Once there was this guy.
He’s a good guy. But he just wants to be an ordinary guy. But then something extraordinary happened, and now he can do stuff that no other guy can do. He’s not sure what to do with his new abilities, but there’s this girl he likes, and she won’t give him the time of day.
But when a crisis forces him to make his debut and show off, the girl falls for him. In the meantime, there’s a bad guy who can also do amazing stuff, and he hates the good guy.
So the bad guy shows up and almost ruins everything before the guy can take care of the bad guy once and for all, and he and the girl usually end up smooching.
I say “usually” because there are slight variations on this theme, which was established with the first Superman movie and has been duplicated by every other non-sequel superhero movie ever made. (See Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman Returns, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Green Lantern, et al.)
Look how easy it is.
Once there was Clark Kent/Bruce Wayne/Peter Parker/Logan/Clark Kent again/Bruce Banner/Reed Richards/Tony Stark/Steve Rogers/Thor/Hal Jordan.
CK/BW/PP/L/CKa/BB/RR/TS/SR/T/HJ is a good guy. He just wants to be an average Kryptonian/guy with parents/regular teenager who doesn’t look like a geek/amnesiac mutant that no one notices/guy who gets his old girlfriend back/guy who doesn’t turn green/scientist who doesn’t stretch/playboy with cash/volunteer in WWII/prince like he was since the day he was born/fighter pilot. But then he is rocketed to earth/orphaned in a mugging/bitten by a genetically enhanced spider/abducted by bad mutants and rescued by Professor X/confronted with his girl and his bastard son dating some other dude/irradiated/blasted with cosmic rays/abducted by terrorists and forced to make a supersuit/enlisted in a supersecret government super soldier program/banished to earth/given a green ring from a purple dude, and now he can do pretty much anything/focus his desire for revenge into building weapons and abilities to combat crime/spin a web any size/reclaim his rightful destiny as earth’s greatest hero/turn big, green, and illiterate when he gets mad/stretch himself like silly putty/win wars in his own metal suit/achieve physical perfection and use an indestructible shield/protect Earth from Asgardian terrorists/make giant hot wheels racetracks out of green energy. He’s not sure what to do with his new abilities, but there’s this girl he likes named Lois Lane/Vicki Vale/Mary Jane Watson/Jean Grey/Lois Lane with a bastard child/Betty Ross/Sue Storm/Pepper Potts/Peggy Carter/Jane Foster/Carol Ferris, and she won’t give him the time of day.
But when Lois’ helicopter is about to crash/Mary Jane is being beaten up by thugs/bad mutants attack a train station/Lois’ jet is about to crash/the military attacks him at Betty’s college/the Brooklyn Bridge collapses/his weapons show up in the Middle East/the Red Skull kidnaps his fellow soldiers/his hammer is sealed off by government hacks/a helicopter is about to crash on Carol Ferris’ head and CK/BW/PP/L/CKa/BB/RR/TS/SR/T/HJ is forced to make his debut and show off, LL/VV/MJW/JG and/or Rogue/LL w/bastard/BR/SS/PP/PC/JF/CF falls for him. In the meantime, there’s a bad guy named Lex Luthor/The Joker/The Green Goblin/Magneto/Kevin Spacey LL/Abomination/Dr. Doom/Obadiah Stane/Red Skull/Loki/Hector Hammond who detonate nuclear bombs on two ends of the country/poison Gotham City via makeup/blow things up with pumpkin bombs/move metal with his mind/make crystal continents out of kryptonite/hulk out on his own/zap stuff/build his own killer suit/harness the power of the ancient gods/use his own ancient god power/move things with he brain, and he hates CK/BW/PP/L/CKa/BB/RR/TS/SR/T/HJ.
So LL/J/GG/M/KSLL/A/DD/OS/RS/L/HH shows up and puts a kryptonite necklace on Supes/shoots the BatPlane out of the sky/kidnaps Mary Jane/tries to turn heads of states into mutants/stabs Supes with kryptonite/pounds the Hulk in the middle of NYC/deThings the Thing so he can kill Reed Richards/rips out Tony Stark’s artificial heart/beats up Cap in a flying boat/sends a robot to kill Thor and his pals/steals Hal’s ring and almost kills his girl, which almost ruins everything before the guy can stop the bombs from landing and turn time backwards/punch the Joker on the top of a bell tower/get the Green Goblin to kill himself/stop the mutation of world leaders/lift a kryptonite contient and dump it into the ocean/hulk out even more than the other guy/freeze Dr. Doom and put him on a freighter to Latveria/fry Obadiah’s new suit/steal the flying boat and dump the Red Skull/retake his ring, which takes care of LL/J/GG/M/KSLL/A/DD/OS/RS/L/HH once and for all, and CK/BW/PP/L/CKa/BB/RR/TS/SR/T/HJ and LL/VV/MJW/JG and/or Rogue/LL w/bastard/BR/SS/PP/PC/JF/CF end up smooching, except in the case of Clark and Lois /Tony and Pepper/Logan and jean, who wait until the sequel to smooch, and Cap and Peggy, who miss their smooch because Cap has been frozen for seven decades.
The movies that succeed are the ones who know the formula but still have fun with it. But the ones that don’t – i.e. Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, the ghastly Green Lantern movie – slavishly connect the dots and give us the same crap we’ve seen over and over again. It’s not enough just to be a superhero movie; you have to be a GOOD superhero movie. Otherwise, I can just use the outline I’ve written and make up my own flick in my brain.
You should see the Aquaman movie I’ve got running in my head.