4 Surprisingly Simple Fixes for Famously Bad Movies
I watch a lot of bad movies, because intellectually debasing myself for your entertainment is the most lucrative career afforded me by the cruel fates, you hideous bastards. And like everyone who spends a lot of time enjoying the hard work of other people without ever actually engaging in that work, I feel like I have a better understanding of that job than the people who actually do it professionally well enough to support their families. Ya know how drinking a lot of beer will teach you organic chemistry? It's like that.
So if there are any professional filmmakers in my readership, just sit down and shut up for a minute while Big Papa teaches you how to do your job ("Big Papa" is what my cat thinks my name is).
Pacific Rim: Switch Mako and Raleigh
Pacific Rim is one of my favorite movies ever. I love it for the same reason I love the Hobbit movies: it's like someone eschewed every piece of narrative technique we've learned throughout storytelling history just so they could make a movie that me, Sargey Pargey Puddin' 'n' Pie, would enjoy while drunk, stoned, sleepy, sick, or trying to prove my nerd-cred to a sexy geek girl ("Anime? I know a little bit about anime ..."). But still, whenever I meet someone who says they hated it, my reaction is always, "Yeah, I see what you mean."
"Your opinion makes more sense than mine."
The film's a freaking mess. Raleigh Becket is the most boring protagonist this side of whatever it is that Ethan Hawke did last, because he starts out a cocky hotshot who hates Kaiju because they killed his brother, and he's the exact same when the movie ends. You can argue that maybe he learns the value of cooperation as evidenced by that "let's do this, together!" line, and he learns to open up to Mako Mori, but if you have that opinion you're stupid, so I can ignore it. Raleigh has less depth than the useless secondary antagonist's dog.
But all that's fine, because I figured out ...
How to Fix It
Switch Mako and Raleigh's places in the story.
The opening of Pacific Rim is a voiceover explaining how the world has Kaiju now. Then, bam, we meet two characters, brothers Raleigh and Yancy Becket, as they pilot their Jaeger against a Kaiju off the coast of Alaska. Yancy is killed, but Raleigh manages to kill the monster. This is not how Pacific Rim should have started.
The best scene in the movie is a flashback at around the halfway point, when we see Mako -- as a sobbing child -- running through the smoking remains of Tokyo as a huge crab Kaiju barrels down on her. Just as she's about to be squashed, Stacker Pentecost shows up and saves her. This is how Pacific Rim should have started. Mako should be the character we meet first -- as a child -- and Raleigh's tragic backstory should be revealed at the halfway point instead.
This works better for a few big reasons. First, Mako is a far better protagonist than Raleigh is, because she's a synecdoche for the human experience of encountering Kaiju and therefore a better surrogate for the audience. If we're introduced to her as a child, we follow her (and humanity) from naive and impotent terror, to aspirational self-improvement, to triumphant vengeance. Bam, fools: Hero's Journey, all up in this bitch.
Allll up in it.
And, more importantly, this revised structure forces audiences to feel the Kaiju threat: at the beginning, we're watching the destruction through the eyes of a helpless child, which would establish them as a vast, insurmountable danger. Then, when we finally watch a fight from the inside of a Jaeger and get to live vicariously through the most satisfying CGI sequences I've ever seen, it would feel earned, deserved, and justified.
Note: If Guillermo del Toro is reading this then hi oh my god how are you all your movies are awesome even Mimic has its moments I forgot what I was going to say.
Godzilla: Don't Kill Bryan Cranston -- Kill His Son
The problem with Godzilla is that there isn't a protagonist. We start with Bryan Cranston, but then he is killed off in a real dumb and unsatisfying way, so we watch his son (who has no personality) and his son's wife (who wasn't given a copy of the script) stumble around wreckage looking sad. Are we supposed to sympathize with Godzilla? Because he's a giant death-lizard. Normally I'm all about supporting death-lizards (especially when they're, say, disguising themselves as humans and subverting the U.S. government from within; I dunno, I'm just spit-balling) but when they kill most of Hawaii I'm less impressed.
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
How to Fix It
Aside from killing fewer Hawaiians? Check this out: instead of killing Cranston, kill his son. We'd had enough of that musclehead by the end of the first Kick-Ass anyway, and we can never get enough Cranston, because he is the one who knocks. But there are plot-based reasons to do this too.
Let's jump to the part at the end when MUTO (the nuclear death monster that we're not supposed to sympathize with) beats up Godzilla. As our giant nuclear lizard monster hero is lying on the ground in agony, he and Kick-Ass share a moment: they gaze deep into each other's eyes, and just for a second look like they're about to fist-bump. It's a scene that basically grabs you by the shoulders and screams, "This is supposed to be powerful!"
"GODZILLA and GUY CHARACTER are TOTALLY BUDDIES NOW."
Now, imagine he and Cranston's places are switched. The young, virile, smooth-skinned, muscular dreamboat is killed stupidly at the 30-minute mark, and the older, salty, intimidating-yet-vulnerable Cranston survives. Now he's watched both his wife and his son get killed by the MUTO monster, and he's willing to do anything for revenge, since we've already seen that he's devoted his entire life to this. We'd be seeing these events through his eyes, through the filter of his more-than-a-little-unhinged brain. This movie desperately needs to give us that perspective in order to view Godzilla as a hero, because, I can't stress this enough, he's a giant lizard monster that murders cities. And speaking of lots and lots of gratuitous murder ...
