Why Changing Comic Book Origin Stories for the Movies Is Important

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If you’ll allow us to start with a cliche, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Some may argue that superhero origin stories are played out, and even modern comic book movies often introduce us to heroes mid-career without any explanation. But of course, an origin story sets off the chain of events that leads our heroes to learning more about themselves while also choosing to fight for justice.So the “great power” line from Spider-Man encapsulates not only the granted abilities of superheroes, but also the importance of stepping up to those responsibilities presented. But it also is reflective of the choices filmmakers themselves have to make when adapting a hero’s story, including their origin story.

As IGN continues its search for the greatest superhero movie ever made with our Super Movie Madness contest, let’s look at some different types of origin stories and how they’ve been re-interpreted for the big screen.

Freak Accident

The freak accident origin story is ironically dependable for creating new superheros. When incredible abilities are thrust upon our protagonists, they’ll have to eventually choose what they’re going to do with their newfound powers. And for those who become heroes, that includes stepping up to use these powers for good or their community.Tobey Maguire masters his organic web-shooters in Spider-Man.

Tobey Maguire masters his organic web-shooters in Spider-Man.

And there’s no better example of a homegrown hero than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. Peter Parker, after being bitten by a radioactive spider, could suddenly see clearer, move quicker, and yes, shoot webs from his body. This is a departure from the original Spider-Man comics, where Peter was able to make web-shooters. In choosing to have the spider’s bite genetically alter Peter to also shoot webs organically, his freak accident also became a thinly veiled analogy for puberty and stepping up as a provider and protector after his Uncle Ben passes away.

Setting the bar for many superhero movies that followed, this change was for the audiences of the early 2000s who needed to be shown how to believe in superheroes. A high school kid inventing high-tech webs capable of bearing tremendous weight just wasn’t as believable as, well, getting stuck to your own webs in an embarrassing moment in the high school cafeteria in front of your crush.

Born This Way

Unlike those who underwent freak accidents, other heroes were simply born that way. Heroes like Blade and Aquaman are hybrids from human parents who, for better or worse, crossed paths with supernatural beings. These heroes knew early on they were different and were shaped by their feelings of being treated differently. How their true natures were nurtured influenced how they view and used their abilities, therefore shaping their ethics and morals. Fox’s X-Men series covered the constant mutant struggle with the homo sapien society, playing out the endless ethical chess match between Charles Xavier and Magneto.Laura (Dafne Keen) says goodbye in Logan.

Laura (Dafne Keen) says goodbye in Logan.

2017’s Logan marked the end of Hugh Jackman’s 17-year tenure as Wolverine and also serves as the origin movie for X-23/Laura. While X-23 was technically first introduced on an animated show, neither that show nor her comics origins ever involved a Western-style story with the man who is effectively her biological father. Knowing that Laura was experimented on the way he was, Logan sees himself in Laura’s journey to fight against her programmed nature and makes it his mission to protect her on her way to the safe haven known as Eden. This experience and quality dad time gives Laura a new hope for a path other than just survival. And whereas most of Logan’s life was focused on bloodshed and killing, his final mission helps Laura in her very first to set off in a hopefully better direction on life’s path.

The Chosen One

While comics are a modern form of hero-worship, some creators take that extra step by reinterpreting gods and mythological figures as superheroes… and supervillains.Chis Hemsworth is not worthy (yet) in the first Thor film.

Chis Hemsworth is not worthy (yet) in the first Thor film.

As part of the MCU’s Phase 1, Thor’s adaptation featured the same exiled god from the comics sent to Earth… but he was still Thor in all his muscle-y, Chris Hemsworth splendor, even if he didn’t have his god-like powers. In the comics, when Odin banished Thor so that he could learn humility, he was given a mortal form as Donald Blake with none of his memories as a god. But it’s a much more powerful choice to let Thor struggle as a mortal and miss his once almighty abilities, as in the film version. His inability to lift Mjolnir plays as an actual reflection of his unworthiness, and it hangs over Thor until he realizes that he needs to grow up. Directed with a Shakespearean tilt by Hamlet himself, Sir Kenneth Branagh, the film’s decision to keep Thor conscious of his faults starts the Asgardian on a journey that sees him transform from a debaucherous frat boy into a bonafide hero who has been humbled by profound loss.

The best superhero films flesh out 2D characters and imbibe them with a heart and reality that mainstream audiences can buy into. But what are your favorite origin stories in superhero cinema? Let’s discuss in the comments. And be sure to also check out our other Super Movie Madness topics on villains, action scenes, and visual effects!

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