THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
X-MEN 3: NO LEG TO STAND ON
LOGAN is one of the best superhero movies ever made, so I thought we might look at X-MEN 3...
There's this scene near the end of X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND where this big guy charges Wolverine, and
Wolverine uses his razor-sharp claws to cut his arm off. So the guy grows another arm! And Wolverine cuts
that arm off. The guy grows another arm, and Wolverine cuts that one off, too. The rest of the "fight"
consists of Wolverine futilely cutting the guy's arms off so that he can't punch him and the guy futilely
growing replacement arms. After this goes on much longer than I can tolerate, Wolverine kicks the guy in
the groin, dropping him.
And that, my friends, is the movie in a nutshell.
Magneto came back. Professor Xavier came back. Storm came back. Wolverine came back. Jean Gray even came back - and she
died at the end of the last movie. But this time around, the film seems like a big dumb Hollywood action
flick, instead of that odd combination of superhero and indie flick like the first two.
Over the years, super hero movies seem to have grown up. They aren't just dudes in tights fighting really
odd criminals, now they're *conflicted* dudes in tights. "With great power comes great responsibility."
The first SPIDER-MAN film was actually one of the best films released that year - it not only made a ton of
money, it also had a point. David Koepp's script was a great exploration of responsibility to yourself,
the people you love, and society. Even the big fight scenes were *about something* - you can save the woman
you love or a bus full of kids: pick one. For the sequel we got a script by Oscar winning screenwriter Alvin
Sergant (ORDINARY PEOPLE). Though SPIDER-MAN 2 was better plotted and had a better villain than the first film,
I thought it didn't dig as deep as the first film (and I may be in the minority on that) - but it *did* explore
those big themes of responsibility. It was both a summer popcorn film *and* a serious movie that really explored
a theme. Last year we had BATMAN RETURNS, another deeply flawed superhero in a story that really dug into its theme.
It was a darned good movie. The first two X-MEN movies have really explored the issue of being an outsider and
questions about conformity and diversity. In the wonderful world of subversive cinema, it's pretty easy to see
that those X-MEN movies were dealing with Gay themes - X-MEN: UNITED even had a scene where a boy "came out" to
his family as a mutant. Through Rogue's character they also managed to explore AIDS. Lately superhero movies have
dealt with some pretty serious issues - meanwhile SUPERMAN RETURNS and all of the other DC movies up intil WOMNDER WOMAN
have disappointed. No theme, no point, and they were cold and heartless and Superman and Batman have become selfish a-holes.
WONDER WOMAN was a breath of fresh air... "It's not about what you deserve, it's about what you believe."
THEME IN BLACK LEATHER
Theme is hypotheses. A question. Like a theory. Not necessarily a moral to the story, and though I've said
before it's the point of the story - it doesn't have to be. I've also called theme an exploration - and I
think that's closer to the real definition. You're poking around in some subject looking for answers or
information. When you ask the question, you may come up with an answer... or you may not. But when you are
searching for the answers you will certainly discover more than you knew before. Our job as screenwriters is
to discover the story's theme, then *explore it* rather than *ignore it*. Make sure we really look into the
theme and make sure the dialogue, characters, and even the fight scenes are there to explore that theme.
X-MEN: THE LAST STAND seems to ask the question: If we can "cure" those who are different than us, should we?
Problem is, once it asks the question it proceeds to mostly ignore it in favor of big silly action set pieces that
have nothing to do with the theme and usually end up with a kick in the nuts. No discussion among the X Team about
the concept of a "cure", even though Jean may really need one. They never talk about it! Rogue has a legit reason
for wanting the cure, and we get the best scene in the movie from a discussion between her and Wolverine
(echoing their discussion onboard the train in the first film). But what does Bobby - Rogue's boyfriend -
think about her being de-mutanized? Do you lose other traits when they de-mutanize you?
But everyone else agrees that the cure is a bad idea - no more discussion... and no more exploration of
the subject. It's almost as if the cure is just an excuse for the story, rather than the actual story.
There's this cure, and we have to do something about it. Why? Don't ask.
