Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast is almost here. And while the majority of the conversation has circulated around its awe-inspiring special effects, its loyalty to the original, and Josh Gad’s portrayal of Disney’s first openly gay character, there is a different conversation I’m interested in having. Specifically, this new adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is an opportunity to give a new, honest ending to the classic story. It’s an opportunity to kill the Beast.
If you’re wondering why, the reasons are simple:
The original 1991 Beauty and the Beast movie has a very disturbing story, in which Belle is a Patty Hearst subjected to bestiality and manipulated by a castle of malevolent ghosts.
Gaston is right to be concerned about Belle’s mental health. He and the other pitchfork-wielding townsfolk are right to try to rescue her. She is not making healthy decisions.
Do we really need another narrative in 2017 defending a character who was mean and course and unrefined?
Yes, this blog is dedicated to “an ongoing exploration of the dark and gritty reboot.” But, as written about in the previous post on this blog, The World Needs Bad Men, it’s time to admit that the dark-n-gritty reboot has run its course. The anti-heroes have ascended to the White House. It’s time for a new superhero narrative.
The last week has given us two new incarnations of the superhero show: Legion, a television show on FX, and The Lego Batman Movie, a family-friendly animated feature.
The Lego Batman Movie is as meta as any superhero film has been, and that includes 2016’s Deadpool and 2015’s Ant-Man. The jokes are more family-friendly than those of Deadpool, but TLBM is arguably the more mature of the two films. TLBM, coming on the heels of The Lego Movie and followed soon by The Ninjago Movie, is the sign of much more to come.
Legion, meanwhile, is a serious and frightening television series about a man in a mental hospital who is either mentally ill, a mutant with superpowers, or both. It’s from Noah Hawley, the creator of the Fargo television series, and unravels in a non-linear manner.
But I’ve come here not to review these two works. Enough people are already reviewing these two works. The reviews are both positive and, in my opinion, accurate. What I’m here to say is that these works are two complementing examples of what we should start demanding from our screen adaptations of superhero tales.
Toward the finale of the 2016 election, Mike Huckabee took to Fox News to give a defense of Donald Trump that I’ve been mulling over in my head ever since.
I see Trump as Capt Quint (Robert Shaw) on the boat, Orca, in the movie “Jaws.” He’s salty, drunk and says incorrect things. He spits in your face. BUT… He’s gonna save your rear. You may not like what he says but, in the end, you and your family survive.
“Vote for the fishing boat captain,” Huckabee said. “Not the shark.”
While ineloquent and muddled, Huckabee’s defense gave a great insight into why people were lining up behind Donald Trump. They saw him as a vulgar presence, but he was their vulgar presence against the greater dangers.
If Huckabee were more versed in film, literature, or television, he would have realized that there are a thousand better metaphors for who Donald Trump is: he is, in the eyes of his followers, the anti-hero of the True America.
A different defense of Trump comes to mind, one that his followers would surely cite, had they seen the first season of True Detective:
Marty: Do you wonder ever if you’re a bad man?
Rust: No, I don’t wonder, Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.
The world needs bad men. It seems like a missed opportunity that Trump’s campaign didn’t snap that up as their slogan. One can imagine Rust and Marty’s conversation rolling over footage of Donald Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, or Rust’s defense of bad men and musings on man’s inability to love intercut with I moved on her like a bitch and you can do anything.
At this point, I have to point out that there is nothing unique in saying that Trump is an anti-hero and our obsession with anti-heroes in our media and film is what got Trump elected. As evidenced by the articles I just listed, this has been exhaustively explored.
What I do have is another layer to add to this: the rise of the anti-hero in our media came from the America that emerged during the presidency of George W. Bush.
During the Bush era, America found itself in the role of the anti-hero. This is what propelled the flawed and gritty protagonist into our film and television. This is what prompted the wave of dark and gritty reboots that are still grinding today.
Art imitates life imitates art. Politics causes pop culture causes politics. Bush was our cowboy hero who became tainted, tattered, and gritty as our wars became unwinnable and our morals murky. Obama was our shining hero, our knight in shining armor, our warrior who could not be everything he wanted to be.
And now there is Trump: the gritty anti-hero, the protagonist who rapes, the populist king. He is the danger.
The critically-acclaimed, award-winning cable series Mr. Robot is notable for a number of reasons, with a big twist: in the final two episodes, you realize you’ve been watching a ten hour unlicensed Fight Club reboot. One could say that the twist is “Elliot was Mr. Robot all along!” just like the twist in Fight Club is “Edward Norton was Brad Pitt all along!” but to me the twist was simply that Mr. Robot was Fight Club all along.
