So you’re sitting down, your phone’s on, you never know who might send an interesting text/email/twitter or perish the thought, actually ring you up; you’ve put the DVD in and settle down to watch a brand new release, and somewhere along the way you get this strange feeling you’ve seen this all before.
This is not a new feeling. There have been times in the past when “The Prestige” is “The Illusionist”, “Knight and Day” is “The Killers”, “Next” is “Déjà Vu” , “Flight 93” is “United 93” and “Mission to Mars” is “Red Planet” and “Ghosts of Mars”. And you wonder, how did this come to pass, how did three films get made with essentially the same core idea, a group of guys with differing physical and mental abilities getting together to thwart an evil genius/CIA?
Take “Carriers”, essentially a film about a group of young people travelling across America after a disease has wiped out most of the population and arriving at a beach. Change that to the disease makes people into zombies, add some humour, a fun fair instead of a beach and a clever central conceit of a list the main protagonist makes to stay alive (an idea partly used in “Carriers”) and you have Zombieland and a success.
And this comes to the real reason why similarities exist in film production. Money. Writers are desperate for a good idea, if they can feed off another film, using it’s already laid out structure as source material and add their own spin, it gives studios the opportunity of beating their rivals at their own game. Pride comes into it. Success is short lived, especially for Producers, you get three duffs and you’re out, your film makes money, you stay in the swirl pool of popularity.
Plus, there’s always some short change from riding on the crest of other people’s success. You like a film about x, we give you x plus y with a cherry on top.
So, what of it? Does it matter? “The Expendables”, “The Losers”, and the “A Team” are essentially lazy films made to cash in on each other, a snake eating its own tail. All are dumb as a fence post. I’d say The Losers was the most interesting, just for a girl on boy fight in a burning hotel room. The Expendables has all the action heroes you want, but they creak and moan from the delirium of expectancy. And they are some truly under written corkers of bad lines. The A Team passes the time of day in a convoluted plot that has a rival gang of mercenaries set them up in an Iraq mostly devoid of reality, but does have an awesome tank drops through the sky with the A Team on board, how do they get out of this, scene.
Of course the best version of this type of movie can be found in the Battle comics of the 1970s. The story was called Rat Pack with the brilliant artwork of Carlos Ezquerra who went on to work on Major Easy for Battle and the original concept of Judge Dread for 2000AD. I think this is the key.
Though UK based, these comics and many like them influenced the writers of today, their stories, ready made with visuals and tight structure limitations were the under the covers popcorn violence infused creations that boys loved then and have found their way through the half remembered fantasies of today’s grown up writers/director and executives, finally emerging as three films, one based on a knock about TV series, the other from an aging Stallone who feels the need to reinvent the story for today’s audience and the other a hybrid of the two, set in South America with a wonderfully cackling Jason Patrick as the baddie.
The problem is, for a boy of eight reading a comic which exploded their mind with images of violence compared to real actors shooting people for an audience over twelve, the disparity is obvious. There’s nothing new. Violence is easily obtained and cutting jibes from actors in their forties upwards seem silly and tired.
The realized truth of boys who don’t really grow up, the Peter Pan enigma of a disenfranchised male population as an easy target for the film making business is a crass oversimplification. It fools no one. It’s pop corn, just dry and out of date.
The real problem with all these films, and I’d count “Predators” in this bracket, is that the very nature of the quickening of pace in film structure, with plot points coming in earlier and earlier to grab an audience, is that they is precious little time to get any sense of the relationships between the characters. We don’t need to know much, but we do need to have them clever, shifting and emblematic of the theme of the whole.
“Predators” misses out on all of this with aplomb. Adrien Brody is not the tough, dumb Schwarzenegger we love, and whilst we’re on the subject, where is Schwarzenegger? If he’d turned up instead of the half mad Laurence Fishburne the audience would have been jumping out of their seats. Plus, why does he suddenly start to try and set fire to them all, “to get their stuff”? Which is inside with them? Makes no sense.
Then the whole thing tumbles apart with two different types of Alien, a space ship that flies away on its own accord and blows up, and some cliff hanger ending that leads no where. And the supposed doctor, come on, the aliens pick up the worst killers in the world, but include a doctor by mistake, of course he’s a serial killer.
These are all films for boys. So make it that way. Make it so we never know what the characters are going to do next, make it that they are scurrilous, never do wells, rapists, murders and crazy killers, like “The Dirty Dozen”, we don’t trust them, we don’t really like them, but you’ve got to admire their determination.
The problem is, the present crop of heroes are too shiny, to accomplished, too cappuccino and air conditioned trailer to warrant our attention. It’s as if the outlaws had been co-opted by Simon Callow and Sony Pictures and are now doing TV spots and commercials. The Clint Eastwood man-with-no-name is the branded, hair by Sassoon, leathers by Armani, airbrushed out cigar, corporate logo, Burger King munching franchise.
The dirty dozen have agents and PA’s. Clint doesn’t burn the town in an act of cruelty and revenge, he gives them Pilates lessons and a spot on X factor. The grit has gone. The fear is flawed. Bring on the clowns.