The Jessica Journals:

1st Week of July 2004: With Bad Writing Comes Lame Non-Snarky Titles

Keep squeezin' that brick out. This week I was confronted with one of life’s Gripping and Important Questions: if a spider poops and you can’t see it does that mean it’s healthy for you to eat it?

“It’s not going to kill you,” you’re quick to answer.

“Ah!” say I. “But my question was not ‘will it kill you?’ but ‘is it healthy?’”

“But I liked Spider-Man 2,” you whine feebly as you see the direction in which this conversation is heading.

“People, people, people,” I sigh in a put-upon way as I shake my head.

Like it or not, I submit to you that Spider-Man 2 blew chunks of half-digested haggis. Let’s put aside the barely-competent acting and the cut-rate special effects--this is, after all, an action movie so I don’t demand too much--and turn instead to the story.

“But this is an action movie!” you protest. “You don’t go see it for the story. You go see it for the fight scenes and explosions.”

Exactly. I go to action movies to watch Spider-Man kick Doc Ock’s arse from here to there and back again. (Yes, all action movies. You can’t tell me the two Matrix sequels wouldn’t have been vastly improved by the inclusion of Ock and Spidey.) One thing’s for certain, I don’t go to an action movie to watch Peter Parker sleep-walk through his life and spend 2 hours bemoaning the cruel destiny Fate (or Stan Lee and Sam Raimi as the case may be) has thrust upon him.

I don’t deny that it is a cruel destiny; I just don’t want to hear the little whiner complain. Out of sight, out of mind, just like all those starving orphans in Somalia.

Of course, as I say, it is a cruel destiny, but for all of that, I find myself laughing at Peter Parker’s plight. I’m sure I’m not the only person who recognizes that his problems are all directly related to the fact that he lives in a freak house. If only he lived in a world where policemen were competent, science was scientific, and morality was ambiguous. Instead, the cruel Gods of Graphic Novels and Lame Movie Rip-offs I Mean Adaptations have thrown him into a world where men who pursue a law-enforcement career in a legal and law-abiding fashion are incompetent bumblers, the only Law the Sciences follow is that they must turn their most brilliant students/practitioners into evil and twisted half-men before the middle of the movie, and the only way to be good is to fight against evil every single little time it raises a wart-covered toe, much less it’s ugly, pock-marked head.

The third item, in particular, is a source of constant amusement considering, in Spiderman’s New York Evil’s warty toe takes the shape of a child about to get barbequed in a burning building, and it’s acne-ravaged face takes the form of a scientist who, in a freak accident, kills his wife and fuses four malevolent mechanical arms onto his back--arms which proceed to control his mind, forcing him to continue experimenting on an energy machine which will potentially destroy the city of New York.

The child-in-a-burning-building routine is one of the all-time biggest comic book clichés ever. Shoddy writing; that’s what I call it.

He's really only doing it because he likes bright shiny things. Of course, if the movie-makers used a cliché for the little problems, then they used an even bigger cliché for the big problem. I am sure it would be possible for them to have make Doc Ock’s personal struggle even more of a watery mishmash of overdone rechauffé but it would be difficult. (1) The fusion-generator-thingy was his life-work so that gives him a motivation to become obsessed with it and pursue it to the detriment of others. (2) The original experimental test of his fusion-generator-thingy went horribly awry, leaving him penniless and in disgrace, thus giving him a desire to press on with his experiments to the detriment of others and redeem himself by showing the world that he can make it work and he has not devoted his life to science in vain. (3) The disastrous test of his prototype fusion thing killed his beloved wife, thus giving him no grounding to prevent him from throwing himself wholly into his life-work and continuing his experiments to the detriment of others. (4) The disastrous experimental test which left him penniless and killed his beloved wife also left him a misshapen freak, thereby cutting him off from mankind, and, since he can no longer socialize with people, giving him a reason to throw himself wholly into his life-work and continue his experiments to the detriment of others. (5) The mechanical arms which left him a deformed freak after they were fused to his spine during the distastrous experimental test of his life-work which resulted in the death of his wife are both evil and have the power to control his mind, thus forcing him to abandon society and throw himself into furthering his life-work, a pursuit that puts the lives of all those who live in New York in jeopardy.

Okay, sing with me, ”One of these things just doesn’t belong here...”. Look, either have him be a tortured man dealing with the sudden and gruesome death of his beloved and his own freakish and hideous appearance, or have four metal tentacles control his mind, but don’t do both. Either one by itself provides enough motivation for his future actions but both together weaken the other reason and make him seem boring and wishy-washy. If you do both your writing is un-good nearly to the point of being outright bad.

“Why are you so critical?” you demand, ignoring my complaints and instead attacking me personally. “It’s just a movie. It’s fun. Why are you trying to ruin a perfectly good action movie by criticizing it mercilessly. It’s not like people go to action movies because of the writing anyway.”

“There’s where you’d be wrong,” I answer.

There’s a reason why Raiders of the Lost Ark is popular even to this day while Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is not. There’s a reason why the original Star Wars Trilogy was so cool whereas the prequels suck unmentionable things. There’s a reason why everyone flocked to see The Matrix and didn’t do so to see The Matrix: Revolutions. There’s a reason why people don’t remember Men in Black 2 while the original Men In Black was the blockbuster of whatever year it came out. And that reason is: Writing! Writing! Writing! Writing!

The good movies on that list may have their faults, but the story structure and the characters are solid, which, frankly, can’t be said for Spider-Man 2. Luke may have been a whiny farm boy, but at least he didn’t bore us when he was complaining, unlike Peter Parker. The Matrix was 10 minutes longer, but it didn’t have us squirming in our seats after the first 30 minutes. Raiders of the Lost Ark was 10 minutes shorter but I swear it worked in more (and more interesting) fights, shooting, and explosions than did Spider-Man 2, and Men in Black was just plain funnier.

People, people, people. Why do you accept such drivel? Why do you flock to mediocre dreck? Why do you allow Hollywood to misuse you so? How long until you rise up and declare, “No more! No more will we allow you to oppress us. No more will we accept your mediocre summer offerings. No more will we watch your lame attempts at creative expression. No more will we attend long, boring, and tedious films masquerading as fun-packed action movies. From now on we will only watch light-hearted Bollywood musicals!”

The soundtrack would be better.


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Copyright 2004 Jessica Menn