I like it, I love it, I want some more of it. So why does this short bit with zero special effects work so well?
Let’s take it apart.
Comedy is incredibly hard. Even the pro’s at Saturday Night Live fail more often than succeed. The tough part of a short skit like this is variety.
Saturday Night Live and other skit shows tend to find one joke that does work, then beat it to death, making a five-minute skit feel like five hours.
The other path–multiple jokes that may or may not work–is much harder to pull off.
You won’t know if it works while writing or rehearsing it, and unless you film in front of a live audience, you won’t get feedback until you put that short film out there for the world to embrace or trash.
Movies are all around us. Kind of like the Force, before George Lucas ruined it with all that claptrap about midichloridians or whatever.
Films live inside your TV, your iPhone, your laptop. They’re sitting on shiny metal disks and even being celebrated in these insanely large and dark stadiums where you pay $12 for popcorn and a Diet Coke that costs 20 cents.
And if you’re anything like me, movies are something magical.
So there’s this professional movie critic, David Ehrlich, a man you’d think only takes joy in ripping apart SMURFS 3: ARE WE THERE YET, PAPA SMURF while praising some black-and-white existential French movie where the hero finally kisses the girl and promptly gets hit by a bus–well, you’d think critics like him wouldn’t create something so joyful and beautiful as this.
Except of course he would. Why does anybody become a movie critic, book reviewer or rock journalist? Because they love nothing more than movies, books and making fun of Axl Rose and Vanilla Ice trying to stage a comeback.
So, it’s the second movie in the series that already had three movies in its previous incarnation. Let’s skip the usual insane pattern of having two villains and go straight to three: Electro, the Green Goblin and Rhino. Seriously?
This is getting a smidge ridiculous. Will we see four villains in the third movie and five in the fourth? The original trilogy of Spiderman movies starring Tobey Maguire went like this:
SPIDERMAN: one hero, one villain (Green Goblin, played by Sergeant Elias from PLATOON). Well done.
SPIDERMAN 2: one hero, two villains (Doc Octopus and James Franco, who likes to write novels while going back to college, plays the angry Son of Green Goblin by using all of the acting range of that dude who played Anakin Skywalker).
SPIDERMAN 3: one hero, three villains (Sandman, Venom and grumpy Son of Green Goblin).
THOR also followed this silly formula, with one villain in the first movie (Loki) and two villains in the second (angry pasty space elf plus Loki again).
The first movie that started our current comic-book movie craze, the original Batman directed by Captain Crazypants (love you, man), had one hero (the Batman, by Michael Keaton when he had hairs), one villain (the Joker by that dude from THE SHINING) and Alec Baldwin’s ex-wife No. 2 or whatever as the girl for Batman to kiss.
BATMAN RETURNS had two villains: Danny Devito in a fat suit, munching on raw fish, plus Christopher Walken with crazy hair, while the love interest was Michelle Pfeiffer rocking a catsuit.
BATMAN FOREVER featured Val “Top Gun” Kilmer as Batman, some man from Grays Anatomy as Robin, Jim Carrey going insane in a green bodysuit as Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones trying to camp it up as Two Face–so yes, so technically, this third movie in the series didn’t have three villains, but it’s a hot mess of a reboot directed by Joel Schumacher, so all bets are off.
BATMAN AND ROBIN gave us two sidekicks (Robin again and a Clueless blonde famous for being in Aerosmith videos) plus three villains: Arnold in a neon suit spouting his worst one-liners ever, Uma Thurman wasted as Poison Ivy and Bane as a walk-on. This film was also directed by Joel Schumacher and is an even bigger mess than his first one.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The rebooted and awesome Christian Bale-Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman movies wisely veered away from the Hollywood formula of “For every new movie in a superhero series, pile on more villains and sidekicks until we have to reboot this train wreck.”
