Top 7 reasons why SPECTRE is average while SKYFALL soared

The latest 007 film misses the target—despite having the same ingredients as SKYFALL: great actors, great director, great action scenes.

Here’s why:

7) Biggest fight scene comes in the middle, not the end

Whether it’s a novel, a movie or a speech, one rule is absolute: End things with your strongest punch.

The biggest fight scene in SPECTRE is a train battle between 007 and that green shirtless guy from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

 

So when the climax comes, the final confrontation is between Bond and the supervillain, who’s crippled and crawling away from his burning helicopter.

It’s a non-fight with no tension or suspense. There’s a 0 percent chance the villain will find a way to win and a 100 percent chance Bond is triumphant.

6) Bond goes to the villain’s lair with no plan

If a super villain keeps trying to kill me, and just sent a ginormous assassin on my train to say hi, why would I show up at his secret lair expecting dinner and a drinks?

This is exactly what Bond does. He has no plan other than to rely on the villain’s generosity and stupidity.

In SKYFALL, Bond does travel to Silva’s secret lair, but in that case he does have a plan: find the man, then activate Q’s tracker beacon to bring in special forces in helicopters and capture Silva.

When 007 manages to escape and blow up the entire desert lair in SPECTRE, it feels cheap. It’s also premature. The First Law of Secret Super Villain Lairs is, You can’t blow up the lair until Act 3.

5) 007 doesn’t suffer or sacrifice

In SKYFALL, you saw what happened when Bond gets shot and loses faith in his job. He’s not the same. He’s not even qualified, physically and mentally, to go back in the field.

And when he goes out there, he does suffer and sacrifice to win. Silva destroys his family home and M dies.

In SPECTRE, Bond breaks the rules by breaking half of Mexico City, and getting sacked by M doesn’t affect him at all. Q and Moneypenny help him out. He still gets his cars and gadgets. To win, Bond doesn’t suffer or sacrifice one bit.

4) No femme fatale

There’s a great stinger ending in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE where the femme fatale, a Russian spy, has to choose between shooting her mentor, the evil woman with the poison-tipped shoe, and shooting Bond.

There’s real suspense there. It matters.

SKYFALL had a wonderful femme fatale, and I’ll always remember the tremble in her lips as she tried to smoke a cigarette and keep it together once Bond asked about Silva.

 

SPECTRE has no femme fatale.

3) The cinematography feels average compared to SKYFALL

Any movie or TV show can have amazing special effects now. What made SKYFALL so good was the beautiful colors and framing of every shot and the mood created. Cinematographer Roger Deakins made that happen.

Deakins is also the cinematographer for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Check out this story for how Deakins worked magic in ten iconic shots.

Every 007 film costs $250 million or so, right? Spend an extra couple million, every time, to hire Deakins.

Great cinematography is also the secret behind the success of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

Great actors + a brilliant cinematographer = a classic film, something you’ll happily watch again and again.

And that’s my acid test for any movie: Would I pay to watch it again?

2) Predictable and boring betrayal from within

Thrillers are about betrayal. Always have been, always will be.

Half the fun is trying to figure out who the traitor is and how the hero will escape the trap.

They stole Moriarity for the betrayer in SPECTRE, and he was great standing up to Benedict Cumberbatch. In this movie, though, he’s obviously a bad guy from the first seconds you see him, and he’s not scary at all.

In the end, Bond doesn’t take him out. Voldemort does. Always a bad story decision, having a sidekick do the work.

1) The best villains are multi-talented

Average 007 movies split up roles: (1) a smart villain with an army of minions, (2) a tough killer and (3) a traitor from within.

Once you watch Bond slay the tough killer, you know it’s a cakewalk to mow through the army of minions, punch out the nerdy super villain and blow up his volcano base.

Bad 007 movies split up those roles and divide them even more, with two villains, three different killers, four femme fatales for Bond to sleep with and two different traitors from within.

