#3. Old-Fashioned Stuff
We love being told that our heroes are fighting for an older, more idealistic lifestyle, even when they're clearly not doing that. Someone tells Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade that he belongs in a museum, like "being an adventurous archaeologist" was going out of style in the 1950s instead of being something that's timelessly awesome. In The Avengers, Phil Coulson tells Captain America that "people need a little old-fashioned" when things get rough. John McClane got called an "analog timepiece in a digital age," for ... some reason. Gran Torino taught us that even the racist old dickbag next door is actually a good guy deep down.
Can I make fun of this guy for being old because I disagree with him politically? I'm not clear on the ethics there.
Bad guys are never old-fashioned. They might be ancient, or mystical, or, like, old, but they're never clinging to an outmoded code of ethics that has failed to acknowledge society's progress ...
But Wait a Minute ...
He's not actually sure if that's a real gun. (I decided that if I'm making fun of the character,
and not the actor, then I'm all clear.)
I'm not saying tradition is bad -- I do a lot of stuff just because it's traditional, like celebrating holidays with my family and riding my bike a lot even though cars exist. But I don't do anything just because it's old, because calling something "traditional" simply to justify it is just banging rusty nails into the wooden water slide of progress.
#2. Split-Second Decisions
Ever since Han Solo returned at the last minute to kill the smarter of Darth Vader's two wing men, leaving Luke Skywalker all clear to blow up the Death Star, that moment has been the archetype for getting the hero out of a tight spot at the last minute: Selina Kyle makes a last-minute decision to come back and save Batman, Harry Osborn comes back at the last minute to save Spider-Man in Spider-Man 3, and Butch goes back to save Marcellus Wallace's butthole in Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino can put as much self-indulgent dialogue in his movies as he wants, as long as he keeps making moments like this.
But Wait a Minute ...
All these moments rely on characters deciding to completely reverse the direction of their life in a matter of seconds. Ever notice that the opposite never happens? If someone we thought was good turns evil at the end, we always learn that he was "evil all along," like Mac in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (wow, what an utterly insane example to randomly spring to mind). Nobody's ever good for a whole movie and then suddenly switches sides at the end on an impulse, even though, logically, that should be just as likely to happen -- especially if the Force is "balanced."
"You know, I read about the Emperor's health care reform plan on the way over, and it actually makes a ton of sense."
I understand that we need to see the hero do the right thing, and split-second decisions allow the screenwriter to delay the drama and tension until the last minute. But has turning your back on everything you believe in half a heartbeat ever actually worked out for you in real life? Because every time I've tried it, I've ended up in a gutter, in a long-term romantic relationship, or owning a MacBook. If you've had better luck, tell me about it, because that sounds like a hell of a story.
#1. Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear bombs are always good in film.
"What are you talking about, you crazy idiot?" some of you are screaming, because you still haven't learned my name, which is rude because I've been talking for a while at this point, "both The Sum of All Fears and The Peacemaker have nuclear weapons that are huge threats!"
Sure they do -- but those are American nuclear weapons that fell into the wrong hands. Anything can be evil if it falls into the wrong hands. That's why those hands are wrong. But how many movies have, as a threat, nuclear weapons that were designed to kill us? Judgment Day in Terminator is caused by Skynet going wang-shaped. The scary nuke in The Dark Knight Rises was an attempt to do good that, again, fell into the wrong hands.
Arguably, the whole movie was "in the wrong hands."
But Wait a Minute ...
Hold on, I'm not ready to go to the next section yet: Sci-fi movies have such a boner for nuclear weapons that they've muscled out every other deus ex machina to be the default problem solver. Armageddon? Nuclear bomb. The Avengers? Nuclear bomb. Sunshine? Starship Troopers? The Core? Nukes all around. Independence Day uses nukes with a healthy helping of hacking, and Paul Reiser in Aliens won't let them nuke it from orbit, so they just blow up a nuclear reactor, which is the same thing (no, it's not). Pacific Rim took this to an insane level: The fact that Gipsy Danger is nuclear-powered not only makes it immune to an EMP blast ("Not Gipsy. She's analog. Nuclear"), but allows her to save the world when she blows up at the end and destroys all the kaiju.
Those holographic displays are pretty impressive, being analog and all.
As much as movies (and sci-fi in particular) like to act like they're looking to the future, this is yet another way it's still stuck in the past. Nuclear weapons seem like a great option because we never really got over World War II: It was the last time we declared war for real, the last time we won an unequivocal victory against a clearly evil enemy, and it even ended with a nice mushroom-shaped fireworks display. That's a big hearty meal of self-righteous jingoism, complete with a nuclear dessert. No wonder we're having trouble getting up from that table.