How Interconnected Universes Make Platonic Relationships the New Romance

Thor: Ragnarok is on the horizon, and the relationship between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is being marketed as the driving force behind the story. This is neither the first nor the last time a totally non-romantic two-person dynamic steered a superhero film, and as comic book adaptations get more successful, it looks like they might be making their mark on action movies as a whole.

In the past, action movies have relied on the love interest to give our hero something to strive for, someone to bounce off of, and a litmus test for growth. Now, we see a bromance brewing in Thor: Ragnarok and the aromantic relationship between Batman & Wonder Woman in Justice League setting the tone for those films.

""There's different dynamics. I think the coupling of myself working with Ruffalo brought out a whole new tone, both of our characters," Hemsworth told "...That's been really enjoyable because it's kept us on our toes. I think it's going to keep audiences on their toes, too. There's a whole different energy, look, feel to any of the Thor films we've seen before."

The Marvel movies have started to evolve away from romantic subplots as the universe gets more cumbersome and interconnected: juggling the shared universe plot threads, Easter eggs, and everything else seems to steal screen time that might otherwise be dedicated to a love interest -- and that means in order to keep the characters moving forward, all that character development has to happen between the hero and someone who is not the love interest (usually another hero).

You can see this in comic books, as well: as event comics rose to prominence and started dominating the sales charts, more and more tie-ins and events started to take over, and the expanded Marvel and DC Universes were more urgently felt. Books that largely eschew the shared universe to focus on one character and that character's own supporting cast are the exception rather than the rule at this point, with many superhero comics regularly featuring guest stars, relationships and romances between superheroes rather than a superhero and a non-superhero taking center stage, and the like.

We have occasionally pointed to this phenomenon as something that detracts from serialized storytelling -- but there is an argument to be made that in feature films, the economy of storytelling this shift provides can outweigh most of the benefits the movie might gain from having a wider variety of characters.

Even movies that have an explicitly romantic relationship baked in are relying on that dynamic less to put butts in seats, with Liz (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Steve (Wonder Woman) there primarily to drive the plot. The relationship between Peter and Liz was definitely more romantic than the one depicted in Wonder Woman, but the superheroics clearly drove the film, and try as they might to make Peter's personal life a focus, it was his fractured father/son relationship with Iron Man that attracted a lot of your attention.


This is an interesting departure from one of the longest-running traditions in action movies -- something that goes back as far as The African Queen and before, and has been a staple of almost every James Bond film -- and with the success of Marvel's shared-universe formula it is one that will inevitably be imitated.