Thursday, June 08, 2006

X-Men III Plot Crimes

Literatrix torpedoes the latest X-Men movie. I agree with her, but I want to add one observation of my own.

The movie displayed some good examples of what is my second biggest pet peeve in movie making. It's an approach to plotting that I call the "cart before the horse" technique. Everybody's seen this. It usually makes viewers groan or shake their heads in disbelief, because it often appears as an overly convenient solution to a difficult problem, although I don't think that's the usual cause. Here's what I think causes it, as illustrated by this imaginary conversation between Pepe the movie producer and Willy the script writer:

Pepe: "We need to figure out how Forcefield Man will save his mother."
Willy: "No problem! We'll just do something sinister to his mother so that he'll have to use his forcefield to save her."
Pepe: "Good idea! The man's got a forcefield, so he might as well use it!"
Willy: "Right! So here's an idea: Let's have the bad guys surround her in a magical shrinking room that will crush her."
Pepe: "Ooooh, coool! A shrinking room! He'll have to use his powers."
Willy: "Exactly! It'll be perfect."
Pepe: "But wait...How do we come up with a shrinking room?"
Willy: [Scratches his head] "Oh, I've got it! We'll invent a new character with magical powers..."

It looks like these writers are rushing to easy solutions, but I don't think that's the real problem. They're being creative, which is good, but they're doing it the wrong way. I know we're not dealing with high drama here, but even the most base drama should get this right: the physical situations don't ultimately determine the man-made in a story; it's the other way around.

In this example, put mom in a circumstance that follows from her relationship with her son and from the natures of the villains. Don't worry too much about Forcefield Man's powers. Just do to her what needs to be done. Then and only then, figure out what Forcefield Man is going to do about it. Be creative! Put yourself in Forcefield Man's shoes and ask, "If my mother was in this situation, how could I use my powers in a creative way to save her?" That's letting the horse pull the cart. It's relying on the inner nature of the characters (thus, the conflict) to determine what the characters should do, and not the other way around.

Here's what happens when you make a real movie the wrong way:

[Major X-men Spoiler Follows]

Magneto's villains decide to throw Angel's father out the window instead of just killing him like they do everyone else. Why on earth?! Answer: Only so they can show off Angel's power in the most convenient way possible.

That scene was just wrong. Angel should have had to work harder to save his father. I laughed. Others groaned. It was embarrassing.