Flying has become so ubiquitous in superhero films that we often forget it poses immutable problems within storytelling.
There's no greater thrill than the idea of flying. Swooping through the air like Superman, or Neo, or Wonder Woman, or Homelander, or Iron Man....you get the picture. Flight has always been the showiest of superpowers. It sends us up into the air and truly separates us from everyone else.
But there's a small problem with fights during flying...namely...why do they ever stop flying...and how can the audience tell who's winning...and how is the story grounded by physics and juxtaposition to the real world...and a whole lot more.
Today I want to talk about flying in the superhero genre and think of some ways to make it better in the movies we know and love.
Check out this video from Nerdstalgic and let's talk after the jump.
The Problem with Flying and Fighting in Superhero Movies
I want to express how much I like superhero movies. I think they try to show the best of humanity and help us understand each other. Even the bad ones are fun in some moments and interesting in others.
But I tend to agree with the video.
When it comes to heroes fighting, we really lose the ability to identify the stakes. The real problem here is that because we don't have superpowers, the fight in the air makes things unrelatable. We can't tell the speed or force of the punches. We aren't sure where the pain starts and if there are certain thresholds where someone is winning and the other person is losing.
They feel messy and oftentimes don't look realistic.
So how can we make them better?
One way movies do it well is to put it on the ground. We understand real stakes on the ground and can see how fast people are moving and how their moves affect the environment around them. Even in controversial scenes like the end of Man of Steel we get a more visceral feeling when the battle is on the ground than we do with any of the "in air" stuff.
If you want to stick with the air, think about juxtaposition. Legitimately one of my favorite hero tropes is showing them in the air next to a plane. We understand the speed and scope of what's going on with them.
And if that trope feels tired, flip it on its head like they did in The Boys.
The point here is that when we see power juxtaposed against the powerless we get the real scope of flight and life. And we also suddenly realize how powerful these heroes are. I think if there's a flaw in Marvel movies it's that we don't see these stakes enough, but think about the amazing scene in Winter Soldier where we see Cap jogging...and lapping Sam.
Because we see Cap next to Sam, we get how powerful he is...and even though Cap can't fly, we understand what he can do.
So, let's wrap this all back to flying. The best way to do that would be to combine everything we talked about. Kind of like they did in Superman: The Movie. In this scene, we start with Lois and the danger revolving around her. We understand the stakes of a falling helicopter and the people below.
What we also get is that special rush when we see a man who can swoop in to help. His strength can be measured against everyone else in the scene. They can't do that. What else is special? He can fly. And in one of the best lines in movie history, "You've got me, who's got you?"
This wonderment adds a little something extra. We enjoy the flight here because he does it carrying someone who gets to be mesmerized along with the audience.
So when it comes to flight and fights...think about how to connect with the normies on the ground.
And get writing.
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