Star Wars Minus The Force: 5 Series That Need To Branch Out
When something becomes ridiculously popular, it's nearly impossible to separate it from some of its most notable aspects. It's hard to imagine a Lord Of The Rings without the Hobbits. It's difficult to envision a McDonald's that doesn't sell Big Macs. And tequila simply isn't tequila unless it's followed by punching your friend for almost no reason. But in the case of a few pop culture franchises, the inability to split from some seemingly important building blocks is what's keeping them from evolving. And when you look closer, you begin to realize that, like that sixth tequila shot, you don't really need these things at all in order to create an entertaining experience.
Star Wars Can Ditch The Force Any Time Now
I love Star Wars. You love Star Wars. Hell, the whole world is pretty enamored with this Star Wars thing. Its approval rating is slightly higher than Making Out and Not Losing Your Arm, and it doesn't look like it's going to budge from that spot any time soon. And even if you think the Skywalkers are just OK, seeing these movies is nearly obligatory. You pay your taxes, you see your Star Warses, and you die. It's the life that George Lucas has built for us.
We can only wish for something else.
But here's one of the cool things about Star Wars: It's a series about a whole other universe. Even Lord Of The Rings was about how, inevitably, the world is gonna be ruled by white dudes and all of the fantastical shit better catch the nearest ship to Lighting Effects Town. But Star Wars is full of alien species, huge futuristic cities, small crime-infested cities, and geriatrics who shoot lightning from their hands. It can go anywhere. There are no limits. So why do we have to follow the magical space preachers around all the time?
Because they're ... right?
The Jedi are great. They have rad lightsabers and the kind of solid facial hair that my chin writes about in its dream journal. And as Yoda said, the Force is flowing everywhere. I don't have a problem with that, nor do I need a Star Wars movie full of Han-Solo-esque characters going "I don't believe in no Force, 'cause I got me a good blaster, a friendly wolfman, and the, umm, Spendillium Calkgun." A movie in which the Force exists and people kind of wink and hint about it sounds like an enema of pure disappointment.
But how about a movie with no Force at all? Like, not the slightest reference to it. Doesn't mean that it doesn't exist; it just means that you're in an exciting sector of the galaxy where the characters don't repeat the sermons of star wizards. But they still get to have fun adventures and shoot blasters at each other, and you're not tied to caring about a prophecy or the greater fate of the Galaxy. You can have a Fast & Furious in the streets of Coruscant or a John Wick in multiple Tatooine bars. And not once in the middle of his gun-fu extravaganza would Keanu Reeves stop the movie to say, "Karate-ing alien mobsters is cool, but do you know what's cooler? Invisible virtue sorcery that only some people even have access to."
"Before you die, allow me to explain this asteroid religion that you couldn't possibly fathom."
We Don't Need Natives To Know That King Kong Is Awesome
Most generations have had a King Kong. If you were around in 1933, you delighted in the revolutionary special effects (and the first feature-length musical score for a "talkie" movie in history) of King Kong. If you were a kid in 1962, you got to see Kong harness the powers of electricity and wrestle Godzilla. In 1976, Jessica Lange called King Kong a "goddamn chauvinist pig ape," because fuck second drafts. In 2005, people sat through all nine hours of Peter Jackson's Kong. And in 2017, we got Kong: Skull Island, which snipped off the traditional Kong third act in which he splatters on the NYC pavement so that he can eventually wrestle Godzilla again. And people say that there's no respect for tradition anymore.
It's important to have values.
Those generations also have to sit through scenes featuring a group of Kong fanatics that felt oddly offensive even when Herbert Hoover was in office. I'm not going to delve deeply into the racial stereotyping of a scene from 1933 in which a bunch of nonwhite people on an island dress and dance like gorillas, scream at white people, and then kidnap an innocent blonde girl to feed to a giant ape they worship as a god. That sentence kind of says it all. However, I will say that it feels weird to see versions of this nowadays when it's not really there for any reason other than to answer the question "Who built this huge fucking wall?"
