I'm on a superhero kick at the moment, as it relates to something I am working on, so I checked out My Super Ex Girlfriend. I've heard it said great ideas are ten a penny, but whilst that may be the case, not many of them filter through. That's why we get sequel after prequel after remake. So this was not a bad concept and a new take on the superhero movie. The film describes itself as a "romantic comedy with a superhero twist." The trouble is, they forgot to write a proper romantic comedy. The film should've functioned as a pure example of that genre, the twist being that one of the protagonists was a superhero. But all rules of that genre were ignored. Luke Wilson is the average Joe leading man, and Uma Thurman his superhero girlfriend. But we know from early on that he is actually secretly in love with Ana Faris, whilst the villain of the piece, Eddie Izzard, used to be best friends with Thurman before she got her powers and still loves her. The point of this is that you have the traditional two couples, with 'right' and 'wrong' options for our protagonists. The trouble is, Wilson and Thurman are the leads, but don't end up together and share very little screen time with their actual true loves. It's just not set up properly, and therefore no high concept take was going to save it. It's a baffling creative choice and was a timely reminder of just how important genre rules can be.
Another superhero with a difference movie I saw is Hancock. And I really enjoyed it. It's a breath of fresh, original air. Conceived by Vincent Ngo in 1996, a drunk, depressed, all round rubbish superhero is something we haven't seen before. What's interesting is that the movie is completely and utterly different from the original script, to the extent that only the name and characterisation of the protagonist remains intact. The Internet movie buff buzz seems to generally agree that Ngo's script is better than the movie. But, whilst the script is brilliantly written, with some of the best description I've ever read, it's so dark and relentlessly downbeat, that you wonder who would've wanted to see it? The central premise seems to be that the sole motivation for Hancock's character is that he cannot ejaculate during sex, due to its er, explosive nature. (I'm not making this up.) And it culminates in him almost raping the female lead. You can't exactly sell action figures of someone like that, can you!? But in all seriousness, dark and edgy are not necessarily synonymous with cool, and what was delivered on screen was a far more entertaining movie. My one main problem with it was the twist, about half way through, that Charlize Theron's character turns out to be hiding the fact that she has exactly the same powers as Hancock, and is his long lost wife. The idea behind this is that these immortal, angel like creatures were put on earth to protect mankind, but when they are together they lose their powers, thus meaning that all the others have been killed, save these two. If you glazed over for a second there, I don't blame you.
Some people struggle to suspend disbelief in almost anything they watch, (the poor souls, where's the fun in that?). But it's not something I've ever had a problem with. Maybe I am just a gullible person but when I am watching something, I buy into it totally... unless it slaps me in the face. When you have a superhero, or even action hero for that matter, they need to be vulnerable, because otherwise where's the conflict and jeopardy? Hancock has none, except for a completely mismatched bunch of bankrobbers, (certainly not in Lex Luther's class). So this twist was designed to make Hancock killable. As he gets closer to his one time wife, suddenly bullets penetrate him and they both nearly die. But it doesn't make sense in the context of the movie world. They were put on earth by the gods (I am quoting here) to protect it and they were deliberately paired up. But the closer they are to their pair, the weaker their powers become. Surely it would be the other way around?? It's a big, fat hole. Compounded by the fact that of course Smith and Theron end the movie apart, because you can't exactly have the hero destroy her family unit with a cute kid and nice guy husband. So if the movie is about a lonely guy finding his place in the world, all he discovers is his past, and ends alone. They couldn't make it fit, came up with some nonsense, and betrayed the world they had set up. Shame.
So in the tradition of this blog, is there anything practical we can take away, back into our own work? For me I think it was a timely reminder of the importance of staying true to the rules of the genre you are working in, and, make sure that the world you create makes sense. Writers, especially newer ones, can often scoff at genre, believing it to be the path to unoriginal, trite, screenplays. But the fact is, of the many scripts I read, the ones who are confident within their genre conventions are simply better than those that try to eschew them. As I said back in my very first post, stories can often feel familiar, but what makes yours different are your original characters, the plot you use to tell that story, and the world you create. Just make sure you stay true to that construction!