Superheroes are time-tested formula of success. Backed by some of the most ardent followers and major production houses, major superhero movies have rarely fallen flat at the box-office. But a lot has changed since the first Superman movie was released in 1978. Movie goers are the end-customers and their taste & preferences are destined to evolve over time. No business can afford to ignore the changing behaviour of their customers, and hence required to tweak (or overhaul) their offerings accordingly in order to stay relevant amid fierce competition. Production houses are no exception.
The Iron Man
Back in 1960s when the legendary Stan Lee created the comic character of Iron man under the Marvel comics’ banner, the character was meant to be a superhero with which people could relate and not a superficial imaginative man flying with a cape on his back. Iron Man’s inception was based on the premise that utilising his wealth, astuteness and aura he could avert the dangers of World War-III taking place in the comic series as he was technically equipped well enough to fight the large scale terrorism. Soon after he featured as one of the founding members of the Avengers super hero team which was more or less inspired by the DC comics Justice League.
The positioning of Iron Man is a testimony to the changing times. For long the ideal superhero had been the one with the responsibility to save and protect (with great power comes great responsibility), & the one with limited sense of humor but a humility matched by none. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Captain America and many more have created a huge fan-base capitalizing on their unique capabilities, but they all possessed similar character traits.
There was clearly a need of something unique, a differentiating factor which was neither apparent in Marvel universe nor present in DC.
So, when you brought forward a formula where you put a multi-billionaire American playboy, a renowned business tycoon, an astounding tech savvy and an uber-cool individual, you are bound to get a remarkable superhero as the likes of ‘Ironman’. It is worth noting that amid many superheroes marvel universe churned out over more than a decade, the Ironman couldn’t carve out a space for itself as he was not ranked among the favourites in book of geeks until a big revolution that came in 2008 when the first movie on the superhero was made by Jon Favreau.
Robert Downey Jr. was casted as Iron Man and now he is “The Iron Man”. Having delivered some powerful performances in diverse roles before Iron Man happened, Downey Jr. already had a good fan following. Jon Favreau leveraged his talent to show a refreshing and I-don’t-give-a-flying-f**k form of a superhero, who had not been as wildly a popular character as Batman, Superman or Green Lantern during the good-ol’ comic days.
How Iron Man was sold to the audience? (And why they welcomed it with open hearts?)
Every great “sell” is accompanied by an astonishing story, well-crafted to perfection by storyteller(s).
Tony Stark is an Electrical Engineer from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated with two master’s degrees by the age 21. Despite all the technical expertise, he has never been anywhere close to a geek or nerd (as per the stereotyping) but quite the contrary. He leads a reckless life and seldom misses to awe people whenever he could.
He is not the one who always takes bullets for others. He is not always right. He is impulsive and does ludicrous acts. But he has something which was long missing in a superhero, a good sense-of-humour and a penchant for larger-than-life image.
Most of the Superheroes (before Iron Man) were not boring but wouldn’t it be more fun if they had delivered some rib-tickling one-liners? (However, the characters and setting might not have justified this.)
Iron Man was exactly the superhero that audience wanted. Jarvis, a highly-advanced voice-recognition assistant of Tony Stark, can easily be the dream of any sci-fi lover. And then comes the automated suit that has some fascinating ways to get on the body of Tony Stark and has the potential to propel our superhero to high altitudes without done-to-the-death capes. All machines and setting look like a thing of future. More relatable to appeal to a logic-driven audience.
His personality coupled with an impressive CGI work impresses not only the usual superhero movie lovers, but also those who are not big fan of Marvel or DC. Wolverine, a DC comic superhero, in X-Men is also portrayed as a no-nonsense superhero with a little quirk and has built quite a following.
And how can we forget the recent phenomenon, Deadpool. Ryan Ronald might not have anticipated that Deadpool would be what Green Lantern couldn’t. Deadpool again (successfully) breaks the superhero mold to emerge as something so bada*s and funny that we couldn’t keep ourselves away from swooning over his attitude. He kills people (sometimes innocent), cracks a joke or two on just about anything but he is larger than superhero life and this is what that matters.
If you cannot manufacture a new product differentiating enough from others in the existing category, create a new category.
Iron Man, Deadpool, a re-christened Spiderman in Civil War, all are the examples of this new category, a new crop of superhero who have all the attributes of a superhero (or at least some) and also a unique quirk.
I wear an Iron Man T-shirt, and by no means it makes me geek or nerdy. It looks cool and makes me feel as awesome as Tony Stark.
Superheroes are destined to be meaner and funnier than they ever were.