THEME IN HERO & VILLAIN
The first two films showed us difference between Xavier's group and Magneto's gang, but in this film
they don't seem all that different. They both agree that the cure is bad. No discussion, no exploration - just
a bad idea. I wonder *why* it's bad? It takes away your super powers - but these characters seem *cursed* by
their super powers. Cyclops has to wear his sunglasses at night, and can never look the woman he loves in
the eyes (without destroying her with his laser beams). Storm can change the weather, but aside from guaranteeing
good weather for a picnic, her power seems to have no other use except fighting those bad mutants. Starting
fires and freezing stuff - don't we have appliances that cover that? What good are all of these super powers
(except fighting crime... crime caused by other mutants)? Why is it good to be a mutant?
Because of this cure, Magneto wants to fight the humans and Xavier wants to... I guess just do nothing...
they both seem to agree on the main points. I wonder what might have happened if the President had made the
cure mandatory - would Xavier have fought it? If so, how is he different than Magneto? And that's a big
problem this time around - I don't know how the two sides are different when in the end they both fight
and destroy a lot of stuff. Why are the good mutants good and the bad mutants bad? Usually this is covered
in theme - theme can often be found in the philosophical differences between hero and villain.
This creates a complete cop out. By just saying "the cure is bad" we get no chance at all to explore the
hypothesis. With everyone on the same side, we not only remove the conflict, we have no way to explore the theme.
Why not have Xavier be "pro cure" and have him gradually learn why the cure isn't the solution as the story goes on
- this could be his character arc in the film. Xavier would likely be "pro cure" anyway - isn't the purpose of
his school for mutants to teach them how to *control* their mutant behaviors so that they can blend in to society?
They may still look different than everyone else, but at least they aren't burning everything with their laser
vision! Xavier is all about mutants being more like everyone else - and that's exactly what the cure is!
By giving a real voice to the cure, we could have some real discussions. Really dig in and look for answers.
Explore the theme.
THEME IN CHARACTER
I suspect the main reason why they automatically decided "cure is bad" is the Gay thing. Since these films
have always been subversive cinema about Gay issues, having the good guys on the side of a cure for homosexuality
is just politically incorrect. You'll never get another Christmas card from David Geffen. To kick *myself* off
his Christmas card list, I have to ask: Why is it wrong to discuss a "cure" for homosexuality? I'm not in favor
of such a thing (I'm sure it's not even possible), but this is the exact kind of debate and discussion that can
be used to explain why diversity is important. In it's mutant metaphor version, we could really dig into the
subject without encouraging bigotry (except, maybe, to mutants with super powers). If you could live a perfectly
"normal" life and be just like everybody else, wouldn't that be a good thing?
A couple of interesting arguments they could have used in the film would have been diversity - the world is a
more interesting place if we aren't all exactly the same... and religion. You read that right - what if Storm
were to argue that she was born a mutant. Not stillborn. Her mother didn't reject her, she didn't die because
she was "different". She didn't die of small pox or any other childhood disease. Her immune system wasn't affected
by the genetic mutation. "We lived. Maybe we were born this way for a reason. Maybe these powers - these things
that make us different - are a gift not a curse. I don't want to change the way He made us - I don't think any
of us have that right." See - you can discuss the cure and stay on Geffen's Christmas card list *and* appeal to
the religious audience at the same time (maybe). If nothing else, these would make for some interesting
discussions - and allow each of our lead characters a chance to help define themselves. We'd learn more about
who they are... Which is another thing that theme does - it helps define characters. All of the cardboard
characters in this film might have been more fleshed out (Rogue and Wolverine come off real in the film,
many of the others are just people in super-suits).
THEME IN ACTION
Either because the story never really digs below the surface to find interesting thematic conflicts, or due
to poor design, conflict remains on the surface. Character remains on the surface. Everything remains on
the surface. You can either dig deeper or go broader - and X-MEN: THE LAST STAND is all surface. Too many
characters, too many subplots, and no driving force. No conflict that propels the story forward.
Because the conflict doesn't come from the inside, it's pasted on from the outside and we get all sorts of
"soap opera" conflicts. Big hollow arguments. Scenes that need a ton of violins on the sound track. Bigger
emotions for the characters doesn't always translate to better - understated emotions often do more to move
the audience. Sometimes it's good to be small, good to focus on the little details.
