Earlier I posted about superpowers being a shortcut for creating interesting characters. After seeing Thor recently, I must say that superheroes become most interesting when they are not using their powers. Since the comic books are such a huge world to themselves, I’m limiting my thoughts to the movie versions.
I saw Thor last week. When Thor loses his god powers and becomes a mortal among humans, is when he is most entertaining. He’s still a viking, and vikings are cool, especially among scientists and pretty girls. Muscles aside, he’s charming and confident, and that makes him interesting. His vulnerability at that point also makes us have empathy towards him. To the audience, he is now more real. Superpowers, while spectacular, push characters outside our world. It’s when they come down to earth, like Thor, that we can experience their real “character.”
It is the same way with Robert Downy Jr. in Ironman. When he is Tony Stark, his cockiness and wit get laughs. Pepper Potts treats him like a regular guy, which grounds him in reality. It’s a formula that really works. I have to say Bruce Wayne (Batman) never held my interest that much.
This is why The Incredibles is a great superhero story. Their superpowers are constantly used for action and comedy, but it’s their situations that make them relatable. As a family, they have all the same issues that regular families have. The fact that society has rejected them and having to keep their nature secret is a pressure way beyond what normal families live with, and we see them dealing with it. It all works together organically to create a rich story experience.