It could be argued that we as a society spend too much time complaining about movies and TV shows. It is estimated that for every minute of film shot, there are four million hours of podcasts devoted to nitpicking it. Yet despite this endless torrent of commentary and thinkpieces, I say there are still things we give Hollywood a free pass on for no good reason. Like …
Bad (Or Just Unnecessary) Fight Choreography
Not every fight scene has to look like the hallway massacre from The Raid. I’ve had a brother for long enough to know that most fights end with some guy sitting on some other guy while the guy who’s being sat on yells for a truce. But if I’m sucked into the drama of a scene, and then a fistfight breaks out and it’s clear that nobody involved knows how to make it look even vaguely convincing, I suddenly remember I’m watching a show. There’ll be tense action music playing in the background, but it’s just a couple of out-of-shape actors flailing around. Here’s a clip from Star Trek: The Next Generation:
CBS Television StudiosStill less embarrassing than Worf fights.
I get that those actors didn’t spend six months training with Yuen Woo-ping to prepare for that, and that they can’t always use the “put the stunt person in a wig and shoot every punch from behind” method that usually worked for Buffy. But the fighting was just marginally better in the $150 million Star Trek: Into Darkness. Check this battle between Spock and Khan that is made up mostly of one actor swinging wildly like they’re in a vaudeville routine, then spinning around just in time for the other guy to do the same.
Paramount PicturesWhat every fight scene needs: blinding steam.
Even more baffling are shows that insist on inserting fight scenes they know they can’t really execute in any reasonable way. Are any of you weirdos out there watching Gilmore Girls for the fight scenes? If so, you’re in luck! It’s like the writers insert those sequences thinking they’re going to look badass instead of visualizing a flurry of awkwardly edited fake punches. Here’s a couple of guys going after each other in the prime-time drama How To Get Away With Murder:
ABC StudiosHow to get away with murdering dramatic effect.
No fight between two people has ever looked like that! I know there are logistical reasons they can’t do it better, but that doesn’t stop it from ruining the scene. It’s just another type of unconvincing acting. They can’t sell the idea that they’re actually trying to hurt each other, which undermines the whole point. If you can’t make it look good, just don’t do it.
Flaws In Beloved Niche Genre Movies
I’m a huge fan of monster movies. There are few things I love more than watching an atomic abomination slither through a major metropolis. And aside from the 1998 Godzillamisfire and Peter Jackson’s cool but unwieldy King Kongremake, we didn’t get a lot of those for a bit. So when Pacific Rim came out guns a-blazing with its “It’s gonna be like your old action figure battles, BUT IN A MOVIE” attitude, I was ready to go door to door telling people the good news about Guillermo del Toro.
So I say this as a fan: Pacific Rim ain’t that good, especially when you compare it to stuff like Chronos and Blade II and The Shape Of Water. (one of those got nominated for 13 Academy Awards — I’ll let you guess which.) The film has sloppy and/or ridiculous character work, inconsistent acting, and yes, underwhelming monster/robot combat. Sure, they fight a bunch, but there’s never any tension or any sense that these monsters/robots are actually massive. You can knock the 2014 Godzilla all you want for having a cast that was mostly made out of stale bread, but at least the monsters in there felt majestic and powerful. Pacific Rim never managed to create anything with the scale and power of the first time we see Godzilla reveal his fire breath attack:
Warner Bros. Pictures“Dude, breath mint.”
Not that I said any of this at the time. I was willing to rationalize away every dumb thing in the film. I was going on this misguided notion that if we just vote with our dollars, then more movies like this will get made, and maybe those will be good. But the message we wind up sending is instead “These nerds will watch any goddamned thing as long as it’s in their favorite genre! It’s like free money!”
Tell me this isn’t exactly what happened with The Walking Dead. After the amazing first episode, we jumped over each other trying to convince ourselves that the rest of Season 1 was still good. “A zombie thing was thoughtful for 90 minutes? That doesn’t happen much. We better latch onto this one, because otherwise the genre is just direct-to-video garbage.”
We didn’t want to go with The Walking Dead or Pacific Rim to the prom, but we got scared that no one else would ask us. And here we are, eight seasons of Walking Dead later, thumbing through our high school yearbooks, wondering where it all went wrong.
