James Monohan’s Narrative Breakdown podcast, and this time we talk about flaws and flip-side strengths! But of course we don’t want to slow down our 13-part series either, so let’s also do:
All-Too-Common Flaw #4
A few years ago, Denzel Washington directed a highly-fictionalized “true story” about a debate team at an all-black college that gets to challenge the Harvard team in the 1930s. As it happens, the team gets assigned to defend the proposition that blacks should have equal rights. They do a good job with that and win. Yay.
It irons out the irony. What makes this so frustrating is that there is a ton of irony inherent in that premise. Here’s why college debate teams are interesting: you don’t get to choose which side you argue. That gets randomly assigned. So what if the black team had been assigned the anti-civil rights side of the argument? Then you would have one hell of an ironic movie!
It would be super hard to want to do, of course, and they would balk, but then, after a few stern speeches from Washington, they would realize that this was their big opportunity. They would have to create devastating anti-integration arguments, proving that blacks weren’t the equal of whites...but the more they proved that blacks weren’t equal in theory the more their eloquence would prove that they were equal in reality!
At that point you could end the movie either way and it would still be powerfully ironic. With that ending in doubt, the whole movie would come alive. Instead, with the version they made, we know the whole time that there’s only one way to end it, unless they want to make it look like this whole integration business was a big mistake.
Pacific Rim has a similar problem. People control giant robots to fight giant monsters...What kind of people? Well, our hero is big strong meathead who’s pretty good at beating people up even without the world’s biggest pair of brass knuckles. Where’s the irony in that? (This is like Green Lantern, where the power of flight was granted to someone who already had the power of flight.)
So who should have been the hero of Pacific Rim? Well, you don’t have to look far. Every time Charlie Hunnam is on screen, the whole movie falls asleep, but the big subplot stars a cocky little tattooed geek-scientist played by Charlie Day, and every time he appears the movie suddenly comes alive. It shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that he should have been the hero: After all, the whole point is that it takes a lot of brain power to run the robots...so why not choose a little genius with a huge personality?
This would have made that misleading tagline come true: “To Fight Monsters, We Created Monsters.” In this version, we watch the power go to the head of this little dynamo now that he can finally kick ass for the first time, then we see him gradually realize that real combat requires military discipline and true humility! That sounds like a much better movie to me.