The Red Pen of Doom

Conventional wisdom about writing is conventionally wrong.

Why Hollywood is plagued by The Invincible Hero problem

Now that the Avengers have assembled into a giant machine that prints dollar bills, the X-Men are getting rebooted and Batman/Superman are teaming up to create billions more for an entirely different set of studio executives who live across the street from the Marvel folks, there’s something we need to discuss.

Because there’s a common problem with all of these movies–except for Batman, and we’ll get to that.

The Invincible Hero problem.

I’ve seen all three movies involving Thor and his hammer, and yes, the hammer has some crazy Norse name, and even though I’m a Swede nobody knows how to really pronounce the thing. IT’S A HAMMER.

Those movies are fun, and great, but tell me this: how do you hurt Thor, or kill him?

Because I don’t have a clue.

So there’s hundreds of millions of dollars in CGI explosions happening, and Iron Man grabbing Thor to fly him into trees and a cliff and such, but all amazing special effects that cost more than my house and your house and every dollar we’ll ever make in our lifetime, well, they don’t really move me, because I’m never worried about Thor being injured or killed.

You can throw the man around, blow him up, stab him with Loki’s sneaky dagger, punch him with the Hulk, and none of that really matters. The only proven way to hurt Thor is to remove Natalie Portman from the picture. 

The first Thor movie was better than the sequel because for a good chunk of it Thor didn’t have his powers. He was just a man who could get hurt, lose a fight or even die, and it was his willingness to sacrifice himself and die that made Odin restore his powers.

See, when a hero is invincible, you don’t worry about them. And when you don’t worry about them, you stop caring about bullets and thugs and whatever else the villain is throwing around.

Superman is the worst offender. When you look at heroes on the screen like Wolverine and Captain America, they don’t seem to get hurt, since both guys regenerate and such. But they’re powers aren’t crazy like the boy from Krypton, who can (a) run faster than a speeding bullet, (b) fly, including going into space without needing to breathe, (c) shoot heat rays from his eyes when they’re not (d) busy taking x-rays of your bones, (e) ice anything with frost breath, (f) move so fast he GOES BACK IN TIME and (g) 17 other powers I don’t have time to list.

When you’re so powerful and invincible that tank shells bounce off your skin (Superman, Hulk) or armored suit (Iron Man), it’s hard to ramp things up without jumping the shark. Should we have Hulk get hit by a comet, or throw Superman into a black hole to see what happens? Also, no barber could cut Superman’s hair or trim his beard, right? He’d look like the lost fourth member of ZZ Top.

Batman is a better, more interesting hero because he’s simply a man. You know his bones can break, that the villain can truly hurt or kill him. It matters.

Hollywood could fix this problem, if it cared to, by setting up in each of these bazillion-dollar stories not just how cool the hero is and what amazing things he or she can do.

Tell us, up front in Act 1, what the hero can’t do. Show us a few weaknesses and how they can get hurt or even killed. Because then in Act 2 and 3, we’ll care a lot more about those CGI explosions and bullets as part of the story instead of eye candy that doesn’t really affect the story.

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

About Guy Bergstrom

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot.

27 comments on “Why Hollywood is plagued by The Invincible Hero problem

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  12. Annette
    March 30, 2014

    Top Three Worst Superheroes:

    1. Superman
    2. Captain America
    3. Thor

    I like my superheroes with a pinch of moral ambiguity. See: Batman, most of the X-Men, Hulk, and Iron Man.


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  16. leo noker
    December 21, 2013

    I agree with your point completely. Take the 3 recent James Bond movies. In all 3 of them, James is bloody and damaged within the first 10 minutes of each movie. But in the older movies, he never gets beat up or even suffers a scratch.


    • Guy Bergstrom
      January 1, 2014

      All true! Just watched every Bond movie. Roger Moore barely gets a hangnail.


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  20. lindseyjparsons
    December 4, 2013

    Maybe Superman can just retract his beard when he fancies being clean shaven? It did seem to keep coming and going in the latest film.


  21. susielindau
    December 3, 2013

    Good luck!
    I think super heroes are popular when we are looking for them. As the economy improves, we’ll see less of them.


  22. juliabarrett
    December 3, 2013

    You really should discuss this with my husband. He says the same thing. Invincible is boring. And as my son says – villains are always more interesting because they are proactive where as invincible heroes are merely reactive.


  23. Darlene Jones
    December 3, 2013

    Great analysis – Hollywood needs to take a new direction.


  24. N. E. White
    December 3, 2013

    Sooo true!


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This entry was posted on December 3, 2013 by in 3 Tinseltown Tuesday, The Big Screen and tagged , , , , , .
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