4 Movies That Wasted Most Of The Plot On Pointless Stuff
Blockbusters are full of dumb stuff, and we often have fun ripping apart the decisions characters make. "They could have solved everything much more easily, if they didn't act so dumb!" we say. When nitpicking like this, we do have to accept the world of the movie. We can blame characters for their decisions but not for their wider circumstances.
But we can blame the writers for the wider circumstances. Which leads us to ask the following questions, about how we could ALL have been saved headaches if the writers just lowered some needless hoops and let characters get on with things.
Why Couldn't The Rise Of Skywalker Gang Just Know Where Palpatine Was?
Where is the Emperor? Somehow, Palpatine has returned, and our heroes need to find him to destroy him once and for all. Rumor says he's on a planet named Exegol, but no one knows where that is. They have to find this mysterious Exegol, located somewhere in the vast galaxy.
The movie's solution:
They find a thing that points them to a thing that points them to a thing that points them to Palpatine. It makes zero sense and takes up the entire movie.
It makes so little sense that even mocking it is no fun. If it made a little sense, we could put on our plot hole spectacles and write an article asking, "In real life, could a dagger ever be precise enough to point to a single room in wreckage the size of a moon?" Instead, we find ourselves asking, "WTF is this? Why would anyone ever send directions this way? Are we supposed to find any of this engaging? A scavenger hunt isn't a story. We might as well watch Rey play Tetris for 30 minutes."
But what if instead ...
I've heard various suggestions for streamlining the plot, from cutting out one destination planet to save time, to having the heroes just zip straight to the Death Star remains, since they guess it's a spot filled with clues. I want to go further than that. How about they know where Exegol is, from the very start of the story?
This movie is about Palpatine having a giant secret army with the power of a hundred death stars. The heroes, meanwhile, are few and weak. The rebels are the ones facing impossible odds. There's no need for Palpatine to hide.
And I know, the movie writes in a reason, something about him still being exactly 15 hours and 31 minutes from achieving FULL POWER. I'm saying they shouldn't have bothered with that. Anyway, he seems to have all those scary planes in play during the final battle, so it doesn't look like showing up early cut him off from anything. So, lose the entire story about having to track him down. Just have the heroes go confront him as soon as they're ready.
What should the writers do with all the time we save this way? Why, anything they like. Maybe they could write a plot of some kind, where events lead to consequences, instead of quest markers leading to new quest markers. Maybe characters could exchange dialogue. What an opportunity, getting to write a whole movie that's not Rise of Skywalker.
Slashing so much would improve this particular movie, because this particular movie was terrible throughout; even its most passionate defenders agree on that. But in general, anytime we can trim these bloated blockbusters, we should do it. For example ...
Did Wonder Woman Really Have To Seek Out A Mayan Shaman?
No, we're not going to talk about the 20-minute literal obstacle course that opens Wonder Woman 1984, a flashback that the movie could easily have shortened or cut altogether. We're talking about something else: how Diana and Kristen Wiig must later find out the nature of the mysterious Wishing Stone. Ninety minutes into the film, with the audience mostly having figured it all out, the heroes are still at sea, and they need details so they can save the world.
The movie's solution:
Kristen Wiig finds a flyer advertising a Mayan shaman. She follows its directions to a "squat next to Galaxy records," and Diana and Steve Trevor show up there soon after. And so they all get to meet the shaman Babajide.
Turns out Babajide's kind of a fraud. His name's really Frank Patel, and he's a "citizen of the world," not quite Mayan. Ha, ha! But he does have at least one Mayan ancestor, and he has a Mayan book, so he's able to tell the gang everything they need.
But what if instead ...
Diana and Kristen Wiig both work at the Smithsonian Institution. So how about they get everything they need from there? One of them can discover the Mayan book among the place's artifacts, explains it to the other, and Diana can use her mythological knowledge to fill in the gaps. They could even make Kirsten Wiig a scholar of all things Mayan, if someone in the room needs extra prior info. The pivotal conversation could be entirely between characters we care about. There's no need to visit some new guy and new set that appear for four minutes and that everyone in the audience will forget.
Weird thing is, the movie does have Kristen Wiig start by scouring the Smithsonian. We get multiple scenes of this. But she comes up short. Again, I'm not calling out characters for missing easy solutions—I'm calling out the writers for making this needlessly difficult.
It made me wonder if Babajide's a DC character that some higher-up wanted to shove into the film, for universe building. Apparently he isn't. Or is the actor some famous guy they thought was perfect for a surprise part? Not likely, unless fans were clawing from a cameo from the star of 2015 Fox sitcom Grandfathered.
How Hard Is It To Get Hit By Venom?
In 2018's Venom, we've got our main man Eddie Brock, and we've got the alien symbiote Venom. The two have to hook up; the story must reach this point somehow.
The symbiote is locked in a secure lab, one run by the villain Carlton Drake. Brock actually visits the lab complex, but that's early in the film, when everything still getting introduced. The movie needs to get him in the building again later, once Venom's onsite, and once Eddie's fired as a reporter and has no business poking his nose around there.
The movie's solution:
A lab employee approaches Eddie and tells him to sneak into the lab to take pictures of lab shenanigans. It's kind of weird because, as we just mentioned, he's been fired by this point, so even if he's shown some interest in Drake's Life Foundation before, he's not exactly the best guy to get the word out now. But anyway, the two stage a late-night break-in. Soon, all that stands between him and the symbiote are a few panes of glass, and he makes short work of those.