BATMAN BEGINS had two villains: Qui-Gon Jinn as Ra’s al Ghul (nobody can pronouce either name, so don’t even try) and Mr. Pretty Face himself, Cillian Murphy, doing an amazing Scarecrow, and yes, he was rumored to be in the running to play Bruce Wayne in the first place. Keanu Reeves would say, “Whoah,” except guess who turned down THE MATRIX to do some other movie? Will Smith. DOUBLE-WHOAH.
THE DARK KNIGHT gave us the two best acting performances for comic book villains ever, with Heath Ledger nailing the Joker and Aaron Eckhart rocking as Two Face.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES could have three villains, if you count the cameo by Scarecrow, but let’s go with two and say Bane plus the sneaky Miranda Tate, daughter of Qui-Gon Jinn, and let’s give credit to Anne Hathaway as the best love interest ever for Batman.
So what can we learn from all this?
Hollywood executives, please pour your energies and not into hiring three different screenwriters for $2 million apiece to rewrite these train wrecks, but focus from the start on a simple truth: the more villains and sidekicks you throw into a script, the less you get out of them.
Now that the Avengers have assembled into a giant machine that prints dollar bills, the X-Men are getting rebooted and Batman/Superman are teaming up to create billions more for an entirely different set of studio executives who live across the street from the Marvel folks, there’s something we need to discuss.
Because there’s a common problem with all of these movies–except for Batman, and we’ll get to that.
The Invincible Hero problem.
I’ve seen all three movies involving Thor and his hammer, and yes, the hammer has some crazy Norse name, and even though I’m a Swede nobody knows how to really pronounce the thing. IT’S A HAMMER.
Those movies are fun, and great, but tell me this: how do you hurt Thor, or kill him?
Because I don’t have a clue.
So there’s hundreds of millions of dollars in CGI explosions happening, and Iron Man grabbing Thor to fly him into trees and a cliff and such, but all amazing special effects that cost more than my house and your house and every dollar we’ll ever make in our lifetime, well, they don’t really move me, because I’m never worried about Thor being injured or killed.
You can throw the man around, blow him up, stab him with Loki’s sneaky dagger, punch him with the Hulk, and none of that really matters. The only proven way to hurt Thor is to remove Natalie Portman from the picture.
The first Thor movie was better than the sequel because for a good chunk of it Thor didn’t have his powers. He was just a man who could get hurt, lose a fight or even die, and it was his willingness to sacrifice himself and die that made Odin restore his powers.
See, when a hero is invincible, you don’t worry about them. And when you don’t worry about them, you stop caring about bullets and thugs and whatever else the villain is throwing around.
Superman is the worst offender. When you look at heroes on the screen like Wolverine and Captain America, they don’t seem to get hurt, since both guys regenerate and such. But they’re powers aren’t crazy like the boy from Krypton, who can (a) run faster than a speeding bullet, (b) fly, including going into space without needing to breathe, (c) shoot heat rays from his eyes when they’re not (d) busy taking x-rays of your bones, (e) ice anything with frost breath, (f) move so fast he GOES BACK IN TIME and (g) 17 other powers I don’t have time to list.
When you’re so powerful and invincible that tank shells bounce off your skin (Superman, Hulk) or armored suit (Iron Man), it’s hard to ramp things up without jumping the shark. Should we have Hulk get hit by a comet, or throw Superman into a black hole to see what happens? Also, no barber could cut Superman’s hair or trim his beard, right? He’d look like the lost fourth member of ZZ Top.
Batman is a better, more interesting hero because he’s simply a man. You know his bones can break, that the villain can truly hurt or kill him. It matters.
Hollywood could fix this problem, if it cared to, by setting up in each of these bazillion-dollar stories not just how cool the hero is and what amazing things he or she can do.
Tell us, up front in Act 1, what the hero can’t do. Show us a few weaknesses and how they can get hurt or even killed. Because then in Act 2 and 3, we’ll care a lot more about those CGI explosions and bullets as part of the story instead of eye candy that doesn’t really affect the story.