Man of Steel Should Have Started With the Destruction
Man of Steel is the best example of how computer effects can completely screw up a movie. CGI lets filmmakers put some crazy-cool stuff on screen, but it can easily become a disaster if the director forgets to make the stuff they're putting on screen mean something, which is why the final big fight between two invincible Kryptonian super-men sounds awesome on paper, but on film is just boring, eye-numbing nonsense. Like this review says, the movie "successfully delivers the flawed concept we've all been clamoring to see." Like I said right now in this article, Man of Steel is the cinematic equivalent of crushing on a girl for years and then, when you finally sleep together, finding out she has a "punch you in the throat" fetish. Unless you're into that, in which case it's like ... I dunno, make something up, you freak. The point is, it's hard to get a sense of what's at stake in a movie when you can smash a character in the face with a fucking satellite and it doesn't impact the storyline one bit.
"Then ZOD does WHATEVER THE CGI PEOPLE WANT. It DOESN'T MATTER at all. Go NUTS."
But really, that's just the symptom -- the real problem at the heart of the movie is that Superman doesn't care about the destruction; he doesn't care about the consequences. And there's a way to fix that without getting rid of all the destruction porn that we apparently can't get enough of.
How to Fix It
All the destruction and cavalier disregard for human life should have happened at the beginning of the movie.
Far be it from me (a doofy comedy writer whose most successful piece of fiction is a didactic fart joke) to criticize grown-up Hollywood screenwriters, but Clark Kent's character makes no goddamn sense. You're telling me this guy never lost his temper until his late 20s?
And the first time he does, he gets a suit? Fuck that guy.
No, if you want to do a Superman movie where The Man of Tomorrow loses his shit and rips the world apart with his bare hands, put that part at the beginning of the movie. That should be the catalyst, the part of his personality he has to overcome and the crime he has to atone for. We can have our cake and punch it through a brick wall too because we superhero fans are a forgiving people. But it's hard to root for a guy whose Hero's Journey, according to Wikipedia, goes from "Clark spends several years ... anonymously performing good deeds" to "Clark warns the government that, if it wants his help, it will be on his terms." That's not a plucky hero learning the importance of virtue, that's a kindly immortal alien building the strength of character to install himself as Earth's dictator-god. And on the subject of deities throwing tantrums ...
Left Behind Should've Been a Horror Movie About God
The premise of Left Behind is that God abruptly kidnaps every devoted Christian on Earth, as well as all the kids below a certain age, and society more or less crumbles. And this probably sounds like Christian propaganda, but it's not, because I think this movie hates Christians too.
"NICOLAS CAGE looks SURPRISED that he is IN THIS MOVIE."
Since the movie is oh-so-obviously religious propaganda, you can expect the particular denomination behind it to be portrayed positively -- but that's not what happens. Atheists and insufficiently devoted Christians and even a kindly, charitable Muslim are all mocked as being inadequate for God's love, but the devoted Premillennial Dispensationalists Christians -- the religious faction that the movie is made by and for -- are all depicted as insecure, impotent, boring assholes: the first one we meet loses an argument about faith with a journalist, and the second one is hated by her family because she doesn't know how to do anything but bitch at them for not being Jesusy enough. The third one is an insecure woman who tries to live vicariously through her friends' sex life, because she finds her own existence so unsatisfying. These are the people who get to go to heaven. Is this how Primo-Linear Disco-Fashionists see themselves? I hope not, because that's shitty. Cheer up, guys! We'll all wanna be your friend if you just stop telling us we're going to hell all the time.
How to Fix It
The weird thing about Premeridiall Dissipationalists is, as has been pointed out before, they're not actually trying to get people to join their religion. They just want to rub in everyone's faces how saved they are (because they're not gonna die, see, because God is going to save them) and how fucked everyone else is. So I say this unto them: quit hiding behind your feigned attempts and proselytization, and just make the God-based slasher movie you all want, in your twisted black hearts, to make. Give us a delusional, hateful, vaguely senile doom-deity, and explode the fuck out of everything. Can you imagine? I can't! I could never dream up anything half so small-minded and hateful as Left Behind. That's why I want them to do it.
Remember when you hilariously booted the little person off the plane? That was awesome!
I never would've thought to have a hero be such an irrational douchebag.
Seriously, do it. Depict God as a flaming ball of death that vaporizes anyone who dares look upon him. Give us shots of biology teachers forced to flay themselves for refusing to teach intelligent design. Show us an abortion clinic atomized by meteors made out of flaming fetuses. Give us a scene where Los Angeles is consumed by a dick-shaped volcano that spews homosexual semen that burns through non-believers' flesh like a Xenomorph's blood. If you shoot the CGI-filled, R-rated, Old-Testament, fire-and-brimstone, balls-to-the-fucking-wall, snuff film that plays constantly in your deranged little heads, I promise we'll pack that theater hard and fast enough to give the entire film industry a prostate-based money-gasm. Because even if you won't admit it, we all know that's what you Preludial Differentialists want.
For more from Sarge, check out 4 Ways We Can Save the Marvel Cinematic Universe and 5 Behind-the-Scenes Features That Show Why Movies Went Wrong.