King Kong is full of "Oh Shit!" moments. "Oh shit, Kong is going to knock all of those sailors off that log!" "Oh shit, Kong is going to tear that T-Rex's face in half!" "Oh shit, Kong is going to rip apart the wall that was built specifically to keep him on the shittier half of the island!" However, if we're going to have that wall in movies, and the only way that we can set it up is by first prefacing that it was built by a village of homicidal non-Americans, maybe we should just not have it. Again, there are so many more "Oh Shit!" moments to supply the movie with. And we've seen Kong tear down a wall four times. It's not like we're still in suspense when he walks up to it anymore. "Kong can beat up a dinosaur, but man, I wonder how he'll fare against simple architecture?"
"Hey, ya'll. You got the height right, but the support beams are a little loose."
We're not losing anything by removing the natives, who are there to chant and panic. And Kong: Skull Island tried to dodge the issue by having a group of amiable natives who didn't immediately go from zero to "SACRIFICE THE GOLDEN-HAIRED WOMAN" in ten seconds. But even if they're only there to praise Kong, it's kind of a meaningless gesture. I don't need to see a bunch of people singing his name on high to know that a giant reptile-throttling ape named KING KONG is the coolest damn thing in the world. Trust me, movie, you've got my full attention.
Pirates Of The Caribbean Needs To Ditch Jack Sparrow's Indestructibility
Every few years, Walt Disney Pictures spends anywhere between 140 million and 378 million dollars to wheel out a Pirates Of The Caribbean movie. Who are they for? I have no idea. They recoup their budget and then some, but unlike with most movies that cost that much money, I know no one who is a huge fan of them. If you make a superhero film, you're assured of a large number of people who will see whatever movie that superhero is in. Pirates Of The Caribbean, on the other hand, seems like a film series that you'd only glimpse when your Saturday is lonely and every other room in the theater has burned down forever.
"Dead Men Tell No Tales it is, then."
That said, they're not the worst movies, and they're certainly better than some other franchises that get released seemingly out of obligation to some massive invisible fan base, like Transformers. It's just that, even since its second installment, Pirates has always felt like a franchise with nowhere to go. They introduce some mythic saltwater antagonist and then immediately fall back on their most tired elements, like Orlando Bloom's impossible face or adding more pieces to Jack Sparrow's ludicrous backstory.
We're gonna put his cheeks in the Smithsonian.
Again, I don't know where the gold is coming from, but Walt Disney Pictures knows that Jack Sparrow is a mine of it. He's both leading man and comic foil, and that company is going to ride on Johnny Depp's shoulders until he's too dead to quip. However, it really undoes the rest of the movie when we know that at some point, Sparrow has encountered and screwed over the villain before the plot began, leaving us to tie up loose ends from a prequel that we never even saw. It's nice for a repeated comedic beat, but it doesn't exactly set up any bad guy as adequate. It's kind of like if they opened The Dark Knight with a story about Bruce Wayne shitting in the Joker's hat.
It might not seem that important because these are Pirates Of The Caribbean films, but that's the point. They could be so much more. This series threw nearly a half billion dollars into a story about Blackbeard, who was being played by Deadwood's Ian McShane. That's the most perfect casting in the history of anything. And the series fucked it up, because of their reliance on Jack Sparrow as the be-all and end-all Hulk Hogan of the sea, who could never possibly be in any real danger, even if that danger happened before the movie started.
How? They gave this one to you, Disney.
A single adventure movie can rest on how cool and likable the heroes are. But a series of adventure movies is only interesting if we're engaged in how those heroes are tested. The Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise will probably make a billion dollars with every entry until Johnny Depp is a rotting flesh puppet being controlled by Walt Disney's ghost. But critics will continue to give it the ratings equivalents of two thumbs straight up a butthole until they tell a story that means anything for the heroes that we're supposed to get behind.
Bourne's CIA Conspiracy Is Holding It Back
The Bourne series has a weird place in the action genre. Most series that have lasted this long ( The Bourne Identity came out in 2002, and death will come for us all one day) go through some period of reinvention. Fast & Furious went from a street-racing orgy to a parade of increasingly ludicrous heists. The X-Men series introduced a cast of mutants, and then introduced those mutants again but younger and in a different timeline ... maybe? But The Bourne Awesome Noun has always been about Jason Bourne and the various ways that he's committed tax evasion and murder.