Some people saw the “twist” coming, but I didn’t know I was watching a Fight Club reboot until the final few episodes, when a character is revealed to be imagined, the protagonist fights himself, and a piano cover of “Where is My Mind” plays in the background. (Probably worth noting it was the same song used in The Leftovers, which I saw first and still think used it better.) Continue reading “What Should Mr. Robot Pay Homage to in Season Two?”→
Ever wondered what your grandpa would look like in a fedora? Well, Harrison Ford may give you a good idea. Believe it or not, another Indiana Jones movie is in the works, and, according to Steven Spielberg, there’s only one person who can carry the whip.
“I don’t think anyone could replace Harrison as Indy, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” Spielberg said in this interview. “There is only going to be one actor playing Indiana Jones and that’s Harrison Ford.”
While it remains to be seen what the new film will be about, what is clear is that no matter what happens, Indiana Jones has become a cinematic icon. Everybody knows him, and in the pantheon of movie characters, he’s got to be near the top. And as such, it comes as little surprise that over the years people have tried to capitalize on his likeness. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, these characters pretty much straight-up copied Indiana. Continue reading “No Matter His Name (Or How Old He Gets), He’s Still Indy and They’re Not”→
This is another guest post, the second in the new guest author series. This post is authored by Russ Ball, a haiku writer and film fan.
Okay, film fans. There’s something we need to talk about: the universe owes us a debt.
There are things that are simply supposed to happen. When you place bread in a toaster, you expect toast. When Natalie Portman establishes herself as an A-list celebrity and Hollywood finally starts making movies with strong female protagonists, we are supposed to get a sequel to Leon: the Professional.
I know you’ve seen The Professional (as it was released in the United States). But allow me to refresh your memory anyway:
Natalie Portman made her feature film debut in 1994 as “Mathilda” a 12 year old girl who befriends a lonely hitman (Jean Reno, aka the really cool French guy from Mission Impossible and Ronin) after the death of her family at the hands of a corrupt DEA agent (Gary Oldman, aka Commissioner Sirius Gordon-Black). The movie saw a few different releases, as some of the vibes between Portman and Reno were deemed too ‘Lolita-ish’ for middle America. The film is fantastic. Go watch it (again). Right now. I’ll wait. Here’s the trailer:
The rest of this depends on you knowing the movie, so seriously go watch it.
Back? Yeah, it’s great, right? So here’s what needs to happen.
Natalie Portman returns in Mathilda: The Professional II.
Hear me out.
Mathilda, having been orphaned first by her sleazy parents and again by her adopted killer father figure grows up to be an assassin too. Because obviously. Consider that part montage-d, probably during the opening credits.
Now, she’s blown through Leon’s cash, having traveled the world as a mercenary of sorts. Her traumatic childhood made it difficult to settle down. She’s beholden (as a #1 badass hitwoman) to the same mob that controlled Leon – a mob now headed by Mafioso Tony’s son – let’s call him James. He’s gonna inevitably be played by Gioavanni Ribsi, so actually let’s just call him Ribsi.
At a mob gathering where she’s been hired to provide security, she meets Tommy, the 8 year old autistic nephew of Bad Guy Ribsi. Tommy has an uncanny ability to recite any conversation he’s ever heard.
Do you see where this is going yet?
Mafia party gets raided by DEA (including head DEA Agent Willem Defeo)
Firefight breaks out – Tommy’s father & mother get killed.
Mathilda saves little Tommy,
Turns out he’s heard some interesting conversations about Uncle Giovanni Ribsi, regarding some backroom deals with a corrupt DEA agent.
Ribsi, in an effort to get into politics, has staged the raid to cut ties with anyone who could smudge his reputation (like Matilda). He’s made a deal with the DEA to lock down the drug trade, giving Agent McCorruption (Willem Defoe, really) some of the action.
Tommy doesn’t understand what he has heard, but can recite it all.
Also, he’s a hacker.
Mathilda and Tommy find themselves on the run from the bad guys.
Mathilda, remembering all too well her times with Leon, decides to help Tommy avenge his parents.
HOW HAS THIS NOT BEEN A MOVIE YET??!?
Things to consider:
Since Jurassic Park, everyone has enjoyed hacker kids saving the day. Maybe an Edward Snowden cameo?
Many gun battles
Visiting Leon’s grave. Sad part.
Also, if you don’t recall, she planted a tree at the end of the original film. They go visit that tree too. Second sad part. (Edit: it’s actually a houseplant. Okay, so maybe the houseplant is still in the ground and they visit it?)
Also, Tommy’s eight – and eight year olds are funny.
Lots of ‘lets uncover the awesome stash of guns’ bits, where the eight year old pulls out a heavy one and almost drops it. You’ll laugh.