Bad Child Actors
Children aren’t very good at much. And that’s cool. If your hand/eye coordination can barely handle shoe-tying, I don’t expect you to be able to crack a bank vault; I just need you to watch out for the cops. But that doesn’t mean we can’t point out when their acting ruins otherwise good movies. Even the kids in the audience hate this. They want to pretend they’re the cool grownups in the story, not the lame eight-year-old tagging along.
After Jurassic Park got passable performances from Lex and Tim, it was apparently decided that every film in the franchise needs some terrified kids to up the stakes. It never works. Ian Malcolm’s daughter in The Lost World isn’t given much to do but whine and then dropkick a velociraptor. The kid in Jurassic Park 3 is pretty forgettable, but it’s in Jurassic World that the desperate need to find a storytelling device other than “Put Kids In Danger” becomes very apparent. Does Universal think that we won’t make fun of the actors just because they are children? Because we fucking will.
Our standards for what makes a good piece of cinema shouldn’t go down because some mop-topped kid says his lines as if the slightest hint of emotion will cause the hostage-takers to murder his parents. If they ruin a movie, we should say that they ruined the movie. Maybe then studios would learn that the Act 2 in a Jurassic Park flick doesn’t absolutely have to include a third-grader screaming at CGI.
And when the story is entirely about kids, the whole franchise will sink or swim on the filmmakers’ ability to coax good performances out of them. There are a few reasons the Harry Potter films got better as they went along, but the biggest one is that the kids just got better at their jobs. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are OK from the start, but Daniel Radcliffe spends the first four hours of that franchise with a blank stare. None of the Harry Potter flicks are unwatchable, but it’s fine to say, “This would’ve been a better movie if Harry didn’t constantly act like he was being slowly lobotomized between takes.”
Bad Decisions Made In The Name Of Staying True To A Comic
If you’re a comic book fan, it’s nice to know that the makers of superhero movies are at least aware of the source material, and that they’re not just a group of old Hollywood executives sitting around a table saying “OK, so Hulk. Is that, like, a body spray?” And we currently seem to be living in the Golden Age of, if not Superhero Movies, then Directors Admitting That They At Least Like Superhero Movies. We’ve come a long way from Tim Burton revealing that comic books burn a cross into his flesh every time he comes within ten feet of one.
But then there are times when slavish adherence to a comic, or fear of fan outrage, winds up being the worst part of a movie. Take Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, which is a great, great film that also happens to feature one of the dumbest-looking masks in the history of psychopathic billionaires. The character is supposed to be a design genius who helped develop sweet body armor, weaponry, and glider technology, and the mask he comes up with looks like he made it out of a vase he bought at a flea market?
Columbia PicturesIf you crack the top of his helmet, pantyhose comes out.
It wasn’t necessary. Later on, fans were fine when The Dark Knight just made the Joker a terrorist who really likes lipstick rather than an acid-washed ghoul. Instead of scrambling to create something that comic fans might appreciate, they should’ve just harnessed more of the raw power of Willem Dafoe. I would’ve rather seen something like the makeup for the Green Goblin in the much-maligned Amazing Spider-Man 2, in which he had some nasty dentures and face metal (but you could still see most of his actual face), slapped onto Dafoe. He could make it work; the dude is good at his job. He has muscles in his face that create expressions and everything.
Columbia Pictures“I hate two things: Spider-Man and flossing.”
The “We need to insert this because it happened in the comics” thing has to be the reason Avengers: Age Of Ultron felt the need to introduce Quicksilver in order to … kill him off later? I know that he’s Scarlet Witch’s brother and they come packaged in the same action figure set, but he does nothing the whole movie and then dies, just so my mom has another chance to lean over and ask me, “What is the blond guy’s name again?” People who haven’t read the comics don’t know their relationship is the subject of multiple storylines, so the addition just seems random. But guess what? It didn’t do anything for us comic fans either! It just made the movie longer.
I should also note that Age Of Ultron gave Quicksilver the more comic-accurate color scheme …
… while the Quicksilver in X-Men: Days Of Future Past (released the previous year) got a sweet anime protagonist silver hair n’ goggles combo …
20th Century Fox
… and was generally better in every way. They act like making something more comic-accurate will just be the frosting on the cake of a good movie, but it’s actually more like seeing a pumpkin pie and thinking, “You know what this needs? Chicken.”
Daniel has a Twitter. Go to it. Enjoy yourself. Kick your boots off and stay for a while.
The Marvel Universe is ever-expanding. Here’s a handy wall chart to keep it in check.
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