Action scenes need to come from character and story and theme. Anything that isn't exploring the story is
just killing time. Unlike the great action scenes from the first MATRIX movie which *all* illustrate Neo's
lack of faith in himself, or the action scenes from the first SPIDER-MAN which force Peter to make some
pretty frightening decisions... then be responsible for the outcome, none of the action scenes in X-MEN:
THE LAST STAND explore the theme or have any emotional components - it's just bunch of junk action.
And junk action isn't exciting action. When the audience complains that the action scenes are *boring*
it's because those scenes just play on one level - stuff blowing up or people getting punched. You want
action scenes to do more than one thing at once. You want there to be a reason for the action and a point to the action.
The fights in X-MEM: THE LAST STAND don't explore theme and don't show the difference between good mutants
and bad mutants. And they go on too long and become repetitious. There's a never ending fight near the end
between Storm and some evil mutant chick - they just keep slamming each other. After a few minutes of
completely pointless and *boring* fighting, Storm just sends a lightning bolt to kill the evil chick.
Why didn't she just do that in the first place and save us all of that boredom? Why didn't Wolverine start
out by kicking the arm-regenerator in the nuts? The fight scenes seem to be all padding and completely repititous
because they weren't about anything except fighting - no theme involved. This wasn't a way to show what the
difference between good mutants and bad mutants - though it should have been. The very least they could have
done is found a way for Storm and Wolverine to use evil mutant's powers against them.
Wouldn't it have been nice if there was an action scene that showed how diversity is a good thing? A *thematic*
action scene showing how *different* people with *different* skills can work together - and the combination of
skills and powers may do more to solve the problems than one person's powers or skills alone. I would have
had non-mutants and mutants work together to show that non-mutants are actually better off with mutants in the world.
The cure might make us all the same, but having different strengths and different skills is what society
needs to survive.
Instead, the entire concept of "the cure" is forgotten - after it is introduced it is never discussed. The
most we get are some extras protesting in the background of a scene. They ignore it instead of explore it!
If think the lack of real drama and real conflict and action scenes that mean something also lead to
completely senseless spectacle scenes. Now, every summer tentpole flick needs big spectacle scenes - but
those scenes need to grow organically from the story... and they need to make sense! The scene where Magneto
rips the Golden Gate Bridge off its foundation in order to create a way to get to Alcatraz Island is just silly!
Wouldn't it have been *easier* to take a boat? Wouldn't they have had the advantage of surprise if they took a boat?
You need to have *logical* spectacle scenes, not just stuff thrown in that looks cool but doesn't make sense.
And the final big SPOILER.... In the end, Magneto is winning the battle (what does that tell us) so the good
guys decide to use the cure on Magneto to remove his power. Okay, what does that *mean*? What's the message there?
That good mutants are okay but bad mutants should be destroyed? That good mutants can use morally reprehensible
weapons on the bad guys... and they're still good? That when the bad guys are winning a supposedly fair fight,
it's okay to cheat? What is the moral of this story?
Should kids be allowed to see a movie that teaches that cheating is okay if you're a good guy? What are
we teaching our kids, here? With great power comes great responsibility - and this film seems pretty irresponsible
to me. I don't think they were *trying* to be irresponsible, I think they just weren't trying very hard to tell a
good story. They didn't explore the theme that was right there in the premise of their story, and accidentally
made a point they probably never wanted to make.
All of these things seemed to be corrected in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and DAYS OF FUTURE PAST...
And theme and heart are the *focus* of LOGAN and WOMDER WOMAN.
What's your theme? What is the hypothesis your story is exploring? How is that hypothesis explored in
character, story, action scenes, and dialogue?
Explore it, don't ignore it.
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FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.
NAKED SCREENWRITING CDs
The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON CD!
The 2001 London Class on 8 CDs! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival
wrapped. The two day class on 8CDs, plus a workbook, plus a bonus CD with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on CD!
E BOOKS PAGE
E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of
text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there
will soon be novels.
E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES
Every screenwriting book in the world!
In Association With Amazon.com
From the latest screenwriting book to
guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the
BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS
FIRST STRIKE BLUE BOOKS
Each Blue Book is 48
pages and focuses on a different aspect of screenwriting. Dialogue. Visual Storytelling. Your First Ten Pages. Act 2 Booster. Protagonists. Great Endings.
Seventeen Blue Books now available!
THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines,
several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
CLASSES ON CD
CLASSES ON CD! Take a class on CD! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 CDs). Full length classes on CD. Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on CD!