Even the silliest of action movies these days try to have some kind of idea behind them. The villain has a cause that sort of makes sense and/or is a metaphor for current events, and the good guys articulate why they're wrong, perhaps while tied to a chair.
But most blockbusters only make a halfhearted attempt at this, and can bizarrely even wind up implying the bad guy is right. For instance ...
In Infinity War, the MCU finally reached a point where its films can feature both a character named "Rocket Raccoon" and the cosmic genocide of trillions. Villain Thanos' goal is to collect plot devices so he can instantly wipe out half of all life in existence. As he sees it, the Universe and its finite resources are buckling under the ever-growing demands of sentient beings. To prove his point, he cites the case of a planet he conquered and slaughtered half the population of. Instead of starving and fighting for scraps, he says, every person there is now healthy and prosperous.
No one disputes that account. The movie treats it as a true story. Likewise, the movie's 47 different heroes take the side of "murder is bad" and try to stop Thanos by hitting him a lot, but at no point do they point out that even from his own point of view, his plan makes no sense. As a result, Infinity War implies that while sure, existence is a grim zero-sum battle for survival between miserable people over limited resources, that at least beats eternal oblivion, right? Thanos isn't wrong, his methods are just cruel.
The fact that you don't solve starvation by killing half of the farmers and food scientists is never mentioned, and in fact, it's not even clear whether the screenwriters realize it. You need people to produce the stuff.
Back in the year 1400, the global population was somewhere in the 350-400 million mark. Today we're in the ballpark of 7.6 billion. Do you think the average person's life was better then, or today? Well, you're reading this on a magical device that contains the totality of human knowledge while you're busy not painfully dying from a minor infection you picked up working dawn to dusk, so there's your answer. Those billions of people include lots of scientists, inventors, doctors -- smart people who known how to turn useless rocks into tools and poisonous mushrooms into medicine.
Thanos talks as if "resources" are naturally occurring boxes of clothes and food that we're consuming too quickly. In reality, it's all shit that was lying around until a living being figured out how to make use of it. So the most valuable resource people have access to in the entire Universe is other people. How many of you are working somewhere that would magically grow happier and more efficient if you had half the employees?
Yes, there are inefficiencies and flaws in the system, which is where our (completely inaccurate and misguided) fears of overpopulation come from. Wars, poor infrastructure, and disasters create famines, not overpopulation. Humans are, in fact, the resource we can least afford to lose. The film acts like the only reason to keep them around is that killing is mean and losing our friends would make us sad.
The Incredibles 2 built on the original classic's tale of a family of superheroes going on awesome adventures to stop a supervillain who would actually have a pretty good point if they'd stop being a violent jerk about it. This time around, our villain is Evelyn Deavor (get it?!), who wants to sabotage recent efforts to rehabilitate the public image of superheroes because she thinks society shouldn't rely on them. She's motivated by the loss of her father, who was murdered by burglars after he reached out to unavailable superheroes for help instead of retreating to his safe room.
Evelyn's methods involve mind control and trying to crash a cruise ship full of representatives from various nations, but if her approach had been to write a series of stern op-eds, we wouldn't have an action movie, just a montage of people saying "This" while retweeting her. Instead she has to be stopped, because murdering a baker's dozen of diplomats is bad, and so all of the interesting dilemmas get thrown out the window.
Where is the line between reverence and reliance? Why is our society so in love with the idea of superior superheroes who can always bail us out? Why do we like flashy but fallible solutions to our problems so much more than reliable but mundane ones? We never find out, because the crazy woman using brainwashed slaves to try to blow up a commuter train is obviously on the wrong side of the argument. As with Thanos, the obvious problem is with the method, not the cause.
That's weird, because Evelyn is right in pointing out that her father would have been fine had he not been so enamored with superheroes. But then the movie ends with the message of "No, superheroes are awesome! Let's watch them go stop some crime for us!"
The Mission: Impossible movies are mostly excuses for Tom Cruise to sprint through exotic locations and cling to the exteriors of aircraft, but they've also been telling increasingly elaborate stories. The latest, Fallout, is about a group called the Apostles, who want to detonate two nuclear weapons to contaminate a water supply that a third of the world relies on. They believe that the current world order is a hopelessly broken quagmire of constant conflict, and that if they burn the whole system to the ground, a more stable society will emerge from the ashes.
Or, in their words you'll hear about 50 times during the movie, "the greater the suffering, the greater the peace." With that kind of on-the-nose dialogue, you'd swear that Christopher Nolan had co-writing credit.
