Average Movie Superhero

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With the recent spate of superhero movies, it is easy to forget that not every movie has a superhero in it. Even the superhero films aren’t always about someone on steroids (Captain America) or weather presenters (Thor) but are instead about your everyday billionaire playboy (Batman, Ironman, Arrow). So it is easy to forget that feats of superhuman strength are not meant to be the norm in films.

Think about the scenes where the everyday hero is clutching the edge of a building by his fingertips – and I’m sure someday I’ll be able to write their instead of his. Valiantly they hold on to the ledge with one hand whilst the love interest or bad guy is dangling from their other hand. Of course, the hero never loses his grip on the ledge, but the bad guy may slip from his grasp.

We accept that scene as plausible because we have been brainwashed into thinking that the average person can hold their own bodyweight with a single hand for extended periods. Double their bodyweight? They can hold that for the length of a dramatic moment – a period of time that is impossible to measure in real time since dramatic speeches and slow motion really mess with reality.

The problem is that outside of gymnasts, rock climbers, or people who crush rocks with their bare hands for a living, the Average Joe wouldn’t even be able to hold their own weight with a single hand for more than a few seconds. Good luck having any unbroken fingers if they caught themselves from a fall.

Elite grip strength can be measured a few ways, but the Captains of Crush grippers are one easy way to distinguish strong hands. The #1 requires 64kg (140lbs) of force to close, while the #3 gripper takes 127kg (280lbs) and is regarded as world class grip strength. Just for shits and giggles they made a #4 gripper that requires 166kg (365lb) of force to close and has been officially closed by 5 people. Ever.

So let’s just assume that our generic action movie has an everyday hero who weighs a buff 80kg and his falling love interest is a sexy 55kg – because stereotypes. That’s 135kg hanging from the hero’s fingertips, a weight that even a really strong person wouldn’t have the grip strength to support. Two normal sized adults are not going to be hanging onto that ledge for any length of time.

Which brings us to the next amazing feat of strength in this scenario: lifting that falling love interest back to safety. For a strong person, lifting their 55kg love interest should be easy. Patrick Swayze managed it in Road House. A buff 80kg hero could probably clean and jerk a dumbbell weighing that much…. assuming they work out, have some chalk on their hands, were able to get some leg drive happening, had decent technique, and that the dumbbell wasn’t particularly unwieldy. But most falling love interests are a tad unwieldy, not designed for easy lifting – no obvious knurled handles – and there isn’t a lot of leg drive happening when you’re dangling from the side of a building by your fingertips. Yet without fail, the hero manages to get them both to safety. Well, unless it is one of those tragic character defining moments, in which case the hero will be in the same situation later and will find the determination to succeed the second time. Sucks to be the first love interest in that scenario.

Interesting to think about just how many amazing feats of strength are passed off as normal in movies.

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Book to Movie: Winter Solider – What’s the Difference?

This month’s CineFix edition of What’s the Difference cover the Ed Brubaker comic that inspired the Captain America: Winter Soldier movie.

Unlike Civil War, I managed to read the Ed Brubaker series of comics before watching the Winter Solider movie. Obviously there are a lot of differences, especially in terms of the expanded universe and “realism” of the movie world. The comics have decades of plots, sideplots, overlapping arcs from other parts of the Marvel Universe, characters, and general junk that is impossible to pack into a 2 hour movie. I actually find the way Marvel and DC have their stables of comics overlap and exist in the same universe to be annoying. The movies are starting to head that way as well, what with Age of Ultron essentially spending a third of its run time building the associated Thor, Ironman, Captain America, etc, movies.

One of the differences not really covered in the CineFix video is the other Captain Americas. That’s right, several other Caps wore the…. cap. Anyway, while Steve Rogers was chilling (Bucky too, but in a separate location) America didn’t want to lose its figurehead so they had some other people fill the role. From memory, at least one of them was integral to the plot, despite being no longer all there. This part of the plot also fed into the series that came immediately after Winter Soldier, with Bucky donning the costume and hefting the shield. For anyone about to complain about spoilers with that last sentence, try not to think about what could have happened to Steve Rogers to require Bucky to become Captain America.

In my original review for the Winter Soldier movie I commented that the writers had managed to capture Brubaker’s cold war spy story feel. They did this with very little similarities between the comic and movie. In some ways I think the movie is better, certainly I like the Steve Rogers of the film more, and they hadn’t quite gone overboard with the expanded universe stuff at that time, but in others the usual restrictions of the shorter format lessens the possible storytelling (Crossbones, the other Captain Americas, the relationships). Two very different stories were told but I still think this was a good adaptation.

