Romantic comedies can get away with the protagonists fighting their fear of commitment. Puzzle games can have you fighting against the lack of vowels in your Scrabble hand, but a good shoot-em-up in any medium needs some properly villainous bodies to be shot at.
One of which should always be played by Alan Rickman.
The problem is that current events and the audience's craving for novelty are drying up everyone's go-to staples for villainy. It all started with:
The fall of the Soviet Union caused a lot of problems -- such as political and economic disarray, missing nuclear weapons, runaway crime, that sort of thing -- but probably the worst thing about it was that moviegoers lost maybe the best bad guy country we'd ever had, aside from Nazi Germany. James Bond used to be a lone man taking on a massive evil empire with just his wits and lovemaking skills. Then one day in the 90s he finds himself fighting newspaper owners.
Oh no, he's going to write something mean about you!
In War Games, a young whippersnapper hacker found himself almost accidentally starting (and then stopping) a war between two superpowers that would have annihilated the earth. Now movie hackers just blow up people's computers and change traffic lights. Red Dawn was scary in addition to silly because, you know, maybe they weren't going to invade us exactly like that, but you still actually worried they might invade us.
By cloaking themselves behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy (almost like a veil, or curtain, made of some kind of metal) Russia freed America's imagination to fill in the many blanks with details that were 10 times worse than reality. According to the movies, Russia was ahead of us on everything -- space, missiles, sexy women spies, you name it -- and at any moment they were poised to burst out and destroy us.
Or break us, as the situation may require.
When they tore down that wall, as Reagan had asked them nicely to do, it was a huge letdown to find out our invincible adversaries had been basically eating their shoes to keep from starving. Shoes they had to wait in line to buy in the first place.
Let's see you love shoe shopping now, ladies.
Now, the good news is that Russians are just as nostalgic for the old days as action movie lovers (because at least then they had shoes to eat), and have been moving further and further toward old repressive Soviet policies. Not coincidentally, Russian bad guys have started to pop up again in movies like Iron Man 2 and games like Modern Warfare 2. The actual country still isn't back in top villain form though (where they'd have a massive army of soldiers wearing instead of eating their army boots), which means movie and game makers usually have to go with rogue Russians or Russian mobs.
With fictional Russian villains bailing on us, fictional terrorists stepped up to fill the gap. It made sense. Terrorists were always bad. They blew up innocent people. You could easily shoot 50 of them in a movie without anyone having to feel guilty.
Or tie them to a missile or whatever.
The only problem is that you could only have about 50 of them. Terrorists were evil, but they were little roving gangs of evil dudes, sneaking around, using whatever weapons they could piece together. You couldn't have an epic war with them or anything. Bring a horde of missile-equipped helicopters to fight a bunch of guys with homemade explosives strapped to their riding lawn mowers and YOU start to look like the bad guy.
Oh yeah, giant missile birds. Those are fair.
When we went to war in Iraq, and then Afghanistan, and then Iraq again, movie producers wet their pants with excitement because they were no longer just stuck with small-time terror cells, but actually had real life bad guy armies they could use for big old movie battles. Sure, the factual ties between Iraq and terrorism were a little shaky, but the important thing was that audiences basically saw these enemy armies as the big military side of the characters that blow up planes.
And if you're watching something like Hot Shots!, you're not thinking too deeply about the moral ambiguity of the Gulf Wars.
But while it was a little easier to play the first Gulf War as bad vs. good, by the time we went back again, it was a lot more complicated. So at this point, you can't tell any kind of war story in the Middle East without accidentally making a political statement. Even the cartooniest action flick is going to be interpreted as "pro-war" if you set it in the Middle East without saying anything about the complexity of the situation.
Nobody ever brings up the legitimacy of Nazi zombie claims to land.
After all, as a wise cartoony action flick once said, "Shit just got real." It's hard to ignore how real and current the situation over there is, so almost all Middle East war movies nowadays are gritty and complex and try to make sense of war. It's not really any territory for people who just want to make your average bad-guys-good-guys action fest.
In the real world, China is the rising new star on the Western world's international threat matrix. They're poised to economically dominate the world, and their military is not too shabby either. All those World War III-genre screenwriters who went dormant after Russia collapsed are now being revived from their cryogenic chambers to start writing China-threat scripts.
The best example of China becoming the new Russia is Red Dawn, the iconic Cold War invasion movie, which was recently being remade with China literally replacing Russia.
Unfortunately they ran into a snag: While we had a "Cold War" with the Soviet Union, our differences with China are more like a "Passive-Aggressive Catfight." We're not actually physically fighting China anywhere in the world, and neither country seems to even be thinking about it. Instead, we're duking it out with snide comments and aggressive economic policies.
And a little bit of lead poisoning.
We're actually talking to and trading with China, and although we have a lot of arguments about that trade, nobody wants to see it stopped. So pretty much anyone that likes making big money in the global economy can feel the squeeze when they want to talk shit about China. Including movie studios.
That's why the new Red Dawn is being hurriedly edited in post-production to remove all references to China and change the bad guys to ... North Korea.
Whoever his agent is, he deserves a raise.
Considering that North Korea doesn't even have the boats to send an invading army over here (or the shoes to feed them), the movie's marketing is also being changed from action to comedy.
It's not just Hollywood that's scared. The new game Homefront also caved under pressure to switch its baddies from China to Korea, but at least they had the sense to have the two Koreas unite in the game's alternate reality, so only half of our invaders are starving to death and would defect the moment they saw a Dairy Queen.
If these were North Korean troops, they'd be inside already.