But what if instead ...
What if Venom wasn't locked in a secure lab? What if he's outside and running free, and that's how he runs into Eddie?
That sounds like we're chucking out the whole plot about the Life Foundation studying symbiotes, but we're not. Because in the actual movie, whose lab locks up a symbiote, ANOTHER symbiote is running free. This one's named Riot, and Riot eventually infects Carlton Drake. It infects him ... by infiltrating the lab where he works.
That's right: The script uses two separate lab break-ins to get Eddie and Drake with their respective symbiotes. But it could have skipped both had they just made Riot the one locked in the lab and Venom the one on the outside. And that would have left so much room for writing a movie, one that's not 80% piece setting.
They went with such a needlessly convoluted way of doing things. It's like if Peter Parker got his powers not during his everyday life as a high school student but by breaking into a secret lab at Oscorp, and ... uh, wait, I just realized that's what happened in 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man. Okay, but also, it's like if 70 minutes into the film, Peter's field trip chaperone also breaks into that Oscorp lab, carrying snacks, and THAT is how Norm Osborne becomes the Green Goblin. That would be weird, right?
In The Tomorrow War, Why Draft Everyone?
28 years in the future, mankind is at war—not with zombies, in the 28 Days Later sequel we asked for, but with the other type of hungry horde: alien monsters. Chris Pratt is our hero, living in the present day, when time travelers arrive and warn of the threat to come. The story needs some way to get Chris and a handful of soldier characters to join the future war effort.
The movie's solution:
Every nation in the world comes together and drafts their citizens to fight. Pratt is one of the unlucky lot to be chosen. The reason behind his conscription is they hook him up to a death clock and learn he'd otherwise die in seven years. That means his older self isn't alive in the year 2053, so there's no fear that traveling to the future will cause a paradox.
The future world has a population of just 500,000, by the way, a fair chunk of whom are younger than 50. So, you'd think most able-bodied people today would be dead by 2053, leaving this whole death clock thing pointless. Also, you'd think dying in 2053 when your death certificate says 2030 would cause a paradox anyway, so we shouldn't even bother worrying about paradoxes. But whatever, the death clock draft is what they go with.
But what if instead ...
What if some organization recruits just Chris? Him and a few others, personally?
See, early on, it seems like the general population getting drafted into a future war is fundamental to the story, the whole reason we're watching this movie. But the ragtag crew of everyman draftees gets killed off. After that, most of the future action is just Chris Pratt and Yvonne Strahovski. The movie seems willing to forget about the army of millions. So how about we cut it from the film altogether?
Let's say instead that time travelers arrive, warn of war, and the nations of the world refuse to help. And then the time travelers seek out just Chris and recruit him. Even in the movie we got, he's not a nobody who needs a random draft to get caught up in war. He ran combat missions in Iraq. That can be the reason the time travelers say they want him. The true reason, we'll later learn, is that his daughter is the commander of the future resistance.
They can also recruit Sam Richardson's character for his science knowhow, and recruit other throwaway characters for other vague reasons. Some can still be bumbling misfits if that's funny. Maybe the time travelers can force the recruits to fight somehow, or maybe they can simply convince them. Let Chris decide to go and fight, a decision that ties into the family abandonment subplot the movie has going on.
Or maybe you prefer the movie's worldwide draft solution because it's more interesting. That's fine. Kind of reminds me of Interstellar, where I heard people say NASA should have just recruited Coop directly, and I disagreed, preferring the weird way the movie handled it. But then you get to the end of The Tomorrow War, and the worldwide draft goes from needless to straight-up breaking the movie.
Chris and a small team of friends finally prevent the war from ever starting, by blasting dormant aliens in the present day. A single drone strike would do the job, but they go at it alone. So though they succeed, they very nearly screw up horribly, by letting the aliens loose, which would start the war 30 years early and kill billions.
As seasoned nitpickers, we often point out how heroes could fix things much better by just leaving matters to the authorities. The Tomorrow War has to be the most extreme version of this. First because there's no urgency here—the aliens won't wake for decades, so it's fine if takes ages to convince the military to step in and do it right. And second because this movie presents the entire world's militaries as absurdly united and eager to address the alien threat.
I could angrily ask "why didn't Chris Pratt take photos then go back to the government for backup?" But that's a futile question, because the movie wanted to end with Chris Pratt and J.K. Simmons fighting an alien queen alone in the snow. So instead, I'll ask this: "Why did they write the government as being so responsive, if they wanted a climax where the heroes handle things solo?
The movie otherwise teases a theme about doom through inaction (there are references to climate change, and kids depressed about an empty future). They could have leaned into that. Have the governments of the world skeptical about the tomorrow war and refusing to address it. It wouldn't be a sudden swerve then when the government laughs off Chris' plan to hunt aliens in the present day. And it might even make sense now that when Chris needs help and expertise, he has to turn to his own students.
Or maybe the script was aiming for something about countries being all too eager for military solutions, but not willing to take steps now to prevent future catastrophe? No, that doesn't work. Because blowing up an alien ship now is a military solution. And sacrificing millions to win a tomorrow war is a step against future catastrophe.
Oh yeah, almost forgot—they sacrifice millions. See that pic above, with the countries' names and numbers? Those are how many die traveling to the future. The US alone loses 25 million this way. So, uh, thanks Chris for preventing the war from ever happening. But this happy ending leaves no way to undo those hundreds of millions of deaths. Should have built a death clock to avoid that paradox.
Top image: Walt Disney Pictures