Anticipation, by itself, it neither a good or bad thing.
Anticipation for a dentist appointment isn’t likely to be enjoyed, but anticipation for something you’ve been looking forward to can be a great feeling. Like a great movie reveal, or “hero shot”.
“Hero Shot”: an establishing scene in a movie, often (but not always) done early in the movie, showcasing the hero in full costume, at full ability, or both; using dramatic cinematography and music.
As I’ve mentioned many times, I love movies. Especially superhero movies. I’ve seen just about every super hero movie made since Superman (1978), the first movie I ever saw in a movie theatre. Unsurprisingly, superhero movies have some of the best “hero shots” out there. After watching Avengers the other day I decided to put together a collection of my favourites.
The whole third act of Avengers: Endgame is filled with hero shots, but the “Thunder-Cap” reveal is definitely my favourite. When you see that first close up of Thor’s hammer rising, there is just a split second of confusion as you try to figure out what is going on, and then we all collectively lose our shit when we realize that Cap could lift the hammer in the “Age of Ultron” the drinking game all those movies ago. Unlike the rest of my favourite hero shots, this one we have been building to for years! I’ve seen the movie over a dozen times, and I still get the giggles!
Normally, a key ingredient to a hero shot is knowing what is happening before the people in the scene. The tension of the scene isn’t that of the viewer, its of the characters in the scene. The viewer is stressed (not always in a bad way) by the fact that WE know what is happening, but have no way of relieving that stress. (Every horror movie ever?!?) “Thunder-Cap” is slightly different from the rest of my favourites in that the viewer isn’t entirely sure what is happening until the reveal.
The first time I was really made aware of a great hero shot was Superman Returns. The first scene with Superman in it was the shuttle rescue, and I watched a video that explained the genius of that scene. Superman first shows up on radar and no one in the scene knows what is happening, but we (the viewer) know precisely what is going on, and you get that great “I know a secret” feeling. You catch quick flashes of of Superman, but he is never revealed in full until the “hero shot”.
The my favourite in Man of Steel is not about what he looks like, but what he can do. The narration adds a level of anticipation because you’re hearing that Clark’s/Kal’s exposure to earth’s conditions has had unexpected side-effects and the characters don’t know what they could be. Again, we know what those are, and the build up to their reveal is great! The visual aspect has familiar features, close ups, odd framing, wide or long shots, to mask or hide detail, but this scene is about the reveal of his ability, and not his look.
Wonder Woman has another great reveal, one of my favourites because the action scene immediately after is fantastic. You get the hero shot of her in her costume for the first time, and then immediately after a demonstration of her abilities. The movie was leading to this by giving us hints of her abilities earlier in the movie, and we got a tease of her iconic look as she and Steve were leaving Themyscira, but this is the first time we get a definitive look at them. The scene, again, has all the usual elements, close ups, “slow-mo”, etc, and you know the reveal is coming, and that anticipation is just delicious!
Now!! My absolute favourite reveal: Shazam!
I am a huge hero “nerd”. I collected comics during my high school years, so I was familiar with Shazam, though he was known as Captain Marvel when I was collecting. The movie is pretty solid, but the big reveal of the “Shazam Family” at the end caught me totally off guard. The reveal was a perfect one for me because of my familiarity with the hero from the comics. I knew there was a whole family of heroes, even though I had no idea they were in the movie. The surprise realization of what was going on, then the few seconds of anticipation after the lightning strikes until they reveal themselves, are fantastic! I was a kid again, reading my comics as a teenager! Personally speaking, it takes the whole movie from “good” to “f**king amazing”!!!
And that “I’m a kid again” feeling is what these are all about, right? A great hero shot can take you back, recapture some of the joy, and innocence of our childhood, when we could put ourselves into the shoes of our heroes and do these heroic deeds that we are watching on the screen. When done well, its an amazing escape!!
Honourable mention: Every Shazam! change. Look closely and you’ll notice that every time he changes you see the lightning bolt logo (or the light from) on his chest before you see anything else. An extremely short “slow-reveal” but there is still a fraction of anticipation every time! ESPECIALLY in the shot I mention above!
Un-sung Hero: These great reveals are all done in a similar fashion, but a critical element in all of them is the music. When done right, it’s builds the tension that we’re feeling. Without it, these scenes wouldn’t be nearly as good.