Gird your loins, everyone, because with Thor opening this weekend, the long summer slog of superhero movies is upon us. Some of them are so good, but some of them are so damn crappy. That's why I've devised a simple formula to figure out which is which.
Thor isn't looking that promising—the New York Times witheringly said, "the absolute and unbroken mediocrity of Thor is evidence of its success," which is the best backhanded compliment we've read in a long time—and quite a few of the movies coming this summer don't seem too hot either. On deck is Green Lantern, Captain America, and X-Men: First Class. That's not really calling in your heavy hitters against the great super villain Boredom.
But as a life-long comic book fan and aficionado of the art form of cinematic superheroes, it's clear to me that these things are as formulaic as anything you learned in high school algebra. They're a series of tropes, conceits, and familiar tactics played out with a little bit of variety, so it should be easy to figure out what makes them tick and what makes them better or worse.
Here's the formula I came up with. (Full disclosure: I failed algebra so it may not be mathematically sound, but you'll get the general idea):
Origin Story + Meaningful Conflict X Awesomeness of Powers - (The Number of Villains X The Number of Sidekicks) ÷ Amount of Time Spent on the Love Interest = The Quality of the Movie
The higher the number at the end, the higher the quality of the movie. Granted some of these numbers are subjective and all of the subjective amounts should be measured on a scale of 1 to 10. For instance Origin Story is usually only found in the first movie of any franchise. Now, if the origin story is good, meaningful, and entertaining as in, say, Spider-Man, then it gets a high number. If it is boring, tedious, and takes far too long, as in, say, Batman Begins, then it gets a lower number.
But the awesomeness of powers definitely needs to be taken into account, because we love heroes the most when they use them, and it allows us to look at cool special effects, which is really what we're after when we plop down our $12. As for the number of villains and sidekicks, the Batman franchise proved to us that the more there are of each of them, the shittier your movie is going to be. It just gets so bloated. Keep it simple and the movie will be better for it.
The total can be decimated by a bad love interest, though. Never once, in all my years of superhero movie watching, have I walked away from a movie and thought, "Wow, the love story in that sure was great." No, the love story is always secondary to the action. It's just there to make the hero more conflicted, move the plot along, give him (because until we get a Wonder Woman movie the hero is always a "him") something to fight for, and to put some hot babes in the movie—babes that will probably be imperiled by the villain and probably by being dropped from a dizzying height and scooped up by the hero right before they sully the sidewalk with their guts. We don't really want the love story, so if it's going to be there, it should be minimal.
To demonstrate the formula, let us use it on one of my favorite comic book movies of all time, X-Men.
There is no real origin story, so it gets a 0 for that. As for meaningful conflict, not only are the X-Men protecting a world that fears and hates them, they're under attack from Washington and fighting a faction of rogue (pun intended) mutants. We'll give them a 10 for conflict. Their powers (and the powers of the villains) are pretty damn cool, but hey don't use them a lot in the movie so we'll give it a 7. As for villains there are 4 (Magneto, Sabertooth, Toad, Mystique), but there are zero sidekicks (it's a team movie, after all, so no second bananas). As for the love story, there's not that much, but Wolverine and Cyclops squabble over Jean Grey, so we'll call it a 1.
Here's what the formula looks like: 0 + 10 X 7 - (4X0) ÷ 1 = 70
That's a pretty good score. Let's compare that to a shitty comic book movie like Iron Man 2. There's no origin story, but there is all that bullshit with his father so we'll give it a 2, and the conflict is that Tony Stark may be killed by his powers (high), but that he's a whiny no good jerk who has been spoiled by success and some man with a whip is after him. We'll settle on a 4 for that. His powers, well, they suck. He just has a cool suit, and he's barely in it. I say 3. There are 2 villains (the guy with the whip and Justin Hammer) and 4 sidekicks (War Machine, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Pepper Potts who is as much a henchman as a love interest). Also, there's a fair amount of "does he or doesn't he love Pepper," so we'll put that at a 3.
Let's crunch the numbers: 2 + 4 X 3 - (2X4) ÷ 3 = 3.33
See, that totally sucks! Now, if I only could have figured that out before we paid to see it in IMAX, I'd be like $74 richer.
So, what do you guys think? Do the formula for your favorite (or least favorite) superhero movies and see how it stacks up. Is my math solid or fuzzier than Kitty Pride phasing through a wall?
[Image via Getty]