Brilliant 007 movies combine those roles into one juicy package for the villain.

Silva from SKYFALL was the criminal mastermind, the deadly assassin and the traitor from within.

006 from GOLDENEYE (Sean Bean dies again!) was the main villain, just as tough as Remington Steele and a traitor you didn’t see coming.

 

Both those movies saved the biggest fight for the end, with Bond versus the villain in an even fight. Doing this right is the difference between ending the film with a shrug or a bang. I believe 007 deserves to end movies in style.

More goodness about 007:

8 reasons why blockbusters are meta-stories instead of Villain of the Week

Name something popular, anything at all, and chances are it’s a series instead of a One Hit Wonder.

This is about why that is, despite a serious quality handicap, and how your favorite series either does it wrong, does it halfway or flat-out nails it.

There are two basic types of series: evergreen and meta-stories.

Evergreen

This includes sitcoms, mysteries, and other shows where things don’t really change … except for the villain or problem, which constantly changes, until the movie series runs out of steam, the novelist gets sick of it or studio execs at NBC look at the dying ratings and pull the plug.

The advantage of an evergreen story is the audience can fire up Netflix and watch any random episode without being lost. You can , buy any of Lee Child’s series at Barnes & Noble and enjoy Reacher beating people up for 325 pages without needing to know anything about the other books.

Star Trek, in all its forms (original, TNG, Voyager) was an evergreen series.

HOWEVER: the best string of movies was a meta-story about Spock, with Spock sacrificing his life to save the Enterprise and crew (Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Corinthian Leather), then Kirk and crew sacrificing to bring Spock’s newborn body back from Planet Crazytown (Star Trek 3: We Stole This Sweet Klingon Warbird) and finally Spock is back with us and directing the movie, which was smart {Star Trek 4: Save the Whales), except it lead to a future movie where Shatner directed, which turned out to be an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey.

 

The disadvantage of an evergreen series is huge: it inevitably grows stale. Also, the lead actor will always be tempted to cash out and bail for the movies. And often, the ratings or sales simply tank, making studio exec or publishers pull the plug, ending the series with a whimper. Continue reading “8 reasons why blockbusters are meta-stories instead of Villain of the Week”

Top 6 reasons why Batman must DIE!

Bruce Wayne and the Batman may or may not die in BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT.

(Google that and the volume of fanboy speculation will make your head implode).

But he’ll die soon enough. It’s guaranteed.

So will Superman, Spock, Wolverine, Captain America, Sherlock Holmes and 93 other major fictional characters you know and love.

Why will Batman and other great characters die when Jar Jar Binks is apparently invincible?

Because of reasons.

Let’s get into the guts of why this works while still Bothering you, and the answers will involve dead poets, the suspension of disbelief, the quarterly earnings reports of corporations and The Three Movies = Reboot Rule of Superheroes. Continue reading “Top 6 reasons why Batman must DIE!”

Four killer trailers for the best movies of 2015

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

Never have I been this stoked about so many monstrous movies coming at us in a single year.

And I’m skipping a few that look good.

Here are the four biggest films that I would crawl through glass to see three different times.

May 1 = AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON

May 15 = MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

November 6 = SPECTRE

December 18 = STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

 

MAN OF STEEL and the Invincible Hero Problem

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

As a non-fan of the Superman, I can honestly say this: MAN OF STEEL is far, far better than expected.

It’s like Zack Snyder took the only good parts of PROMETHEUS (cool spaceships and outfits!), stuffed it into a blender with INDEPENDENCE DAY (aliens are coming to blow up the planet!) and added with a dash of Wolverine (hairy shirtless tough guy wanders planet, doing random good deeds).

Russell Crowe is surprisingly awesome in MAN OF STEEL. Who knew?
Russell Crowe is surprisingly awesome in MAN OF STEEL. Who knew?

I mean all that in a good way.