Sadly, he's not gonna get a lot of write-offs this year.
It's a cool concept: A dude slowly unravels his memories of being part of a giant CIA conspiracy, and uses that knowledge, along with his sweet punching skills, to try to take the multitude of evil programs down. But it's also alienating after the second hour. Because never once do the Bourne films try to start from scratch. No, they go the anime route, wherein you have to remember years of history, but also: You know that guy whom you thought was the big bad guy? Well, there's ANOTHER guy who's even bigger than him, and HE'S the guy we now need to be worried about. It turns the films into a montage of actors in suits reacting to Jason Bourne with their best "I knew it ..." faces on.
And it can only go deeper, as long as they stay on their current path. Jason Bourne can never say, "Well, that's it. I stopped the CIA. The whoooole thing." And that aspect doesn't need to be dropped totally. The lingering shadow of his past should always hang over him, preventing him from any kind of normal career in banking or YouTube. But remember 2008's Rambo, the movie in which Stallone grabbed a gun on the back of a jeep and mowed down nameless people for nearly a day?
I think this scene might still be going on.
Remember how that movie didn't necessarily bring up the plot points of the first few Rambo movies, but definitely still made it clear that Rambo had seen some shit? Jason Bourne needs that kind of fresh start. He needs to deal with people who have never dealt, nor ever will deal with, the Shadier Shit Division of the government. He can still leap through glass windows and perform grappling techniques and act sad about a past that mostly consisted of him running to and from guns, but he gets to do it in a movie that's inviting to people that haven't memorized The Bourne Ultimatum. It'll take a while for Matt Damon's Forever 32 face to get as craggy and worn as Sylvester Stallone's, but I have a feeling that audiences will be willing to wait.
Time Travel Has Become Terminator's Worst Enemy
The original Terminator is kind of like Back To The Future, if the movie was about Biff going back in time to slaughter George McFly. It's a very simple story about time travel. Someone has to stop something from happening, because otherwise worse shit will happen. However, because time travel was introduced in the first movie, it sets up a series that operates in multiple realities. "Here's what's going on, here's what people want to prevent from going on, here's where we'll go to prevent the thing that could go on / is going on from going on, and here's the viewing public, not bothering to see Terminator: Genisys."
He'll be back. American moviegoers, on the other hand ...
Terminator: Genisys was like a Weird Al parody of the Terminator franchise. It's not a very confusing movie on paper, but it becomes infinitely more confusing due to how little you care about it. Why would you make a movie like this? You're so busy being baffled by the awfulness of it all that by the time you get past that and to the actual different timelines plot, the movie is a labyrinth that you can't be bothered to find a way out of. So you kind of sit down in the middle of it and wait until it's over. It's all you can do.
I also don't have anything against old Arnold being in another Terminator film. If it seemed like he was going to fall apart at any moment, I'd want them to pull the reins back a bit, but Schwarzenegger looks like he's spent his later years hunting, fighting, killing, and eating the occupants of California's retirement communities. He can snap my neck with a glance. But I do think that if they want to continue with a franchise that most people haven't been interested in since 1991, they need to go back to basics. Hell, they need to go back to before the basics. They need a movie that doesn't even make a whisper about time nonsense.
We need a straightforward action film which features no leaps of logic, which doesn't require you to see any other Terminator movie, and which simply gets you excited about the prospect of Terminators being a relevant thing in pop culture. And if you think that Terminator fans are clamoring for the chance to have even more trouble describing the latest film to their friends, I beg of you to rewatch Terminator: Genisys and see if your genuine reaction is "Yes, that but more."
The Terminator has an extended fight with Tommy Caffee from Brotherhood. God, how could that go wrong?
Set it in any period you want, whether it's the present or the future or the Roaring Twenties. But stay there, and pit Arnold against robots or other muscular armed men, or particularly angsty wildlife. We have the cinematic proof that those scenarios will work. Arnold's resume shows that almost any scenario works as long as he gets the chance to pummel that scenario.
Daniel has a blog and a Twitter.
Feel like you could make some of these series branch out yourself? Get writing with a guide to scriptwriting from Celtx.
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