69

When I say "most", I primarily mean the Marvel-Avenger series. Out of all of them, even Ant-Man pretty much up and exposed himself, revealing his true identity to anyone he looked at.

One of the few movie series that keeps the "secret identity" trope alive is Spider-Man, keeping true to the comics, which added all the tension of keeping his friends and family safe, while having to deal with the stress of not being able to explain his common disappearances, injuries, etc, which (IMO) added a lot to the story.

So why has the Superhero "Secret Identity" become little more than an easter egg?

  • 3
    The same reason they're phasing out origin stories: we've seen it a million times before. There are much more interesting things to show on screen. – Kevin Workman May 6 '16 at 16:53
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    @KevinWorkman - Phasing out origin stories? Every other MCU movie that's come out has been an origin story. In fact, there's pretty much only 3 kinds of MCU movies - origin stories, sequels, and crossovers. I can't think of a single one that just started out with the hero(es) already existing and not established in a previous movie. – Darrel Hoffman May 6 '16 at 18:34
  • 10
    @KevinWorkman: I'm not sure a lengthy fight scene between two characters for 10-15 minutes with all manner of destruction except for any on themselves counts as "more interesting things to see". Reminds me of Family Guy endless chicken fights. It's just filler because the story usually sucks. – coblr May 6 '16 at 19:15
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    @fractalspawn Where did I say that's what's more interesting? You seem to be looking to debate points that I'm not making. – Kevin Workman May 6 '16 at 19:31
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    @bobsmith The question isn't "why do superheroes have secret identities?", the question is "why don't superheroes use secret identities any more in movies?". As such, this doesn't attempt to answer the question. – Wad Cheber May 6 '16 at 22:51
68

Quite simply, because Marvel thought the idea was "overplayed". Kevin Feige explained this to BleedingCool a few years ago:

KF: The one we haven’t done in the MCU is the secret identity thing. I thought that had been overplayed for a long time which is why we had Tony Stark out himself at the end of his first movie. We were sort of announcing to the audience that we’re not going to play that game.

He went on to say that they had an idea which may play out at a later date.

KF: I think there is and I think we will get to it at some point. We have an idea. As a matter of fact, I was just talking about it the other day with one of our filmmakers. The fun thing about the job, though, is that idea I was talking about with a filmmaker might not happen for four or five years because it may or may not be appropriate for a first movie.

  • 5
    I hadn't realized this was the case but it does then beg the question of why anyone bothers with the SRA since everybody's identity is public knowledge. – Broklynite May 6 '16 at 8:32
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    In the MCU, the US started going down an SRA type-route with the ATCU, trying to register all of the Inhumans, and before that SHIELD with their Index. It's also worth noting that for many people, the SRA wasn't about identities at all, it was about regulation of powers and who was allowed to use them. – phantom42 May 6 '16 at 11:08
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    For the less immersed reading these comments SRA = Superhuman Registration Act. – Mindwin May 6 '16 at 13:31
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    I think it's worth noting that Spiderman/Peter Parker (spoilers! ...oh, i guess that should go before the spoiler...) has a reason to maintain the secret identity. He does have loved-ones and they are targeted by bad-guys and Spidey does have a really hard time protecting them. Lots of other "Power'd Folk" either don't have anyone (Cap), or everyone they love is already involved (Coulson), or they're really good at protecting them (Tony Stark), or they don't care... they just keep the moniker because it's awesome (Deadpool). – Matt May 6 '16 at 13:47
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    @ratchetfreak or you know... until this weekend in civil war where spider-man shows up, or next year when tony stark shows up in spider-man: homecoming. also, marvel has creative control over the spider-man movies now. – phantom42 May 8 '16 at 0:06
27

Because it isn't logical when you have real human beings. Clark Kent doesn't stop looking like Clark Kent just because he's taken his glasses off. In the comics they can draw the characters differently depending on which persona they're in (Clark Kent certainly doesn't have the same build as Superman!), but that fails when you have a real human being. Lois Lane would have had to be completely blind to fail to notice the similarity between Christopher Reeve in Superman mode and Christopher Reeve in Clark Kent mode.

That's one of the few things the otherwise-awful Green Lantern movie was right about - simply wearing a mask across your eyes doesn't stop you being recognisable!

Of course if you have a full-face covering (and perhaps a disguised voice) then you probably can keep your identity secret, for as long as the face covering stays on anyway. So Spidey and Batman are mostly OK, but Superman and Wonder Woman definitely aren't. They even made a thing of this in the first Spiderman trilogy, where his mask was ripped off but the people he'd saved promised never to tell anyone what he looked like.

  • 15
    "It is I, LeClerc!" – Mr Lister May 6 '16 at 11:32
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    I believe Superman literally had a power called super hypnotism which keeps people from recognizing him. – kleineg May 6 '16 at 20:54
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    I always thought Chris Reeve acted this beautifully. Like, it wouldn't occur to people that Clark and Superman looked similar in those movies because they acted so different. If you told Lois Lane that Clark Kent looked a lot like Superman with glasses on, she would say, "Oh, yeah! That's weird!" ;-) – John Sensebe May 6 '16 at 20:59
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    @JohnSensebe and I agree, and here's the proof: this youtube excerpt is a minute from the first Christopher Reeves version of superman. In it, you have Clark acting like Clark and showing, by contrast just how different Superman sounds, looks and acts. Now, in the DC universe, I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear people tell Clark Kent, "Hey, you know you look like Superman?" But then he responds in that mousy, high-pitched, just-off-the-apple-cart sort of way and most folks will just laugh it off. – Omnidisciplinarianist May 6 '16 at 23:33
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    In addition, you also have the fact that as Identity Crisis revealed, mind wipes are a regular thing in the DC universe. So regular, in fact, that they can sometimes go wrong, or terribly and horribly right (I'm looking at you, Doctor Arthur Light). So it may be much more realistic to view the secret identities in light of the many layers of assistance they receive from allies, government agencies, and occasionally, enemies. – Omnidisciplinarianist May 6 '16 at 23:44
19

I'm indulging in armchair psychology, but a "secret identity" may have lost some of its allure to viewers today, when everyone can have their own "secret identity" or avatars in online games, social media and stackexchange. It's awfully mundane these days.