HOWEVER: The world doesn’t need another review of Soupman’s latest reboot. What the world needs is a real discussion of a real problem that Superman and other heroes can’t seem to shake.

They’re invincible. And that, friends, is crazy boring.

Iconic heroes made of flesh and blood already have a serious problem, since everybody sitting in the seats, munching on $9 popcorn, knows they’re icons. We know the producers of James Bond movies would never wake up one day and say, “I know — let’s kill off Bond and start some other kind of film, maybe with a 200-year-old sparkling vampire who’s into whiny teeangers.”

Hollywood wants franchises, and you don’t kill off the foundation of billion-dollar juggernauts. Ironman will never die. Batman, Sherlock Holmes, Spock, Kirk (new young Kirk, not Shatner, who they did kill off), Wonder Woman — hey, they’re all safe.

But they’re not invincible. They can and do suffer. They can bleed and die. We know that.

Superman is never really in trouble. Stuff happens to him on screen and you shrug, because hey, that’s Superman.

It’s not the same with Batman, who’s been stabbed, knocked out, set on fire and generally abused. One of the great things about the Dark Knight trilogy is how much Batman really does suffer, sacrifice and grow.

MAN OF STEEL does a good job, and it’s a fun movie. The problem is the character of Superman, who’s a lot like Neo after the end of THE MATRIX, when Keanu Reeves can do anything.

Where do you go from there? Turns out you wander around and get lost for two movies that got progressively worse until something perfect turned into something meh. Which is sad. THE MATRIX was brilliant … right up until Neo went all Superman on us.

Here’s an ironclad rule of storytelling that I’m inventing right now: The villain has to be more powerful than the hero. Always.

Not equally powerful. Not less powerful. The villain has to be superior.

Otherwise, we’re sitting in a dark room watching Chuck Norris swivel around on his cowboy boots as he kicks 59 random henchmen in the face. Does it look pretty? Sure. Is it dramatic and exciting and good story? No. We know Chuck — or Jason Statham, or whoever — is better, and that our hero is gonna win.

When your hero is invincible, like Superman and Neo, the villain can’t be more powerful. It’s impossible.

Think about every Boring Action Movie you’ve ever seen: the villain is less powerful and scary than the hero, which is why he needs an army of thugs to protect him from the big bad scary hero, who starts out the story as an amazing tough guy and ends the story … as an amazing tough guy. Most of the bad Bond movies are like this.

Same thing with every Failed Comic Book Movie, like the lame Hulk films. The Angry Green Thing is basically invincible. Bullets bounce off him. Tank rounds go clang off his green skin. How can you worry about the guy getting in trouble, or having a tough time with a bad guy? This is why comic book movies tend to have hordes of villains. That’s compensating for the weakness of each villain, and it doesn’t work.

Two little movies we all remember reverse this beautifully. The villains in ROCKY and THE KARATE KID seem invincible to us, don’t they? Apollo Creed is the heavyweight champion of the world. He’s crazy strong, insanely fast, in incredible shape and everybody with a functioning brain cell in their noggin would bet the farm on him, not the slow, plodding loser they lined up for a publicity stunt of a fight. Johnny also seems like a teenage nightmare, a giant bully who pummels Daniel-san relentlessly.

Rocky and Daniel-san start out as serious underdogs, and they get their butts kicked in all sorts of ways throughout the movie. It’s only at the very end that they eke out a little moral victory. But we don’t care. That little moral victory is more important to us, the audience, than all the beat-downs administered by the tough guy in your average action movie.

Bigger isn’t better. It’s the distance traveled from the beginning to the end. And when you start out cranking it up all the way to 11, and end at 11, you’re not really taking us anywhere.

007 villains: Getting rid of incompetent henchmen

Bond villains need all kinds of minions, right?

Somebody has to feed the sharks, build the secret lairs, hide in hotel closets to attack 007 and all that.