Could be an on-the-run exotic travel movie. Let’s say Capri because I want to go there.
Maybe when they go to visit the tree (or houseplant) from the first movie, that’s where one of the shoot-outs is.
So many feels – revenge, loss, bonding, Natalie Portman.
This simply must happen. Natalie, this part was the part you were born for.
It ends with Natalie dying, and in a few decades we can get the third installment in the trilogy.
If you haven’t heard, the latest complete failure at the box office was the flaccid reboot Pan, an attempt to create a franchise out of the Peter Pan story by starting with Mr. Pan’s origin as a young boy on an adventure to Neverland. In which the villain is Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard and Peter’s best friend is a guy named James Hook.
That’s right: in the new version of Peter Pan that you didn’t see, Pete’s best friend is a young, two-handed, two-eyed Captain Hook in his pre-pirate days. Meaning that the narrative is an origin story that includes a tragic bromance in which we watch one of the central characters become a villain.
This is the exact reboot/origin story/cheesy narrative that we do not need. And it’s a strange trend, with examples including the Star Wars prequels, Wicked, and a variety of superhero films and television shows in which the villain first appears as a classmate, friend, or family member of the hero.
It’s redundant and unoriginal and redundant.
As stated above, there is very little original left in the idea of “let’s imagine what happened in the part of the story before what we’ve seen,” whether its Pre-Pan or Not-yet-sleeping Beauty. It would perhaps be more interesting if it wasn’t so common, but there’s no longer anything unique about the idea that “what if Poison Ivy was a little girl before she became a bad guy” or “guys, maybe the wicked witch wasn’t always wicked?”
It’s sad and disturbing, but not in a compelling way.
There’s something very sad about a narrative in which we see a kid become a villain. There’s a reason that no one has made a summer blockbuster about Adolf Hitler as a kind little boy who becomes corrupted by evil. It would be disturbing and awful and sad. Although, based on the trends, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone creates an gritty origin story in which Jesus of Nazareth and Pontius Pilate are classmates who fight a battle against Herod before Pontius becomes a villain and Jesus becomes a hero.
The only good example of this trope is Rob Zombie’s Halloween reboot, because at no point is Michael Myers an innocent young boy awaiting corruption. He’s evil from the start, killing animals in his bedroom and classmates after school. This works because it’s an over-the-top absurd slasher film in which Zombie’s endgame is overwhelming the audience with a visceral, brutal experience.
Other than that, this cheap trope of the eventual villain beginning as a child is too brutal for a children’s story and too obvious for adults. Even the Sam Raimi Spiderman trilogy was weakened by the hackneyed writing that turned James Franco from Peter Parker’s bff into Green Goblin Junior.
It paints the world in unrealistic terms.
Here is the narrative we’re given in this unneeded origin stories: “He was good, and then he became evil.” The one exception is probably that of Darth Vader, in which the narrative is “He was good, and then he became evil, but then he became good for a second right before he died and then he went to Star Wars Heaven.” Either way, it declares that the world is good guys and bad guys.
The worst part is that these narratives often pose as “darker interpretations” or act as if they’re asking poignant questions about morality and heroism, when really the only question they ask if “what’s an easy way to show a good person become a bad person?”
It eliminates suspense from the story.
“Oh, his name is James Hook? So what, he’s Captain Hook? Yep. Okay. Wait, I need to watch him become Captain Hook for the next two hours? Great. This is exciting and suspenseful.”
This is the trouble with prequels and origin stories. They’re often yawn-inducing, because we know exactly what’s going to happen. Even Better Call Saul, a show I kinda like that provides some good laughs, suffers from the flaw that it’s completely unnecessary and we know what the ending will be. I mean, the ending already exists. It’s called Breaking Bad.
With Pan, we have reached peek reboot. And it’s a good lesson for anyone who has plans for an upcoming reboot or origin story or prequel, whether it’s the Adventures of Young Jesus and Pontius described above or the inevitable Back to the Future reboot.
There is only one way to make a reboot work now: you need to make anything possible. Don’t write the story into a corner in order to match the original plot points or the expectations that the audience has. Ensure suspense by making anything on the table. This is some work and some don’t. Batman Begins and its sequels gave us moments we’d never seen; Craig’s Casino Royale killed the villain and the love interest surprising, unexpected scenes; Man of Steel, on the other hand, failed because it opened with the exact same Superman origin story that we’d seen a million times, in which the baby Superman is put into a spaceship and sent from Krypton to Earth.
So, please, if you are currently hard at work on a gritty reboot in which we see a familiar villain begin life as an innocent, a hero, or a child: ask yourself if you are providing us with anything new and anything that anyone wants to see.