Why Fistfights Are Pointless in Superhero Movies
Although the film is shoddy and widely maligned, there was a salient scene in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 that should have effectively undone the bulk of superhero movies in its simplicity. During the film’s action-packed climax, our two heroes – Iron Man and War Machine – are beset by a team of towering weaponized robots that can fly. Our heroes fire explosive missiles at the robots, and the robots, in turn, fire back. The robots and our heroes exchange blows. Fists fly. Eventually, the robots have our heroes surrounded. Iron Man then has a brilliant idea. He asks his compatriot to hit the deck, activates a pair of what appear to be high-power laser beams in his fists, and wheels his arms around, cutting all of the robots in half. The fight is over.
War Machine turns to Iron Man and says “Next time, lead with that.”
For those that were paying attention, that one line of dialogue neutered the very lifeblood of all superhero movies: The Big Fight. Why, we immediately asked, did there have to be any sort of extended conflict between a team of robots and our heroes when our hero could have merely cut all of the robots in half instantly? Just whip out that laser immediately. If I recall, there was no plot conceit that prevented Iron Man from using his super laser up front. There was, Iron Man 2 cleverly and subtly pointed out, no point to the extended and noisy fight sequence other than to pad out the film and to give hundreds of jobs to hard-working SFX technicians.
We will soon have a film where Batman and Superman will fistfight. But why is Batman going to ball up his fist and slam it into Superman’s jaw? Will that do anything? Something tells me, we’re going to watch him try a few dozen times before innovating and trying something that will, you know, actually work.
One may notice, if one is observant, that this is the case with most fight scenes in superhero movies. They serve no story function. Fight scenes serve a miniature intermissions to a film’s plot. When you read Shakespeare’s plays, all fight sequences are encapsulated by the stage direction “[they fight].” When a superhero fight sequence breaks out, that’s all audiences can really see anymore. The fight itself is inconsequential, because at the end of the fight, no one is injured or incapacitated. When two super-powered beings fight in a movie, there are no consequences. A fist can slam into a face, but since neither the fist nor the face ever gets hurt or damaged, there is no point to such an action. Superheroes are super-strong and are, for the most part, largely invulnerable. A fistfight will not result in knocking someone unconscious. These people can’t be knocked out with a blow to the head. Punching doesn’t work.
These aren’t fights in any conventional sense. They’re just punching contests that take up time until our heroes (or villains) think of a more innovative way to incapacitate or destroy their opponent.
The following is a short list of specific superhero fights that went on for far too long before one of the superheroes miraculously remembered that they were indeed superheroes, and figured out something different. This is by no means a complete list, as you’ll find that almost every superhero fistfight is pointless.
Slideshow: Superhero Fistfights That Accomplished Nothing
Top Image: Warner Bros.
Witney Seibold is a regular contributor to Crave, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at@WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.