HOWEVER: You can’t just fire a henchmen, not when they know all your secrets. That wouldn’t do at all. And you need to send a message about accountability to the remaining employees of your secret shebang.

Skydive from space — with Legos

It takes guts, monies and sponsors to float 25 miles into space and break the sound barrier skydiving down — then not going splat like the coyote in a Road Runner toon.

HOWEVER: I am equally impressed and entertained by this re-enactment of the space dive, done with Legos.

SKYFALL song and trailers, for all you 007 fans

The new Bond film is coming out – SKYFALL – and of course it has a song, by Adele.

Here’s a trailer for the film from the UK, because I love the UK and somebody told me both Daniel Craig and Bond are supposed to be all BRITISH or something.

So I have questions. Will you see SKYFALL — or would you rather watch TRANSFORMERS 5: ROBOTS VS GI JOE OR CARE BEARS OR WHATEVER?

Who is your favorite Bond villain and Bond girl, and why can’t they be the same person more often, just to save on Hollywood salaries and such?

And who, other than Daniel Craig, would win in a fight between all the actors who played Bond?

Out of fairness, I destroy my favorite genre: thrillers

Daniel Craig put the studliness back into James Bond -- no more invisible cars and silly nonsense. Also, he is blond, and can kill you with a spoon.
Daniel Craig put grittiness into James Bond — no more invisible cars and silly nonsense. He makes you believe he could kill you with a spoon.

Top Ten Thriller Clichés

Act I: A wealthy, disfigured foreigner toils late into the night

1. The Villain of the Week is a wealthy, disfigured foreigner who (a) steals a nuclear warhead, (b) plans to kidnap the president or (c) discovers a lock of Hitler’s hair and is busy cloning the Führer.

2. The Standard Hero is tall, dark and deadly. He used to work for the government, wears anything as long as it’s black — wet suit, tuxedo or cat-burglar outfit — and solves every problem by beating it up, blowing it up or sleeping with it.

3. The Villain of the Week has an endless army of faceless minions except for two people: (a) the femme fatale, who has a special bond with our hero because her wardrobe is also exclusively black, just tighter, and (b) a giant, impossibly strong thug who never speaks and has a signature way of killing people.

Act II: The Standard Hero wakes from his slumber to blow things up

4. The hero is out of the business and cares nothing for money, but the state appeals to his patriotism — or the villain kills his wife/girlfriend.

5. Although our hero is a lone wolf, he must now work with a team, including (a) one beautiful young sidekick who knows kung fu almost as well as the Kama Sutra and (b) a science nerd who provides exploding pens and tech support. He will also have (c) a Bureaucratic Boss, who will suspend our hero, then turn out to be a mole working for the Villain of the Week.

6. If the president isn’t involved, the prime minister of Britain shows up, plus a politician involved in the conspiracy, who will either be a slick, greedy senator with a southern accent or an ancient and decadent member of the House of Lords.

7. Between car chases and explosions, the femme fatale tries to kill the hero, who bests her, making her decide to sleep with him. This is how you know she is doomed.

Act III: The Big Showdown ends in a fist fight; never mind all the guns

7. The hero infiltrates the villain’s lair with the help of the femme fatale, who betrays him. The villain doesn’t kill him right off. He delegates death-by-torture to the femme fatale, who sets the hero free, then turns bad again at the last minute so she can have a long catfight with the beautiful sidekick.

8. After our hero kills countless minions, he faces the invincible giant. The hero uses the invincible giant’s signature killing move against him.

9. Despite the carpet of dead thugs clutching AK-47s, the Villain of the Week decides to fight the hero bare handed as the lair self-destructs. The Standard Hero dispatches the villain by (a) tossing him down an endless chasm, (b) impaling him on a massive spike or (c) throwing him down a chasm that ends in a massive spike.

10. Nothing changes. Our hero doesn’t change or grow — he’ll be back for more in the sequel.The world doesn’t change. The average person in Cleveland has no idea anything happened at all.