab assistant had read enough comic books (this was before they were all movies) to know that unstable compounds that give scientists super-strength turn them into pathological homicidal maniacs. Something like this had happened with The Hulk, Hector Hammond, Abomination, Red Skull and The Lizard. (And they all had this weird obsession with a color.) So he tried to challenge fate by telling him to take the chemical back to formula, to maybe tone down the violent-tendencies bit. But, as obsessed scientist villains will do, Osborn gave it to himself anyway. When the alarms go off and the assistant rushes in to save him, Osborn turns into Mr. Hyde, hisses those three little words, and throws him through a window.
Marvel Studios had its blockbuster hero films down to a science. And they’re not going back to formula.
There’s a reason superhero movies make up 4 of the 20 bestselling movies of all time. 11 years ago, Spider-Man had the biggest opening weekend in box office history. In that moment, DC and Marvel realized they could turn their decades of kid’s comic books into entertainment for all ages. But with great power comes great responsibility not to let those movies flop. There were a few “experimental” superhero movies, films that tinkered with cinematography (Hulk), gritty violence (Daredevil) or even catering too much to the nerds (Green Lantern). The comic book moguls may have learned their lesson. Superheroes are a genre. Genres have formulas, and the public wants to rely on them.
Iron Man 3 was released May 3. By July 3, it made $1,210,157,106. It is the 5th best-selling movie in history.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
SPOILER ALERT. Here’s the breakdown on Iron Man 3, as seen previously in 9 (or with slight stretches, 11) other hero flicks:
- Spider-man: scientist on military government contract to develop genetically-superior jumping-punching-healing soldiers secretly, illegally starts testing it on humans– namely himself.
- Hulk: Same story. The scientist used to have short, dirty-blond hair slicked to one side, and now it’s long, tangled and has ‘Mad Scientist’ written all over it. Or in this movie’s case, vice versa.
- (Green Lantern: Same scientist hair. Different story.
- Captain America: similar story, only it’s the genius scientist’s military boss who tests it on himself.)
- Amazing Spider-Man: scientist tries for years to re-program human DNA to regrow missing limbs, as “the next step in human evolution.” He needs the scientist hero’s help to work out the kinks that keep things from going horribly wrong. Something goes horribly wrong.
- Spider-man 2: scientist uses unstable super-hot science power even though it sometimes destroys everything in its path, insisting it’ll soon stabilize. He’s convinced if he could just complete his supervillain plot he’d have the money and resources to fix it. Meanwhile, the hero’s hero-duties are getting in the way of his relationship with his girlfriend.
- Batman Begins: bad guys blow up hero’s billionaire mansion. See Dark Knight Rises for more things also found in Batman Begins. v
- Dark Knight Rises: terrorist is using bombings to chastise Western civilization because it’s corrupt, and the entire world is powerless to stop him. (Mind you, only the U.S. military is shown taking notice of all this.) Only the billionaire superhero can, by using his technology and detective skills to find him. Terrorist has decades-old grudge against hero, and to prove that the hero is nothing without his stuff, takes away his billionaire mansion, his suit and all his weapons, even using those weapons to attack people. The Hero is then declared dead because he’s crash-landed hundreds of miles away in a poor American town with weather the opposite of the palace he lives in.
- Thor: hero loses all allies, power and weapons and is cast out into a poor American town. Despite his life of his father-inherited privilege and flying gold-and-silver armor, he now has to make friends like a normal person, but his ego initially gets in the way. Bad guys come tear up the town while hero’s disarmed. Hero team’s government-owned suit of armor gets hijacked by a villain to attack people and tries to kill a pretty politically-important good guy with it. (Incidentally, this armor can be controlled remotely, shoots energy blasts and is super-heated (which in Iron Man 3’s case is because of the bad guy inside of it.)
- Spider-Man 1, 2 & 3: the bad guy kidnaps the hero’s girlfriend.
- Iron Man (1): military contractor the hero’s company works with is secretly arming terrorists and then profiting from military contracts it gets to fight those terrorists.
- (Thor: Semi-secret villain is secretly arming anti-government rebels and using the conflict to “get rid of” higher-ups in his government so he can move up in the government himself. He also slicks his hair and looks gold, and has body-temperature powers.)
- Dark Knight: with the clock ticking, villain forces hero to choose between saving girlfriend from burning or saving politician from death by oil.
- Dark Knight Rises: girlfriend kills bad guy. Hero blows up his weapons and retires from hero-duty to be with his girlfriend…
…or so we think.