Once upon a time, the phrase ‘super power’ conjured images of stony-faced world leaders posturing on the international stage. These days, however, its closest association is with the superheroes that increasingly crowd our cinema screens – battling it out against nefarious foes with sinister plans. It is imperative that these champions of justice possess the necessary means to ensure our fictional safety and, over time, we have seen a vast array of super power combinations employed on screen.
Fictional super powers are a fascinating concept. Though they effectively enable a character to undertake challenges and achieve things that non-superheroes could only dream of, they exist to anchor these extraordinary creations in a realm governed by rules and boundaries, as much as reality is. Just as an electrician can work to solve a wiring issue using her knowledge, her skill and the equipment in her toolbox, so a superhero has a very clearly defined collection of powers with which to face a threat. Each one has an explanation, and an origin. With perhaps the exception of Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan, even superheroes have their limitations.
Inevitably, there are near-universal constants. Almost every superhero that has ever graced the silver screen has the benefit of ‘super strength,’ with which comes the characteristic of being in peak physical condition. While there are exceptions to this rule – such as Constantine, The Crow, and The Incredibles’ offspring (Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack) – the majority fulfil this criteria with energy to spare. The power of durability and endurance is also very common, and understandably so. A superhero that is easily worn out would not be much fun to watch at all.
The next most common super power is arguably the ability to excel in hand-to-hand combat, with street fighting or martial arts, and use of specific weaponry – something that ties in directly with strength and durability. These days, you are no kind of superhero if you can’t deliver a devastating roundhouse kick to your opponent, like Spider-Man, Black Widow, The Punisher, Judge Dredd, and Elektra, for example. While giant action sequences involving super-powered beings throwing trucks and buildings at each other is thrilling enough, nothing is more dramatic than a personal, close-quarters confrontation.
But what of the other super powers? Those special abilities that make a particular superhero particularly suited to a particular situation? Few super powers can be said to be unique, but there are many that are as cool as they are useful. Using only characters that have appeared in cinema (and yes, we are still waiting for Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aquaman, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel, I’m afraid), here are six of the best.