Everybody loves sharing their opinions on the Internet, sometimes about important, world-changing things like politics, religion, human rights or cat declawing, and sometimes about unimportant things, like movies.
And as everyone knows, the best part about sharing opinions is the chance to smugly tell other people that their opinions are wrong. Almost every heated movie discussion has someone pulling out one of these stupid, nonsensical lines.
If you’ve ever called out the Transformers movies for being stupid, you’ve probably run into some idiot saying, “Well, it’s just a big, dumb action movie with robots and explosions! If you don’t like robots and explosions, you should go watch the artsy movies you obviously want to watch, like Atonement.”
I’m not exaggerating, I’ve seen people who objected to Transformers’ stupidity referred to Atonement, because that is obviously the kind of movie they were hoping to see. Like these people think you were walking into the theater hoping to see a period piece about longing and redemption or something, and your monocle fell out when giant robots started blowing things up.
Basically, they’re implying that all action movies are by necessity plotless, boring, humorless and full of characters you either hate or don’t care about. If you demand one line of dialogue that doesn’t make you gag, or one character you can relate to, these people will yell at you to buy a ticket to Atonement. (It’s almost always Atonement, I think because the title is easy to remember.)
I don’t want Transformers to be Atonement. I want it to be Die Hard or Iron Man or Terminator 2 or even True Lies. Cheesy? Over the top? Full of explosions and ambiguously sketched terrorists? Perfect! I don’t care if the hero hangs the bad guy on a missile and fires it into a building while telling him he is fired, as long as he has a reason to do it, as opposed to just checking his watch and going, “Oh, it’s time for this scene in the movie.”
Just because we want smarter dialogue than “Bumblebee, stop lubricating the man!” doesn’t mean we want characters talking about feelings or commitment or the meaning of life. There’s hundreds of levels of dialogue intelligence between the retarded lines given to Sam’s parents and a Shakespearean soliloquy. “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” will do just fine for a “dumb action movie,” and even “Yippee-ki-yay, Mister Falcon” would be an improvement.
In fact, if Optimus Prime had said that exact line while Bumblebee peed on John Turturro, it would have significantly improved the movie.
If you’ve only watched the movie version of something based on popular books or comics, you’ve probably found yourself with a number of unanswered questions, like “Why did Harry Potter set that boy on fire for no reason?” or “Why are Wolverine and Professor X always holding hands?” It’s always annoying to run into a fan who explains patiently that it all makes perfect sense if only you read the books.
They’ll explain how the books make it quite clear that the boy was really an evil wood golem or that Wolverine and Professor X got married in the comics, and don’t you feel silly for making it sound like a plot hole now.
One real life example is Star Wars, which, aside from the six movies most of us know about, has an entire “expanded universe” of comics, novels, games and other media, a great deal of which is apparently better than the prequels. Which isn’t saying much, because untreated kidney stones are better than the prequels. But anyone picking on any plot inconsistencies, or asking why some random character appears in a scene without introduction and is never mentioned again, is referred to the comics or books to explain why this is a totally important and interesting character with a rich history.
The thing is, you shouldn’t have to do homework or required reading before seeing a movie in order to understand it. Movies are a story in a roughly two-hour package, and they have to use those two hours to let you know who’s who, what’s going on and why you should care. Even James Bond movies usually spend the first sequence showing you how good he is at killing people and how he always gets a free woman to sleep with afterward, for the two audience members unfamiliar with how James Bond works.
You’re supposed to relax and let the movie take you on a ride into its world. Movies are sold as an escape, not as another source of obligation. Can you imagine being asked to go see the latest Harry Potter movie and having to tell your friends, “Oh, I can’t. I’ve been trying really hard to cram for it, but I’ve still got 10 chapters to read. I’ve just been so busy this week …” and them shaking their heads in disappointment at you? Or watching Star Wars Episode II knowing you’ve not only wasted the two and a half hours watching the actual movie but the two weeks of studying the comics in preparation for it?
I can understand wanting to get further into the universe of some movie if you really enjoyed it, or being able to get more tidbits about your favorite character from additional stories, but it should be optional. You shouldn’t have to stare bewildered at some character exploding for no apparent reason as a penalty for not doing your homework.
“I saw The Matrix back when it was called Dark City.” “The Hunger Games is just a Battle Royale rip-off.” “I can’t believe they’re making this Lion King movie, all we need is another Hamlet adaptation.” Chances are you’ve heard something along these lines, whether about those movies or countless others.
Originality is actually pretty overrated when it comes to movies, at least when it comes to basic story lines. There’s really only so many basic stories that can exist. The main character is trying to get somewhere (the Odyssey), get something (the legend of the Golden Fleece), win someone’s heart (the Iliad), get revenge (Cain and Abel) or save the world (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure).
Believe it or not, sharing even a massive amount of plot similarities doesn’t make movies the same (exception: The Hangover and The Hangover Part II). Does anyone really feel like they get nothing out of watching The Lion King if they’ve already seen Hamlet? If they’d kept every single line of Shakespeare’s original text and just made Hamlet an animated lion, I’m pretty sure that would have still been a significantly different experience.
The basic plot is like a mannequin. You’re pretty limited in the number of shapes you can come up with — curvy or straight, thin or fat. The rest of the movie — the subplots, the personalities, the atmosphere, the pace, the number of explosions you add — that’s like the costume you put on the mannequin. Someone pointing out that a plot is “basically the same” is pointing out that two designers are using the same fat mannequin. One could be wearing a bloodied Viking costume and one could be wearing a flowery muumuu, but they’re both size 40, so they’re “basically the same.”
At one point, Joseph Campbell even came up with a concept he called the “monomyth,” which is a basic outline that describes almost every myth and epic adventure in history, and which George Lucas used as an outline to write Star Wars. Since then, tons of stoned people and nerds have “stumbled upon” the amazing coincidence that Star Wars is really similar to The Lord of the Rings or the Greek myths or something.
It’s amazing because George Lucas pretty much ripped that shit right off, directly, and Star Wars has still done such a good job of becoming its own story that people have to get very high or spend way too much time thinking about it in order for them to notice.
So yes, everything has been done before, and finding its previous incarnations can be a fun and worthwhile exercise, but acting like the new version is repetitive or unnecessary just because something similar exists is stupid. Again, unless we are talking about The Hangover Part II.