Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Storyteller’s Rulebook #143: The Difference Between an Action Movie and a Thriller

At the beginning of Green Lantern, a voiceover tells us about the rich tradition of the Green Lantern Corps.  Over time, we see them training, we see them fight a yellow blob in space that wants to kill them, and we see them gather in a big amphitheater, where they stand at attention while an angry man with a funny little mustache tells them that they will remain mighty because they worship “willpower”.  Then they all raise one hand in salute. 

Do these sound like good guys to you? 

Nevertheless, the movie might have possibly overcome its Hitler-ish overtones if it had once, just once, shown any of these non-Earth Green Lanterns helping anybody. Even after our Earth-bound Green Lantern accepts the job, he never once helps anybody who’s not in danger because of something related to…the Green Lanterns. 

Every single threat in the movie traces back to that yellow blob, and the yellow blog was itself created by, you guessed it, the Green Lantern Corps!  This is one of those movies where the heroes could have solved the whole problem by not doing anything.   
Remember that montage in Superman: The Movie where Superman catches the cat burglar and the crooks on the boat, then gets a cat out of a tree?  They would cut it out sometimes on TV, but I always missed it.  Green Lantern could learn a thing or two from that.  These scenes showed why it was all worth it.     

The big difference between an action movie and a thriller is civilians.  You’re allowed to have a noir-ish thriller in which nobody but our hero is ever in danger, but action heroes can’t just be victims of the fickle finger of fate.  They’re taking responsibility for other people.  And they didn’t create the menace in the first place.  Popeye Doyle didn’t start the drug trade.  John McClaine didn’t hire Hans Gruber.  Keanu Reeves didn’t put that bomb on that bus.  These guys saw that civilians were in trouble so they stepped in to help.

Yes it’s ridiculous in super-hero movies whenever they have that clichéd scene of a girl in a dark alley being menaced by the inevitable gang of multicultural thugs.  But you know what’s even more ridiculous?  Not having that scene.  Because what’s the point of being a superhero if you’re not going to help? 

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