Showing us what they do with those powers, and showing (not telling) us why? THE HOTNESS.
In short, all Superhero movies need to do to dramatically improve in quality and performance is pretty simple: stop treating the superpower as the main character.
They don’t need to explode bigger stuff. They don’t even need to win. Just present us with a damn good explanation for why Sue Storm isn’t the world’s richest paparazzi(*), and we’ll be happy.
M. Night Shyamalan gets a bad rap, because, er, most of his movies are terrible. But, he actually made a really great superhero epic no one really thinks about anymore, Unbreakable. All he did was make a superhero movie about real people, where the powers were very much secondary to the story. We need more movies like that.
Superhero movies are still movies. Powers are props and plot points, you still need an actual story, and identifiable characters. Even in cases where the overall story is very well known (Superman), there’s a ton of room for insights that delight and surprise twists that keep us wondering…
(* Despite the extensive grassroots petitioning, however, we really don’t need an explanation why her boyfriend doesn’t work in porn.)
From the original question – Hawkeye has an incredible background and seems like the perfect candidate for a grittier darker film. Thoughts?
You know who else had a nice dark, gritty, incredible background?
Man-Thing (no, really!)
Historically, Marvel’s “dark knights”, if you will, have had a problem: how do you make money on the movie?
Because it’s a licensed film, you can’t go too low budget, or you’ll hurt the overall brand.
If you aim too wide, especially in terms of movie ratings, a lot of the grit/pathos that makes the character interesting is lost.
Related, if you focus too much on star power, what ends up on the screen is Ben Affleck in red leather, rather than Matt Murdock, Daredevil.
Of course, stars are bad for other reasons… It might be easier to get a fan of the title to sign on, but then they may use their leverage to screw up the script or direction because they “know better” – looking at you, Nic Cage!
Sometimes Hollywood gets lost in the origin issue – how can you tell fun new stories about the Punisher without first doing a “set up” piece about how he became a deranged homicidal maniac?
If you ignore the origin and just tell the story, “won’t all the non-fans get lost/turned off?” – this is not entirely unfounded… A lot of Marvel characters, especially, depend on their origin and background in the larger universe to be interesting. The Punisher by any other name… Is a dude with guns killing bad guys. That becomes a “red ocean” problem, where you suddenly ALSO need to just make a kick-ass vigilante action movie to compete with the rest of that genre, on top of everything else.
For these and other reasons, comic book movies tend to have a lot working against them from the very outset… And if the comic title in question isn’t a “household name”, well, for most producers and studios, it’s just too risky to do as a tentpole/blockbuster.
On the brighter side – this is, in large part, why Marvel pulled out of its production deal with Sony in order to found their own studio – use your own cash, make your own rules. And now that they are “free”, their execution has been much better… They will have released the entire “Avengers Core Team” as solo films by the end of 2011 – Hulk, Thor, Cap, and the Tin Can. With the exception of Captain America (not yet released), performance globally has been from decent to astounding.
The next step is to bring them all together in an eye-exploding orgy of hopefully-not-suck called The Avengers, in 2012. That movie should also see an expanded list of tier-two ‘masks’ like Hawkeye getting a bit of screen time… If done right, that might tip such heroes into the household name category, enabling them to star in their own films, gritty or otherwise.
To say the least, there are a lot of “what if’s” involved, and only time will tell. But it’s certainly fair to say that Marvel has learned an important lesson about fully-outsourcing its product to Hollywood, and that while there are likely to be continued misses down the road (Ghost Rider II, whaaaa?!?), the batting averages for the next 20 years are almost going to be better than the last 20.
(* Daniel Shi, like some kind of mothafucka trying to ice skate uphill, pointed out that I left Blade off my list, but I had good reason: the titular hero, while dark and gritty as the rest, had a pretty good “daywalk” at the box office for a movie series of its time – $415,098,928 grossed in theaters across 3 films, with additional revenues from domestic and international licensing, digital, and DVD sales. For more details on the Blade trilogy, check in with my good buddy Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bla… )
Thor’s power originates within Thor. He’s the God of Thunder, not the Dude Who Carries Thunder-God-Power-Hammer.
That said, magic is a funny thing, as are curses. In Thor’s case, his own powers are “removed” until he can pick up the hammer, and he can’t pick up the hammer until… Well, spoilers, you know…
Anyway, as for Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer’s name) itself, the powers are basically agreed to be the following:
It’s a very good hammer, good at hammering just about anything, really really hard (basically as hard as Thor wants it to hit).
When thrown, it will unerringly return to Thor’s hand.
When Thor aims it, it doesn’t miss.
Between the movie and the comics, there are a few other powers hinted at, though I would submit that the majority of these (like teleportation) are actually particular manifestations of one or more of the above powers combined with Thor’s own (say, unerringly aiming the hammer at a point halfway across the galaxy, then throwing it so hard it travels there instantaneously).
In a nutshell, it’s a really big(*) hammer, that allows someone with god-level powers to actually do even more damage when he hits something – or, conversely, a lot LESS, based on his desires.
When you think about it, it’d be pretty ridiculous for a god to carry around weapons that didn’t make him even more powerful.
(* It also has, according to Norse mythology, the ability to shrink to a pocketable size when not in use)
This is a bit tough… Given the particular wording of your question, I’d go with Superman. He’s the first archetypical “superhero” who appeared in comic book form, at least in the US…
(This is actually just Christopher Reeve chasing me after I keyed his car…)
According to Wikipedia[*], the French once again beat us to the punch with a fella called the “Nyctalope”:
(My doctor says I have to stop eating Nyctalope for breakfast when I hit 40…)
As far as other possible “first placers”, you have all manner of costumed superhumans or “ultimate” humans –
The Green Hornet,
– all of whom, if they magically dropped out of subspace in the Marvel or DC Universes, would be instantly recognized as “Superheroes”, or possibly “Super villains” in some cases.
Nevertheless, just about all of the other candidates appeared first in print books and magazines, comic strips, and radio dramas, and most did not take a strong stand in the comic book format until well after Superman had led the way as a groundbreaking title in the genre/medium in 1938 in Action Comics #1.