‘Black Widow’ pokes fun at classic superhero landing pose

Even if you think you don’t know the superhero landing, you know the superhero landing.

The pose has become as ubiquitous as spandex in superhero movies. How it works is a character drops from a height and slams into the ground in a crouch with feet spread apart, knees bent — or on one knee, always with a fist pounding the earth.

The move, also called a three-point landing, has become so well-worn that it’s parodied in the new “Black Widow” film, out Friday.

Fellow spy Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh, makes fun of the Widow’s dramatic landings (as Scarlett Johansson did memorably in 2010’s “Iron Man 2” and other Marvel films).

“Why do you always do that thing?” Pugh snarks to Johansson. “It’s like a fighting pose. You’re a total poser.”

But where did the superhero landing come from? It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact origin, but the pose likely came from Japanese films, television and anime, where it is known as san-ten chakuchi.

Superman strikes a perfect superhero landing pose.
Superman nails a textbook superhero landing pose.
CW

“There’s a whole genre of Japanese TV called tokusatsu [action- and special effects-heavy series], and it’s very standard in tokusatsu for heroes to strike dramatic poses,” said Lynzee Loveridge, executive editor at Anime News Network. Shows such as the 1960s “Ultraman” and the 1970s “Super Sentai” (later re-cut for action sequences in the US’ 1990s-era “Power Rangers” show) used them as a genius sales gimmick.  

“You throw a pose and you hold it for a second, so it can be taken up in merchandise and then repeated by kids at the playground,” said Rayna Denison, head of media at the University of East Anglia.

Dramatic poses are also standard in martial arts films, with two combatants often pausing their fight to posture for a second or two before re-engaging.

But the process of creating a dramatic visual exclamation mark can be traced back even further — to 17th-century kabuki theater.

Tom Holland as Spider-Man
Tom Holland as Spider-Man in “Captain America: Civil War.”
©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

“There’s a tradition called mie when actors wearing ornate, cumbersome costumes will strike a pose to accentuate a dramatic moment,” Loveridge said. “There’s a mie pose that’s somewhat similar to the superhero pose.”

It’s possible the superhero landing — or something like it — started in kabuki then migrated into Japan’s manga, cinema, anime and TV in the 20th century and was then borrowed by American comic book artists in the ’60s and ’70s.

A martial arts craze swept the American comics industry in the early 1970s, and many of the medium’s artists and writers were influenced by Japanese culture.

“At Marvel in particular, you have an emphasis on dramatic poses,” Denison said. “They published a [1978] book, ‘How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way,’ that was all about spectacularizing the imagery, making them more exciting. That’s a big resource for the people adapting Marvel movies.”

One of the earlier examples of the superhero landing can be found in “Daicon IV,” an animated short made for a 1983 convention. It shows a character dressed as a Playboy bunny executing the pose after dispatching enemies.

The winking amateur film served as almost a parody of anime culture, meaning the superhero landing was likely already widespread enough back then to deserve poking fun.

Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix.
Carrie-Anne Moss in “The Matrix.”

Since then, the three-point landing has shown up in countless films, TV shows and video games, including 1998’s “Blade,” the “Matrix” films, 2004’s “Catwoman,” 2005’s “Elektra,” 2011’s “Sucker Punch” — even in the 2000 video for NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye.”

It’s also cameoed in nearly every modern superhero movie, starting with 2008’s “Iron Man.” Director Jon Favreau tells The Post he was inspired by a 2004 “Iron Man” cover by artist Adi Granov depicting the classic pose. 

“His artwork provided a lot of inspiration for the film, and he helped us design the character’s look for the movie,” Favreau said. 

(Granov has said he borrowed the pose from “Japanese mech.”)

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man

Nowadays, the pose has become universally understood visual vocabulary.

“There’s something to be said about the way in which the pose signifies a particular kind of physicality, almost like a visual shorthand and that’s translated into the films,” said Miriam Kent, a lecturer in film studies at the University of Essex.

In fact, it even extends beyond the screen.

In 2019, a giant statue was unveiled in Plymouth, England, meant to depict an anonymous, powerful and fearless female actor. You’ll never guess the pose the artist chose.

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