Keeping Superpowers in Check

Every hero has a certain, useful skill. However, there must be limitations to that skill. If that skill can get the hero out of trouble without the hero breaking a sweat, then that power is way too strong. The stronger the hero’s power, the less exciting the story will be. What makes stories interesting is when the hero is the underdog.

In “Iron Man 3,” Tony Stark has all these powerful armored suits at his disposal, but he’s suddenly the underdog when he’s isolated in a little town with a prototype armor suit that doesn’t work quite right. Now he’s at an extreme disadvantage despite his power.

What made the original “Star Wars” movie interesting was that the Force was a mental power. It could help influence the minds of stormtroopers, choke people from afar, and manipulate small items, but it’s real strength lay in multiplying the person’s own abilities. Now compare the use of the Force in the original “Star Wars” movie to those three awful prequels.

In one of those prequels, the heroes escape a chamber filled with poisonous gas by using the Force. Then they use the Force to move objects around such as toppling large towers to attack their enemies. The Force has suddenly grown from multiplying a person’s own abilities to being so powerful that it can do anything. With a power that can do anything, there’s much less suspense in the outcome because any time the hero gets in trouble, the hero can magically use the Force to rescue himself. Why not just use the Force to make the villain’s head explode? Or better yet, make a better “Star Wars” prequel?

In “Thor,” Thor is a god, but suddenly gets his powers stripped away and finds himself an ordinary person on Earth. The hero always has less power than the villains. Even in “The Avengers,” the heroes have awesome power, but the villains have more power.

Always give your hero less power so now your hero has to outwit the villain because he can’t out muscle him. Even in “Rocky,” Rocky can’t physically defeat Apollo Creed, but he can stay on his feet for all fifteen rounds until the end, and that’s his ultimate goal. Despite having less power, the hero uses less power creatively to win in the end anyway. The hero’s victory over the villain is less a physical victory than an emotional victory over his own character flaw. By improving himself, the hero can defeat the villain.

That’s why purely physical fights are boring. We want to see the hero as an underdog because it creates more suspense. We also want to see the hero change and become a better person because that creates a satisfying emotional victory too. By making your hero physically weaker than the villain and able to win only by becoming a better person can you have a satisfying climax.

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