For a very long time, Hollywood wasn’t quite sure how to make a superhero movie.
That’s not to say they never got it right -- the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies and Tim Burton Batman movies were classics, Blade was a lot of fun, The Crow was at bare minimum interesting -- but most cape flicks tended to be along the lines of the first Captain America movie or The Toxic Avenger, either goofy without charm or serious without any sense of self-awareness. We’ve mostly figured it out now, but for a while, it was touch-and-go.
If it were made today, Powder would probably be made in the vein of a superhero movie. It might even be a good one. As it is, no one making the movie seemed to realize that their title character, while presented as a shy albino Jesus, has actual super powers. He’s a psychic who can talk to coma patients and make a man feel the pain of a dying deer, he can magnetize metal and shoot electrical charges from his body, he can manipulate said magnetic charges to jump-start a person’s heart, and he’s a super-genius. He’s basically Magneto and Professor Xavier.
There’s an arc to this type of story. Powder should be an outcast initially, due to poor socialization and his odd appearance, but as his powers manifest and he interacts with the world around him, he should gradually gain the acceptance of the community, culminating in a scene where he is fully integrated after some kind of final proving. Maybe he saves several lives, or defeats a powerful enemy, or something along those lines.
Powder seems to dispense with all of this in favor of some kind of misery carnival. He’s had the bad fortune to be brought to a town where nearly everyone seems to be descended from some kind of Billy Zabka-esque line of bullies. He’s shunned, sure, but what’s strange about him is that, with the exception of a few benevolent authority figures and an angelic love interest, he keeps being shunned up until the final scene of the movie, where he disappears after being struck by a lightning bolt. If you’re different, says Powder, might as well withdraw from the world. The only place he’ll ever be happy is this world is in his grandparents’ basement, where no one can see him. That’s a disheartening lesson for the nerds of the world, don’t you think? Imagine Peter Parker bullied by Flash Thompson for 90 minutes, followed by him turning into millions of actual spiders and retreating into a series of webs. It’s kind of a downer.
There’s not much we can do to fix this. Powder’s nearly 20 years old, a $30 million ghost in the post-summer blockbuster doldrums. If we weren’t airing it today, there’s a good chance that no one on this planet would have watched it in the past week. Do its stars even think on it regularly? Lance Henriksen has been in nearly 200 films -- the year Powder was released, he acted in eight -- but he seems to think on Powder with a certain fondness. Sean Patrick Flanery seemedvaguely embarrassed by the film three years after its release, but later seemed to consider Powder one of his favorite roles. Some people -- not many, and perhaps not many more than were involved in its production -- cared very deeply for this film once.
We owe it something.
So, here’s something to think on re: Powder. Let’s call it a reinterpretation.
Jeremy “Powder” Reed is bullied constantly, never finds widespread acceptance, and happens to have incredibly potent superpowers. At the end of the movie, with those who care about him chasing after him, he runs into a field after seeing his grandparents’ house boarded up and his possessions gone. It’s a final rejection from a world that never seemed to want him in the first place. As a thunderstorm looms, Powder is struck by a bolt of lightning and disappears in a flash of light. He has ascended into heaven, or at least that’s what the local sheriff, science teacher, and social worker seem to think. His story is over.
In comics, what usually happens to kids with no power who, even after they find power, are still rejected and bullied and denied a place in the world? Do they shrug and lead normal lives? Do they simply vanish?
Or do they sit in the darkness and harbor their resentments, clashing each humiliating memory together until their brains are charged with hate? Do they realize that the only thing that will ever make them happy is vengeance against those who’ve wronged them? Do they fake their own death in a conveniently-conjured storm so no one will be the wiser when their plans come to fruition?
Maybe Powder’s not a flawed single movie about a superhero.
Maybe Powder shows us the origin of a supervillain.
That’s just my theory. Remember who came up with it when Powder 2: Powder Strikes Back is announced to roaring crowds at some future Comic-Con.
Joe DeMartino is a Connecticut-based writer who grew up wanting to be Ted Williams, but you would not BELIEVE how hard it is to hit a baseball, so he gave that up because he writes words OK. He talks about exploding suns, video games, karaoke, and other cool shit at his blog. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweeted at @thetoycannon. He writes about sports elsewhere. The sports sells better.