First there was Wonder Woman, now Captain Marvel. Can America survive with two leading female superheros? According to certain (and probably mostly robotic) members of the internet – our civilization will never be the same. For the rest of us – neat! I just saw Captain Marvel and wanted to write about how it compares to Wonder Woman, at least in terms of writing. There are so few female-driven superhero films, and even less that have been written and directed by women, that I found this to be a compelling topic.
While waiting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens this week, I re-watched my least favorite Star Wars film: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. For weeks, as the hype built up and we waited with bated breath to see what director J.J. Abrams would do, I heard a lot of renewed hatred for the prequels.
People really hate those movies. They have been ripped to pieces in the years since their release. Video reviews (longer than an hour each) have been created to talk about what trash they are. For the record – I think that pretty much every criticism of the prequels is valid. They are a poorly acted, wooden mess of a story. That said… I don’t think that any film, even Attack of the Clones, was outright horrible on its own.
That may be the reason, beyond the fact that it’s Star Wars, that the prequel trilogy inspired such hatred: it’s not entirely awful. There is some good there… but it’s broken. It’s too weighed down with all the problems going wrong to ever let the innocent, fun charm of the story shine through. I’ve seen – and forgotten about – many films that are just crap. The prequels, for all their faults, stand at least as memorable.
They attempted to add something real and new to the Star Wars universe. They failed.
Then I saw the movie… (minor spoilers to follow)
Let me say this up front: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a bad film. It’s fun, it has great performances (particularly Daisy Ridley as Rei and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren), and it has a lot of the heart that was missing from Lucas’ CGI heavy prequels. I absolutely would recommend seeing it in theaters.
That being said – this is not the “sequel” I was looking for.
The quotation marks should say everything. Let me give you a premise: members from the Resistance (not the Rebellion – totally different “R” word) have to get a droid that has secret plans to help them stop the First Order (doesn’t even start with an “E”) and stop their use of a massive super weapon capable of blowing up planets.
To be fair, the droid this time around does not have the plans to the Death Star, *cough*, excuse me – to the Star Killer, it has part of a missing map to find Luke Skywalker – the man whose absence seems to be dooming the galaxy. Still, the plot unfolds with quite a feeling of retreading. Even Rei’s origins as an orphan on an out-of-the-way desert world seem overly familiar.
And unlike Return of the Jedi, which had a similar structure to New Hope (start on Tatooine, finish by blowing up a Death Star) but different feel… Force Awakens never breaks the New Hope mold. Its climax hits nearly all the same notes as its predecessor.
Finally, we must mention the (maybe) main villain: Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by the one and only Andy Serkis). In general, the villains of Force Awakens are a little conceptually weak, but Snoke stands head and shoulders above the others in this regard. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a shriveled, scarred old man with vague desires of revenge – or some evil motivation – who likely has advanced knowledge of the dark side of the force. But he doesn’t wear a hood – so, you know, totally different from the Emperor.
At the moment, critics and fans are eating up the “nostalgia” of this movie, but it leaves me worried. Lucas’ prequels may have failed, but at least they were trying to do something different. This movie plays on the “remember how awesome this was/felt” feeling way too much.
For example: the cantina scene in New Hope – iconic. Seeing all the aliens gathered around, drinking and playing games, opened up the idea of a huge galaxy. The Force Awakens has the exact same sequence, intended to create the exact same feeling… except I had seen it before.
“Do, or do not. There is no try.” These were the words of Master Yoda in Empire Strikes Back… and they seem to have been the mantra of the movie. Lucas tried and failed to do something new – so don’t try anything new. The Force Awakens is fun, but I have a feeling that – as time goes on – it will lose much of the praise it is currently receiving. It has too many new elements to be a good remake, and too many remake elements to make for a really interesting (or truly great) sequel.
For a universe so rich in original stories (Heir to the Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, Jedi Knight) this may be a sign of the dark side. Disney’s bold plan for a sequel to Avengers was just… recreating the Avengers after all. The vision was lacking. We may never know what Lucas’ original idea for Episode VII was, but I’m going to guess it wasn’t “let’s just do A New Hope again.”
In 1982, one of the greatest horror movies was released. I say this as a fan of John Carpenter, and as someone who really loves Halloween: John Carpenter’s best film by far is The Thing. The film can be seen as a masterwork, both in terms of paranoia/suspense and in terms of practical effects at work. That said, upon initial release – The Thing did not fare well. Many critics (Roger Ebert included) were grossed out by the film’s excessive gore, and found the effects to be a little too real. Carpenter’s The Thing went on to be a box-office flop… with fame and deserved acclaim not being bestowed for many years.
Sounds like perfect material for Hollywood in 2011, right? So audiences were treated to The Thing again in 2011. Ready for the kicker though? Despite the name, The Thing is not, nor was it ever intended to be (by its director anyway) a remake. This film is a prequel.
A prequel with the same name. Makes… absolutely no sense. So why did it happen? The short answer is: I don’t know. After spending a few hours digging, I have not found an answer beyond this: they did not want the film to have a “:” in the title. Makes sense right? These days there is little that implies Hollywood marketing the way that a colon can. For example, take a look at this unofficial poster art for (one of) the upcoming Jungle Book movie:
That’s right. They’re making two Jungle Book movies at the same time. One is not made by Disney, however, and so it is titled Jungle Book: Origins to differentiate… and to let audiences now that the studio is hopeful for a franchise. Well, I do agree with director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. The Thing: Origins or anything like that would have sounded pretty dumb.
But what about The Thing From Another World?
While 2011’s film was no remake, Carpenter’s sure as heck was. Really, all three films have shared the same basis, and that is the Who Goes There? novella written by John W. Campbell. Say, Who Goes There? would be a great title for a horror movie… oh but it doesn’t have The Thing in it. And everyone knows that, if a movie is to be financially successful, it must name the money-making property behind it.
So, while the director says one thing – I believe another factor strongly went into influencing the title for The Thing: Studio interference. This happens a lot in movies and happened a ton on this one. For example, one of the greatest criticisms leveled against the 2011 film was the effects. Gone were the brilliant practical effects of the 1982 classic, replaced by cheap, fake-looking CGI. What was the director thinking?
Pretty cool looking (although still nowhere near as bloody as 1982). Yet apparently, for whatever reason, the studio did not feel confident in this look. CGI is all the rage after all. ‘Cause this:
Looks so much better than this:
Also, The Thing (2011) lost its original ending, as the studio felt it was too confusing. The original ending featured many more alien designs, and has been dubbed “the pilot ending” by the director. In case you were wondering, we got “the Tetris ending” in the theatrical cut.
The point is: this movie had more than one master, and sadly that usually never works out in the film’s favor. I also know for a fact the script went through at least one complete rewrite from a scriptwriter whose other work has been.. less than stellar.
From the research I have done it appears that two goals were in mind. The first (from the director and crew) was to create a prequel that paid tribute to everything that makes the Carpenter film fantastic. The second was a bid to update The Thing for modern audiences in the 21st century, without risking grossing audiences out this time.
How did it turn out? The Thing bombed at the box office… again. History repeated itself, at least in that respect. Sadly, I don’t believe the 2011 prequel is destined for the same late recognition as the 1982 original, in part for the abysmal effects. The film is simply nowhere near the level of its predecessor, and I don’t believe it would be even if the effects were left alone. The paranoia isn’t there, the performances aren’t there. It is simply… lesser.
This was a film that started out pure but was then corrupted and taken over by an outside force, and in that respect – the title actually makes sense.