5 Movies That Would Be Better Without The Lead Character
You've probably figured out that the people who hold the top positions in our world sometimes aren't the ones who deserve it. But oddly enough, this extends to movies. You'd be shocked by how often a lead character only has that job because they happen to be the face on the poster. In fact, lots of times you'd get a better, clearer story if the star was reduced to a side character ... or even cut entirely. For example ...
Chris Pratt Didn't Need To Be In Jurassic World At All
The leads in every Jurassic Park movie have been scientists whose love and curiosity for dinosaurs does not extend to cramming them in a zoo to have popcorn thrown at them by tourists. That's how it's supposed to work -- the protagonist in a story represents the crux of the central conflict. And then we get Chris Pratt's Owen Grady in the Jurassic World films.
He's a bad boy Velociraptor trainer who is only crucial to the story because he is played by Chris Pratt. Make no mistake, if it was anyone but Pratt, America's Cool Older Brother, the executives at Universal would've probably had his character be disemboweled in Act 2. By the logic that these films operate on, his basic character type -- glib, arrogant, macho -- is that of a villain. They didn't even give the character any kind of an expert background. ("What, and make him some kind of nerd?") They just say he was in the Navy before he trained raptors. That's it. Not "He was in the Navy and trained a deadly squadron of throat-slitting commando dolphins." He's just been on a boat before.
What's worse, all of his one-dimensional swashbuckling and wisecracking detracts from the arc of the female lead, Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire. Unlike Pratt, she plays a character with actual growth, going from a heartless executive to practically starting her own dinosaur PETA within 24 hours. The Big Bad of the series has always been greedy unethical corporate executives, so why not center the movie on the development of one who learns the error of her ways?
"Yeah, that's great, kid," says a studio exec, chomping on a cigar. "Listen: How about instead, and stay with me here, the Dinosaur Whisperer starts a dinosaur motorcycle gang? Your thing may be good storytelling, but mine will look badass on the poster. Which means I win."
Arnold Schwarzenegger Should Have Been Retired From The Terminator Series After T2
As I write this, Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the age of 70, is filming his sixth Terminator movie in 35 years. That's how little confidence the studio has in this franchise working without him. A septuagenarian is going to be starring in a franchise in which his presence stopped making sense after the second movie (or if we're talking strict plot logic, the first).
His continued involvement would work if the Terminator movies were telling a story about a formerly ruthless killing machine (literally in this case) coming to terms with its violent past as it grows old and weary, like in Logan or the newest God Of War game. Instead, they're trying to hold the inevitability of age at bay while coming up with plot Band-Aids to explain it away. It's all just an elaborate way to obscure the truth about Schwarzenegger's involvement in the series. The T-800 is narratively useless and only there for brand recognition.
Look, I get that he was the star. Find another one. Within the structure of the story, John Connor, Sarah Connor, and Kyle Reese are the definitive protagonists. They propel the plots. They're the ones who should have the emotional growth. They're the ones who have something at stake. Schwarzenegger's Terminator is a glorified homicidal C-3PO. He is a talking gun. He only joins the good guys in the second film because he was programmed to. With another firmware upgrade, he'd have smashed John Connor's skull like a pumpkin. That's not a character arc.
Also, he "dies" at the end of four of the five movies so far, so he's not even playing the same character from one Terminator to the next. It's always just an excuse to bring back the familiar face. "I'll be back" isn't a catchphrase anymore; it's a threat to the audience.
The writers are completely boxed in by this choice. They can't find some creative new way to explore this universe. Instead, the machines or John Connor or whoever the bad guy is in this convoluted series now will always just 3D print another Schwarzenegger and send him back in time because fate or whatever.
Jack Sparrow Shouldn't Have Been The Hero Of The Pirates of the Caribbean Sequels
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (aka the first one) works mainly because it has such a good cast dynamic. You have Orlando Bloom being handsome, Keira Knightley being obscenely likable, Geoffrey Rush being all crusty and evil and British, etc. But all of them wind up being overshadowed by Johnny Depp, the world's most precious cinematic treasure in the mid 2000s, swaggering around in a role that's equal parts comic relief drunkard, enigmatic scoundrel, and Halloween costume idea.
Jack Sparrow is one of those larger-than-life comic relief personalities who works amazingly well in small doses. But due to his popularity, the character quickly devoured the series, which is a bad idea for two reasons: 1) Of course people are going to enjoy Jack Sparrow the most. He's given the funniest lines. But promoting him to the lead is like seeing people laugh at Gimli in Fellowship Of The Ring and then having him drag the ring to Mount Doom instead of Frodo. And 2) He got there with nearly no character development.
