When Good Guys go Bad: Poor Scriptwriting

With the summer blockbuster season in full swing, a recent trend has become apparent: this is an off year. While releases like Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel haven’t been critically panned (although Man of Steel only enjoys a 56 on Rotten Tomatoes and a 55 on Metacritic), the reaction from fans has been less flattering. For me personally, both Man of Steel and Iron Man 3 have been disappointing mixed bags with more to say against than in favor. I still stand by Star Trek Into Darkness as a simple yet enjoyable Star Trek movie. But this article is not about how I feel about summer films, this article aims to look at what is usually a weakness in the blockbuster genre overall: the writing. There’s a lot of areas here we could discuss. Bad writing ruins films by creating plot holes, cringe-worthy dialogue and nonsensical character action. Let’s talk about that last point.

Nonsensical character action is, quite simply, when someone in a movie does something that the audience doesn’t believe he or she would do. Whether it goes against the source material (which nearly every big budget movie has these days) or whether it defies an earlier scene in the movie, these are actions that just don’t make a heck of a lot of sense. I’m going to go into a few examples that will illustrate my point. Warning: there will be minor Man of Steel spoilers to follow. But let’s not start with a Superman movie… let’s start with a Michael Bay movie!

I will never understand how his name isn't as poisonous to the box office as M. Night Shyamalan's is.
I will never understand how his name isn’t as poisonous to the box office as M. Night Shyamalan’s is.

I almost feel that this is an unfair jab. If you’re paying to see a Michael Bay, you’re not paying for the script… at least he and his marketing have been honest about that aspect. For those of you out there who may not know the man pictured above, Michael Bay is the director behind blockbusters like the Transformers trilogy, the two Bad Boys movies, Pearl HarborArmageddon and The Island. He’s done others but that’s enough to get the idea. Let’s talk about those Transformers movies, in particular something that annoyed me in all three films:

Besides this guy.
Besides this guy.

Anyone familiar with the Transformers universe knows that the Autobots are the heroic good guys and the Decepticons are the evil, horrible, villains. The Autobots, lead by Optimus Prime, are valiant and peace loving while Megatron and his Decepticons would push puppies in front of buses. This is established in both the lore and the movies (I’m giving the movies credit for something). Yet in the movies, while the dialogue establishes this, the action paints a different picture.

The decepticons take autobot prisoners in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Patrick Dempsey's character is the one who suggests killing them.
The decepticons take autobot prisoners in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Patrick Dempsey’s character is the one who suggests killing them.

Wait, the decepticons are taking prisoners? That’s actually really nice of them, you know, given they’re at war with the autobots and everything. Maybe they have some honor after all. Well, I’m sure if the decepticons are this generous than the autobots are even greater pillars of morality.

Nope.
Nope.

The autobots kill the decepticons every chance they get. Not just kill either but in most cases tear to pieces. Watch those movies again (if you can) and observe just how brutal Optimus Prime and his heroic autobots are. It kinda adds an underlying sinister element to their characters when the good guy (who constantly professes to be good) is a lot more savage than the bad guy. But again, poking fun at a Michael Bay script is easy. Let’s go after George Lucas instead.

In this instance, I’m going to discuss two scenes in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Let me say up front: I like this movie. Is it perfect: NOOOOOO (inside Star Wars humor there), but it’s still enjoyable and a lot of it really works. Here’s something that didn’t: remember when Anakin killed Count Dooku? He just executes him as a prisoner. This is huge, it is a giant step in Anakin’s fall to the dark side. Jedi don’t kill, they take prisoners whenever possible. Except when it’s this guy:

General_Grievous_(Qymaen_jai_Sheelal)

I know what you’re saying. Yes, I have thought way too much about this… but you’re reading it so what does that say about you?

Anyway, so Obi-Wan kills General Grievous and I personally don’t have a problem with that scene. Grievous poses a lethal threat and is about to kill Obi-Wan so it is in self defense. The Jedi seem to be cool with that. I have problems with all the scenes leading up to the confrontation. When Obi-Wan speaks to the council, and when they are speaking to each other, it becomes very clear that “taking prisoners” is not what they have in mind.

“If he does not give up his emergency powers after the destruction of Grievous, then he should be removed from office.”

That’s said by everyone’s favorite cone-head Jedi, Ki-Adi-Mundi (never mind how I know his name). At this point, Obi-Wan has only “made contact” with Grievous so… he should be trying to secure him as a prisoner, right? A whole part of this movie is how Anakin falls to the dark side by being too eager to kill. Seems like the Jedi Council is bloodthirsty too. Maybe the emperor had a point about them.

It’s a small thing but that’s just it. It’s one line of script: fix it before spending millions of dollars.

Last but not least, Man of Steel. As this is a new release I won’t say much here (I could, there is definitely a lot to say on this movie). Let’s go with those trailers, especially the newest ones. You see Superman fighting General Zod in a city. Looks really cool right? That city is full of people. Superman: the man of steel, the protector of humanity, has no problem with collateral damage in this film. He throws Zod through buildings in a city the audience knows to still be populated (the film makes sure to show this).

Disregard buildings and acquire cape.
That’s a lot of devastation in the background.

Again, what makes it worse is that one of the main theme’s of the film is Superman’s morality. How he will do anything to protect the people of Earth from an alien, super-powered, threat. Is he just not getting the irony in that? I know Superman isn’t supposed to be the smartest hero on the block but come on.

If you want to see a film that encompasses Superman's morality and character in a much more competent way, check out this movie instead.
If you want to see a film that encompasses Superman’s morality and character in a much more competent way, check out this movie instead.

So why is this such a common problem? Effects shots sell tickets. That’s the simple answer. That’s what people want to see in their summer blockbusters, right? Right. Because when it works, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t… blockbusters don’t have much to fall back on if they’re not enjoyable. I put this one on the scriptwriters and the directors. Movies shouldn’t be made for the sake of cool scenes, they should be able to work cool scenes into a great movie.

Christopher Nolan: putting cool scenes in great movies since 2000.
Christopher Nolan: putting cool scenes in great movies since 2000.

Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of it or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.

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