The movie ends, spoiler alert, with Ethan Hunt preventing billions of people from dying slow, agonizing deaths. But the Apostles are right, because the world Ethan lives in is perpetually on the brink of terrible violence. This is the third time in seven years that Hunt's stopped some mass destruction at the last minute. And he's forever meeting truly despicable people, from corrupt government agents to hugely influential arms dealers. Hunt's world does need a shock to snap it out of a cycle in which he has to annually kick a nuke-wielding supervillain off a mountain.
The message is once again about their crude method for achieving their ends, but not the fact that in reality, the world is more peaceful than it's ever been. We've stopped fighting world-spanning wars every generation or two, Western crime rates are down, and terrorists can't continually get their hands on nuclear weapons like they're something you just really need to dig for on Amazon.
Fallout, however, seems to say that sure, the world is always teetering on the brink of disaster, but that's OK because we have Ethan Hunt to sprint around until he stops the nuclear timer with one second left. So sleep tight!
While most of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom inexplicably takes place in a big mansion, the movie billed itself as revolving around efforts to rescue dinosaurs from Isla Nublar, home to both the titular abandoned theme park and a volcano that's about to wipe them all out. It's never explained why they bothered opening Jurassic World on an island that was known to have an active, all-consuming volcano, but in the one scene Jeff Goldblum sleepwalks through in exchange for a giant bag of money, he advocates letting the dinosaurs die, warning that humanity's position on the planet could be threatened if they're allowed to survive.
So what are the consequences of man playing God? How much responsibility should we hold for our own misguided creations? How culpable are our heroes in the disastrous end to the park in the previous movie? We never find out or even keep asking, because while the government is willing to let the dinosaurs go re-extinct, Team Good Guy wants to rescue them. Meanwhile, Team Bad Guy ... also wants to rescue them, but then auction some off and weaponize the others, presumably because drone warfare hasn't been invented yet in the Jurassic World universe.
So Fallen Kingdom is two hours of Chris Pratt running around screaming "Me and my best friend, a genetically engineered raptor I raised from birth to obey my every command, think we shouldn't tamper with Mother Nature!" The only thing that separates the heroes and villains is that one side wants to put the dinosaurs in a sanctuary and the other side wants to guard warehouses full of iPads with prehistoric killing machines. People are eaten either way, so the moral ends up being "Spitting in the face of God and evolution is fine as long as you're not monetizing it."
By the end, the dinosaurs get loose in the world, so we're treated to a warning that humans and dinosaurs must now learn to coexist -- which is a cheap sequel tease, considering that we just spent two hours ignoring the very question of why we should consider coexisting with dinosaurs. Jurassic World wants to have its violent dinosaur rampages while pointing out that violent dinosaur rampages are bad for humanity. Thus our heroes end up taking the bold stance of "People getting swallowed whole by prehistoric monsters is problematic, but on the other hand, maybe it's not? Let's just keep letting it happen while we mull it over."
Deadpool 2 tries to build on the first Deadpool by offering a more serious story in between all the explosions and beheadings. The premise is that a guy named Cable travels back from the future to kill a kid named Russell before he murders his abusive orphanage headmaster, gets a taste for crime, and grows up to be the supervillain who kills Cable's family. Deadpool gets involved and agrees that Russell needs to be stopped, but he wants to save Russell's life and convince him to follow a different path. A million criminals get killed in the process. You may recognize that as the exact plot of Looper.
But while Deadpool succeeds in his mission, a side character then immediately kills the headmaster in a wacky gag at the end. There's a push and pull between "Caring about other people -- even the bad ones -- is important because caring is what keeps us from abusing our powers and causing suffering" and "Haha, caring about stuff is dumb and if you care, then you're dumb. Chimichangas and nut shots, LOL!"
So Cable and Deadpool slaughter dozens of random bad guys while debating Deadpool's argument that anyone can be redeemed. So why couldn't the lives of any of those people whom Cable and Deadpool eviscerated been turned around? Why couldn't the abusive orphanage staff they're mowing down be made to see the error of their ways? Why does Russell get a second chance, but the evil headmaster doesn't? Both are guilty of the same crime, i.e. harming kids.
"Because Russell was a child who can still turn his life around!" you protest. Well, can't they use time travel to figure out what trauma caused the headmaster to turn out that way? "They were limited in how much time traveling they could do!" OK, but Cable is an adult who was all set to blow a child's head off, and didn't care how much collateral damage he caused until he was convinced to change his ways. He didn't need time travel to learn his lesson. Why does he get redemption while everyone else gets shot in the face?
They're paying lip service to a clear moral lesson, but movie tickets are sold to people who want to see bad guys get what's coming to them. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, Deadpool's approach is like John Wick targeting his next headshot rampage at people who oppose gun control. "We have to get these damn things off the streets!" BAM!
Write a good villain and then tell us why he's awful with a beginner's guide to Celtx.
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