What's the thing that he wants besides rum and a bigger cut of the Pirates action figure and merchandise sales? What's the thing that, when the other actors ditch the series or have their roles downgraded, will keep people connected to Jack Sparrow? Because at heart, he's the Steve Urkel of the series, meant to awkwardly burst into the story, lighten things up, and then sail away on someone's boat. He should be there for flavor, to weave in and out of other people's adventures, people who have goals and strong personalities -- like Angelica, the daughter of Blackbeard in On Stranger Tides, or Henry Turner from Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Instead, the foundations of the sequels are built upon Jack Sparrow's narrow range of mannerisms and shenanigans, using the "Why not just make a whole movie about the Minions?" logic usually reserved for bad spinoffs. You seriously can't find a single other charismatic star to take over as protagonist? Surely somebody wants the work.
Professor X Shouldn't Have Been Elevated To Leading Man In The New X-Men Films
Professor X sure seems like he does a lot. He's always at the front of the room, telling the mutants that they need to get along and then reading their minds and learning all of their past traumas because he's an old bald dick. But if you look at the X-Men prequel series, films that have been made entirely on the basis that we find Professor X interesting when shoved into a lead role, it quickly becomes apparent that the dude isn't really that productive.
What does he do? Well, in First Class, he starts the X-Men, but he does so with Magneto's help, so that's half of a thing. And then he helps Magneto almost kill Magneto's former abuser, but then gets mad at Magneto when Magneto kills him? This isn't really explored, as Prof. X gets paralyzed immediately after.
In Days Of Future Past, he has disbanded the X-Men and sits around, depressed and unwilling to help with anything. Then, in what I assume is a ridiculously biting criticism of the character, his future self communicates with him and tells him to get off of his ass and help. He does this by convincing Mystique not to kill someone important.
In Apocalypse, Xavier gets kidnapped, calls for help, loses his hair, and then encourages Jean Grey to beat the bad guy. Thus the tally of Important Leading Character Things That He's Done stands at 2.5, meaning that he's doing less than one important action per movie. This leaves you wondering "Why isn't this all about Magneto instead?" Hell, look at how adult Magneto is introduced in First Class.
Xavier gets no such scene, because, at best, Xavier should be the secondary character he normally is. An influence, or mentor, someone to offer Magneto a path other than violently seeking vengeance. Xavier is there to make Magneto more tragic, not the other way around. Magneto turning his back on Xavier should be the climax of the film series, and him saying, verbatim, "I love my mutant brothers, BUT I MOSTLY LOVE TERRORISM, DAWG" is way stronger than Xavier repeatedly whimpering "You were my friend!" over the course of three movies.
Megan Fox, Not Shia LaBeouf, Should Have Been The Lead In Transformers
Sam Witwicky, played by Shia LaBeouf in the first three Transformers films, doesn't have a lot of personality traits. He's goofy without really having any actual jokes, he can yell "OPTIMUS!" with some regularity, and that's about it. He's in the story mainly because his explorer grandfather was the guy who found a frozen Megatron. The idea seems to be that because the main attraction is a bunch of noisy CGI robot wrestling, the lead needs to be a normal, bland guy to be a stand-in for the audience. You could swap him out halfway through for another actor with the same haircut and we'd barely notice.
Hey, you know what makes even CGI-heavy movies more fun to watch? When the humans in the film are actually engaging, because they have clear goals and desires that drive the movie forward. And that's why they should have upgraded Mikaela Banes, played by Megan Fox, to the lead. And ... maybe recast the role?
Megan Fox is not good in the Transformers films, but he's actually pretty great in stuff like Jennifer's Body and New Girl. There's a strong chance that she comes off as dull eye candy because of who is directing her. As this excellent video from Lindsay Ellis points out, Banes is actually a well-rounded character ... in the script. She has both a rich backstory and internal motivation (unlike, say, Sam). She's a former car thief, having been brought into the life by her father. So already, if you gave her that "my grandfather awakened Megatron" deal, you have a built-in internal character conflict: Your whole family has a history of awfulness, so where does that leave you? Do you follow that path, or do you forge ahead with your robot pals and boot Starscream out of the galaxy?
She's also a great mechanic (in a movie about alien cars) who constantly gets underestimated because she doesn't look like one. She uses her skills to save the day multiple times, by her own choice (where, again, Sam is just thrust into the plot because of other people's actions), until finally ... she steps aside while Shia LaBeouf singlehandedly kills Megatron. Meanwhile, every shot frames her like she's there only to be a tan, glistening figure for teenage boys to drool over.
This should have been her movie. The fear of having anything but a young male in the lead is the only reason it wasn't. I'm not saying it suddenly turns it into Oscar bait, but you'd have a likable, capable, fleshed-out character driving the story forward. Maybe some people would even leave the theater thinking, "You know that time when the robots took a nap and some humans talked? That actually didn't make me want to die."
Daniel has a Twitter that is mostly devoted to Spider-Man and Pokemon.
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