Writer Marshall Lemon (if that is his real name..) takes another view. In the early 20th century, the superheroes started out as vigilantes. They are outlaws, anti-establishment. Like Zorro who fights against tyrannical government officials and uses his secret identity to avoid getting caught. With some exceptions, superheroes stopped being anti-establishment after WWII, but the secret identity remained as a writer's crutch.

A third possibility, in the realm of armchair psychology, is that the secret identity mirrors the situation of teenage comics readers, who must learn to balance a carefully constructed outward appearance against their inner "true" self. You can find plenty of other thinly veiled teenage-themes in comics and you could argue that the secret identity theme would correlate with the degree of enforced conformity in society. This would explain the downward trend in the US over the last half-century. However, I lean against rejecting this idea, as "secret identity" is infrequently seen in Japanese comics, even though Japanese society is famously conformist.

  • 5
    I like the thought process. It's interesting to think about the correlation between our online personas and super-disguises. LOL!!! I just had a funny thought: "I must remain anonymous to protect those close to me," has turned into "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog." They're the same thing! Sort of ;-) – Matt May 6 '16 at 13:55
  • 1
    It's interesting to hear (?) that Americans have stopped being anti-establishment... – Ber May 7 '16 at 2:41
17

Some of it may be an update based on the sliding time scale which puts heroes in the same time frame as our own. While comics such as Spider-man explored the idea of ubiquitous cameras in the city decades ago, the fact of the matter is that, today, the odds of a super-hero maintaining their secret identity for any reason other than the police and general populace looking the other is looking pretty slim. DNA analysis means any blood or hair left on the scene can be analyzed. Even without security footage, there's enough cameras in the general populace that the odds are that a hero will be filmed changing. And analysis tools such as gait analysis and analysis of body structures mean that it's likely that computer systems will passively analyze any footage and pin down who it is.

TL;DR

Rather than try to explain how the heroes could possibly keep their secret identities in today's age, they rather have the heroes be open about who they are.

5

I am surprised nobody pointed out yet another reason: Most of them do not need actually a secret identity.

Black Widow: Natalia "Natasha" Alianovna Romanova
Hawkeye: Clint Barton

Both are orphans and have no known relatives which need to be protected. Both are also relatively lonely and are working secretly for SHIELD/Avengers which is their family ersatz now.

Nick Fury
He has actually a secret identity, his role as leader of SHIELD is clandestine. Hydra was able to attack him because they subverted SHIELD.

Captain America: Steve Rogers
He was frozen in ice some decades, so all his known and loved people are dead now. In "Civil War"

his deepest love died of age. Her daughter niece which is a friend is working for the CIA, so she has protection (and can take care of herself).

and he lost most popularity after the defeat of the Nazis. Like Romanov/Barton the Avengers give him a group of peers.

Thor
He is one of the most powerful Asgardians and Earth is not his home so he does not have humans to fear. His temporary dismissal which caused him to be left powerless on Earth seems to have been unnoticed by any possible enemy, so his human friends have noone to fear.

Hulk: Bruce Banner
He had secret identities: Before the Avengers and when he decides that leaving the Avengers is better (Sure, they know where he is, but at least SHIELD has the decency to hide that they know it). And really, who is dumb enough to try to make an unstoppable juggernaut angry ?

Iron Man: Tony Stark
Well, he is famous in the MCU, rich and powerful. The earth has also trouble to hold the weight of his ego, so he invites enemies and in fact protecting his loved ones with a known identity is a key point in the movies. What is helping him is that many people think that he is an overconfident asshole / womanizer so they do not assume that he cares very deeply for his bodyguard/chaffeur Hogan and Pepper Potts.

Ant-Man: Scott Lang
Given that the actually has an ex-wife and a daughter, not having a secret identity may give him problems in future...

  • Why would Thor's friends fear Peter Noone? – David Conrad May 8 '16 at 2:31
  • @DavidConrad Not Peter, Nada. She is the illegitimate daughter of Alan Smithee and Jane Doe and her role will be featured in one of the next MCU films, accordingly to the regisseur "when it's done". – Thorsten S. May 8 '16 at 12:54
  • Sharon Carter is Peggy's niece, not daughter – Gerry Coll May 9 '16 at 0:42
  • @GerryColl Thanks, corrected. – Thorsten S. May 10 '16 at 22:33
  • Clint Barton may be an orphan, but he absolutely has a family to protect. Nick Fury doesn't have a secret identity, but he is presumed dead by the public. He likely has false identities that he is using to that end. – phantom42 May 10 '16 at 22:42
2

In my opinion, the most significant reason is simply because of modern technology. Maintaining a "secret identity" in a first-world country seemed feasible 20+ years ago. Today? Not so much. The only people who can operate in the shadows are those deeply involved in technology and thus their actions must remain in an electronic playing field.

Unless you have a superhero saving lives with his/her amazing "hacking" powers, the idea that a superhero's true identity can remain completely anonymous in a world with cameras on every corner (and in the pockets of every citizen) just doesn't make for a believable story. I don't think it gets more complicated than that. Additionally, I don't buy the fact that Marvel felt that it was "overplayed". The entire super hero movie genre is a bit overplayed at this point (let's be real, they all follow almost the exact same formula) yet we still love them.

protected by Rand al'Thor May 6 '16 at 22:54

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