Lessons Learned (and Re-learned)

Through no fault of my own, I finally saw the new Star Trek trailer.  It didn’t wow me.  I liked the reboot just fine.  I didn’t find it necessary.  I would much rather let Star Trek, Star Wars, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a hundred other bits of nostalgia have a bit of a rest.  I think we’ve abused the notion of prequels and reboots, and if I had my druthers, I’d enforce a NO REMAKES / REIMAGININGS / REBOOTS law for at least ten years.  But nobody asked me, and people do seem to like being given what they already know they like.

Still, there are some stories I wish we’d stop telling.  I don’t really care how Captain Kirk became Captain Kirk, but at least the last film managed to tell that story without being too overbearing about it.  But now, from what I can glean from the new trailer, we’re due for another “Captain Kirk learns to be a better Captain Kirk” story.

Captain Kirk was never intended to have a story arc.  Like any recurring character, he came As Is, and he isn’t supposed to evolve, learn, or change.  He’s basically the same guy throughout his adventures, and that’s fine with me.

There’s this trend that all characters must grow and change in some way running through most mainstream movies, and there’s nothing wrong with that when the character is new and shiny and has room for that.  But when we take old, established characters and try to shove them in that arc, it just falls flat for me.

This is probably why the reboot and prequel is so damn popular right now.  It’s a great way of packaging nostalgia while giving the writer an excuse to take established characters and graft a character arc onto them.  And it can work.  While I’m not a fan of Nolan’s Batman movies, I thought Batman Begins had a lot to recommend it.  I didn’t need the infinity+1 retelling of Batman’s origins, but at least the story managed to do it without being too dull and it made sense in context.

But then The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises have Batman go through the exact same arc again.  Heck, The Dark Knight Rises has Batman learn to be Batman twice in one movie.

It’s what I’ve come to expect, and people do seem to like it.  It doesn’t seem to matter if a character must forget the lessons they learned last time to tell it.  It doesn’t even seem to matter if the arc is a disastrous mess like in Skyfall, where James Bond doesn’t actually do anything right, screws up everything, and still somehow we’re supposed to think it’s a good thing that this incompetent, maudlin loser is the guy we’re supposed to rely on to save the world.

Maybe that’s my real problem with these enforced character arcs.  As often as not, they’re bungled.  Yet most people don’t seem to care.  Skyfall, for example, is just shoddily constructed as a story.  I walked out of it wondering how anyone could find anything redeemable about this version of James Bond, who seems like a decent enough fellow but lacks the charm or ability that defined Bond in all his previous incarnations.  Meanwhile, I keep hearing how it’s one of the best Bond films ever, which is so counter to my own opinion, I struggle to keep my disagreement civil.

Really, it’s not even a good movie, much less a good James Bond film.

Yet even that might be forgiven if I wasn’t fairly certain that the plot of the next Bond film will almost certainly revolve around Bond learning to be a better Bond.  Even though we’ve basically had three films in a row that have told that story (even if badly from my perspective).

But I could do without these stories because it boxes in characters.  It also cripples old-fashioned adventure stories like nothing else.  I don’t need another origin for Superman with a tacked on character arc about him learning to be Superman.  And I don’t need to James Bond to wrestle with feelings of inadequacy or insecurity.  And if John Carter teleports to Mars and just starts kicking ass in the name of justice, that’s just fine with me.

By The Mighty Robot King, I just need heroes to be heroes.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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2 Comments

  1. Charlie
    Posted March 13, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I’ve followed your posts about remakes with interest and I wondered what you thought it might take to do a remake “right.” For consideration I submit the BBC’s Merlin. There are some familiar elements (sword in the stone, a guy named Mordred is a problem) but with so much changed to tell a new story to a new audience.

    This Merlin story is more of a superhero tale, complete with a hidden identity for our main character who can never take credit for his heroism

    Xenophobia – people with magic are hunted down because they are different and dangerous

    A diverse cast: The biggest departure: Gwenevere [sic] is black, a maidservant, and ultimately more likable than any version of Guenevere since Vanessa Redgrave

    Semi-Complicated motivations for the villains: Morgana is one of the heroes for the first two seasons until things get… well complicated.

    And one change I think you will appreciate: A Medieval world that isn’t dark and gritty, replete with pock-marked peasants herding dirty chickens. There aren’t rapey undertones that seem to crop up in anything vaguely Medieval looking in the last decade. It’s a fairy tale setting that is light without being frivolous. Ok maybe the troll was frivolous.

  2. Jesse
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Man I thought I was the only one that didn’t like Skyfall. I left that movie being confused as to how it received such a high review on rotten tomatoes. More than a few of the scenes were extremely well shot though, I mean parts of that movie are just insanely beautiful to look at.

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