The Allure of the Origin Story

The other day the Boyfriend and I watched Dracula Untold. I had heard it was pretty rubbish, but it had Charles Dance in it, and he’s always good, so we thought we’d give it ago.

The Boyfriend fell asleep for at least half an hour and didn’t even notice. I found my attention wandering and I started making notes on a writing project I’m thinking about at the moment. In a world where you have a world of stuff at your fingertips, a film has to be pretty good to keep your attention, and Dracula Untold just didn’t make the cut.

But it did get me thinking about the allure of the origin story. Because surely Dracula is most interesting as a bad guy to be taken down? Why do we need to see where he comes from?

The Good

The rise of the comic book movie has seen numerous origin stories play out on the big screen. And we’re now in a sort of second-wave comic book movie era, as loads are being remade. The Amazing Spiderman, the new Fantastic Four film – there’s plenty of interest still around for the super hero origin story.

So what’s good about them? Well, it’s the underdog story played out to epic proportions. We love to see someone go from the bottom of the pile to the top. Spiderman is a classic example – a slightly nerdy, awkward teenager with a troubled past becomes the powerful webslinger, learning some lessons about responsibility and power along the way. We can root for these guys because they come from not much, like most of us. And we like to think about what we would be like in that situation, to imagine ourselves into their shoes.

The Bad

Some origins stories aren’t so effective. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a fairly poor movie that didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know. It explored the character of Wolverine before he lost his memory. But the thing is, X-Men the first film was a sort of Wolverine origin story in itself – taking the character from Canadian drifter to a member of the X-Men team, all because of a sense of responsibility he felt for vulnerable mutant Rogue. We already know he’s a good guy under the gruff exterior, and we already know that he’s a fighter. We even know how he got his adamantium armour – that was shown to us in the second film. We didn’t really need to see it all over again. Even Wolverine walked away from Stryker at the end of the second film, not needing to know anything more about himself than he already did.

The Ugly

I’m really not a fan of super-villain origin stories. At best they try to engender sympathy, which means we can no longer really enjoy hating them. At worst, they destroy any sense of power and mystique that a villain has. I can’t look at Darth Vader without thinking of that cry of ‘PADME!’ at the end of the third prequel.

Origin stories are interesting when done well. I just wish storytellers would stray from the notion that every super villain needs an origin tale. But then, for every Dracula Untold, there’s a Maleficent. So I guess I’ll just have to take the good with the bad and try to avoid the ugly!

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