Are Origin Stories Always Necessary In Super Hero Films?

When you go to see a super hero/comic book film, unless it’s a sequel, you probably expect to see an origin story regarding how the character(s) got his/her/their power(s) and the reason he/she/they fight the bad guys. It makes sense from a story-telling perspective. It’s essentially the first chapter of a longer story arc, particularly if the film is planned to be the beginning of a film franchise. But is it always necessary?

Rumors were spreading last year that the Doctor Strange film would begin with the eponymous hero already established as the Master of the Mystic Arts. Other reports say that the next screen incarnation of Spider-Man will skip over another origin revamp and just show us a costumed Spider-Man already in action. A similar story appeared about the now-stalled Doc Savage movie, which had also intended to begin with the star already well-known and respected as an adventurer. Would that have worked? Will Doctor Strange work? Are origin stories really necessary? Maybe not.

The popular 1989 version of Batman, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton, did not include an origin story, and it did extremely well when it was released. And while we’re discussing Batman, the 1966-69 TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, never gave us any origin for our hero at all, not even in a flashback.

You could argue “This is one of those things that only works for Batman.” Possible. Batman is a unique character and the rules are often different for him. This is an argument I’ve made myself, when criticizing the way DC slavishly follows the grim, angst-ridden hero formula because it worked for Batman. However, things that work for Batman don’t always work for other heroes.

So let’s step out of the comic book box and take a look at other action heroes, who are almost super heroes in their own right. For instance, when we first saw James Bond on screen in Dr. No—portrayed by the perfectly cast Sean Connery—he was already a Double-O super spy. They could have given us an adaptation of Casino Royal (as they did with Daniel Craig’s Bond) but instead they realized that Bond is such a charismatic hero that fans didn’t need to see him learning to be an MI6 agent—he’s much cooler as a veteran agent.

Indiana Jones—also perfectly cast with Harrison Ford—first appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark as an experienced, respected explorer /archeologist/ adventurer, instead of a novice just learning the ropes. We didn’t get an origin story until Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

And in all the years of Sherlock Holmes stories—130 years and going strong—I can only think of one attempt to give him an origin story, referring to Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). Even his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t bother to tell us about Holmes’ early years and training period, before he become a detective and meeting his loyal friend Dr. Watson. Doyle knew it wasn’t necessary. 

The point is this…sometimes it’s good to break from expectations and do something a bit different (As they did with Guardians of the Galaxy by making it a comedy) and giving the people something new to chew on. Just because most super hero films start with an origin, that doesn’t make it the 11th Commandment.   

Do Dr. Steven Strange and Spider-Man need to have an origin story in their respective films? Will these movies work without it? Would you prefer to see their origins in these films or would you rather just see their cooler, more experienced versions.