One of the annoying things about movies

With the recent spate of superhero movies, it is easy to forget that not every movie has a superhero in it. Even the superhero films aren’t always about someone on steroids (Captain America) or weather presenters (Thor) but are instead about your everyday billionaire playboy (Batman, Ironman, Arrow). So it is easy to forget that feats of superhuman strength are not meant to be the norm in films.

Think about the scenes where the everyday hero is clutching the edge of a building by his fingertips whilst the love interest or bad guy is dangling from their other hand. Of course, the hero never loses his grip on the ledge, but the bad guy may slip from his grasp.

We accept that scene as plausible because we have been brainwashed into thinking that the average person can hold their own bodyweight with a single hand for extended periods. Double their bodyweight? They can hold that for the length of a dramatic moment – a period of time that is impossible to measure in real time since dramatic speeches and slow motion really mess with reality.

The problem is that outside of gymnasts, rock climbers, or people who crush rocks with their bare hands for a living, the Average Joe wouldn’t even be able to hold their own weight for more than a few seconds, especially not if they caught themselves from a fall. Elite grip strength can be measured a few ways, but the Captains of Crush grippers are one easy way to distinguish strong hands. The #1 requires 64kg (140lbs) of force to close, while the #3 gripper takes 127kg (280lbs) and is regarded as world class grip strength. Just for shits and giggles, they made a #4 gripper that requires 166kg (365lb) of force to close and has been officially closed by 5 people. Ever.

Watch this world-class rock climber hold just over double his bodyweight with two hands, not one hand, for time as another example:

So let’s just assume that our generic action movie conforms to long-held stereotypes of protagonists. This movie stars an everyday hero who weighs a buff 80kg and his falling love interest is a lithe 55kg, and they totally get naked in the second act for purely artistic reasons. That’s 135kg hanging from the hero’s fingertips, a weight that even a really strong person wouldn’t have the grip strength to support. Two normal sized adults are not going to be hanging onto that ledge for any length of time.

Which brings us to the next amazing feat of strength in this scenario: lifting that falling love interest back to safety. For a strong person, the 55kg gravity lover isn’t exactly heavy. A buff 80kg hero could probably clean and jerk a dumbbell weighing that much…. assuming they work out, have some chalk on their hands, were able to get some leg drive happening, had decent technique, and that the dumbbell wasn’t particularly unwieldy. But most falling love interests are a tad unwieldy, not designed for easy lifting – no obvious knurled handles – and there isn’t a lot of leg drive happening when you’re dangling from the side of a building by your fingertips. Yet without fail, the hero manages to get them both to safety. Well, unless it is one of those tragic character defining moments, in which case the hero will be in the same situation later and will find the determination to succeed the second time. Sucks to be the first love interest in that scenario.

Interesting to think about just how many amazing feats of strength are passed off as normal in movies.

Why Comic Book Movies Suck

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With the run-away box office success of some of the comic book movie adaptations, you could be excused for thinking that comic book movies don’t suck. Sure, stick Robert Downey Jnr. in a movie and you are bound to bask the movie in his reflected awesome. Put Joss Whedon in the director’s chair and he could make paint drying fun to watch. But when all said and done, comic book movies are fatally flawed for the following reasons.

Origin Story

I was bitten by a cat. No increased agility, but I do clean myself with my tongue now.
I was bitten by a cat. No increased agility, but I do clean myself with my tongue now.

Did John McClane need an origin story? Did we need to see him join the police academy, walk the beat in montage form and get his detective shield before taking on Hans Gruber? NO! So why do we need to go back and see how every superhero became a superhero? If Charlies Angels can get away with having us believe that three rake thin girls can successfully beat the crap out of a group of guys twice their size whilst wearing stilettos without an origin story, I think we can just take it on faith that The Punisher has issues with criminals.

Superhero beating up normal people

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Super arms, normal pudgy body ripe for the beating.

He can leap tall buildings in a single bound, he can change the course of rivers with his bare hands, but he still needs to punch a normal person like he’s Ali squaring off against Foreman. Let’s face it, if a superhero actually wound up and threw a punch like we see in the movies (or comics for that matter) to hit a normal person, their fist would go clear through the person’s body, which would be kinda cool to see on the big screen.

The most egregious use of this strength imbalance, in my opinion, is in Spiderman 2. Remember how Spiderman stops a speeding train using just upper body strength? Remember how he then has an extended fight with Doc Oc where he repeatedly punches the mad scientist in the face? Now I know that the Doc did have some cool new appendages attached to his body, but the rest of his body is still pretty normal. Yet we are meant to believe that Spiderman can’t throw a punch to save his life or that Doc Oc’s head can withstand a blow that is stronger than a speeding train.

Spandex/Lycra

In reality land, never a good look.
In reality land, never a good look.

I’m almost certain that superhero costume designers and comic artists are BSDM fans, nothing else can explain Catwoman’s costume. Now being a heterosexual male I find nothing wrong with the casting of attractive women to be wearing spandex or lycra bodysuits. Sure, it must be hard for the women to stay in shape, kick ass and say their lines, but we sure do appreciate it! I’m sure the flip side is also true, that the female audience members love to see the chiselled muscle of the male actors displayed either shirtless or clad in the most figure enhancing costumes possible. I’m sure that the LGBT crowd have their respective tastes sated as well.

But here is my problem with spandex and lycra: no-one actually looks good in it and it is not very practical. If Batman were really deciding on what to wear when fighting crime, he wouldn’t be deciding on a cape and cod piece, he’d be looking for body-armour and a backpack for lugging around all of his Bat-gadgets. What about pockets? Where do you keep your phone and spare cash? And what happens if the superhero hasn’t had a chance to fight crime recently or has had a lot of charity dinners of late? Spandex and lycra are just going to display those meals and extra flab straight away. They’d become too self conscious to leave the house to fight any crimes. Norman Osbourne has taken hostages down-town  Sorry, I have a muffin top and can’t be seen in public.

Gratuitous PG rated violence

I'm a science nerd, that means one graph per article, minimum.
I’m a science nerd, that means one graph per article; minimum.

After an epic fight that levels half the city the bad guy goes to prison and we have ambulances treating all the poor people who sustained a few cuts and bruises. After beating the living crap out of each other for 20 minutes, the good guy and bad guy have a sum total of a bloodied lip and a bad case of out-of-breathness. Then, of course, the bad guy dies in some elaborate death scene that cuts-away just before the gory bit.

On the plus side, there is plenty of shooting, explosions, car chases, fight scenes and general mayhem to keep anyone amused. But no tits. Definitely no tits. Because we wouldn’t want kids to see anything that could harm their little minds.

The laws of physics don’t apply

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I may weigh over 110kg, but this seat thinks I’m 50kg.

You know how when fat people sit down on something you hear it complain? What about the bowing that occurs? What about those permanent dents that your poor couch has from your fat uncle at Xmas time, not to mention the smell? Well, in the movies that doesn’t happen. Iron Man sits on a couch and doesn’t look a gram over 80kg, yet all that armour should be making it bow like your fat uncle after a plate of turkey. But it isn’t just that. Where are the crumple zones in that suit? What about air-bags? What about how squidgy Tony Stark would become being rattled around inside that suit?

Superheroes defy all sorts of laws of physics, whether it be jumping off a building and landing on the ground in high heels as though they just needed to tie their shoes, or casually picking up a car to throw at someone without their fingers tearing straight through the light aluminium panels. Also, why is it that the superhero always has super-clothes? Whether it be Wolverine’s amazing self healing singlets or the general indestructible nature of most costumes. Whoever designs those things could make a fortune!

Secret identity that isn’t really

The mask makes me look less like Ryan Reynolds, don't you think?
The mask makes me look less like Ryan Reynolds, don’t you think?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s quite clearly Clark Kent without the glasses.

How stupid are the people of Gotham? A Dark Knight rocks up wearing expensive high-tech gadgets, driving a really cool car at the same time a troubled billionaire returns home: how much of a leap do people have to take here? Even Hal Jordan was unmasked by his girlfriend, how long would it take other people to catch on? At least Tony Stark just came out and admitted it.

Big ass explosions

They're cool because they aren't looking at it.
They’re cool because they aren’t looking at it.

This is related to the physics point. Explosions in real life are never as spectacular as movie explosions. Car falls off a cliff: instant fireball. Helicopter stops helicopting: instant fireball. Gas from the stove left on for a few seconds: house explodes into a million pieces. Captain America ducks his head behind his shield as grenade explodes: doesn’t have exposed legs blown off.

In comic book movies everything explodes at the lightest touch. Somehow The Hulk crushing a car causes it to explode, rather than just leak. But not just explode, EXPLODE!!! I don’t know how much high-octane petrol and C4 the average person keeps in their car, but it must be a lot more than I do.