9 Current Movie and Television Trends I Hate

We continue my list of current movie and television trends with the one who was destined to save us all…

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3. The Chosen One Complex and Everything Is Connected

The chosen one isn’t a new trend at all; it’s part of the heroes journey and a foundation of mythic storytelling. But in recent years I have found more stories being forced into this box, many in very awkward fashion.

Spider-Man has connected with young boys for many years, and part of the reason is that it could have happened to anyone. It’s a wish-fulfillment superhero story of a nerdy unpopular boy who gets bit by a spider which gives him super powers. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 adds a subplot that makes Peter Parker the chosen one — the only person in the world who could have became spider-man when bit by that radioactive spider.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were always the result of a mutant ooze, but in the Michael Bay-produced 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles they further connected reporter April O’Neil to the origin of the super-powered ninja vigilante group. Now, the turtles were the result of her father’s laboratory experiments. They like pizza because April once fed them pizza!

Somehow this “everything is connected” attitude is supposed to give the character more weight, and in return, make the audience more invested in their relationships and struggles. But this “everything is connected” storytelling makes it all feel too convenient, too obvious. It’s funny because screenwriters never want story beats to feel too coincidental or else the events and successes feel unearned, or like the result of a Deus ex machina. But the opposite is also true, and this is my feeling with “everything is connected”.

I’m a fan of stories where the guy or gal in the wrong place at the wrong time gets sucked into an unexpected adventure. For instance, the first Die Hard movie. Sure, maybe he has a certain set of skills that will help in this journey to make it interesting. But it isn’t pre-ordained. This kind of setup is more compelling to me than having the hero be the key to the entire threat, somehow genetically engineered to be the chosen one.

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4. Dramatically Killed Off Only To Come Back From The Dead

One of the lead characters, who we have grown to love, is killed off dramatically only to somehow come back from the dead before the end credits. This is another storytelling bit that has existed for millennia (maybe Jesus Christ was the first?), but I’ve noticed Hollywood has been overusing the trope a lot recently.

Its hard to give any examples of this one without spoilers, so the next paragraph will be in invisotext discussing some major blockbusters of the last few years. Highlight to reveal: The most recent and largest examples of this that come to mind are Star Trek Into Darkness, where James Kirk sacrifices his life to realign the warp core in the radioactive reactor chamber to save the USS Enterprise and crew, only to be brought back to life using Khan’s blood, which apparently has regenerative properties (how convenient). Some comic book movies to use this recently include Captain America 2 which featured the death of Nick Fury, revealed as a deception to take the character off the grid, or Guardians of the Galaxy, which featured the self-sacrifice of Groot to save the group. But Groot is replanted and regrown during the end credits button sequence. And there have been other movies I loved that have recently used this, like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which featured the apparent death of Caesar, only to be discovered later seriously wounded by the human leads. End invisotext.

Also note that a lot of superhero films have been using this trope recently, but to be fair, its been overused in the comic book source material so much that readers don’t even care when the latest superhero bites the big one. They’ll be back somehow, or maybe it was their secret clone that died?

I don’t have an issue with this swerve in particular, but when overused you begin to lose trust in the storyteller, and in future movies find yourself not invested in a dramatic death as much as you should be — because it’s probably not real anyway.

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5. Lets Go To China, For No Story Reason Whatsoever

If there is money in it, Hollywood will do it. Remember, it is show business. China only allows 34 foreign movies to be shown in theaters every year, with a preference for those movies that “fit Chinese ideology and use Chinese actors and locations.” Recently Hollywood studios have been tweaking their movies and adding Chinese actors in order to compete for the Chinese multiplex. They do this because there is big money to be made in China: $3.6 billion in 2013, nearly double any other cinema market outside of the US and Canada.

So when you’re watching Transformers: Age of Extinction and the story suddenly travels to Hong Kong for no real reason and starts to feature Chinese actors that seem shoehorned into the plot, this is why. And the result for Transformers 4 has been $301 million at the Chinese box office, more than the film made in the United States ($245 million) and almost a third of the film’s total box office receipts ($1.08 billion). Paramount worked this angle hard, even staging a reality show to find Chinese extras for the film.

Iron Man 3 also filmed scenes in China but those scenes were only featured in the international release of the film (which gave top billing to two Chinese stars, Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing).  Other films have done it as well. Chinese characters not in the novel were added to Salmon Fishing in Yemen and MGM changed the ethnicity of villains from Chinese to North Korean for the Red Dawn remake.

Being a Chinese co-production doesn’t always have a strange or negative effect on the movie, Rian Johnson’s Looper rewrote scenes to take place in Chinese locations and the film probably looks better because of it. And without the Chinese box office we’d likely never see a sequel to Pacific Rim, which was envisioned for Hong Kong before the Chinese co-production became a money play, and made $111 million in China. (That’s $10 million more than it made in the United States.)

Any diversification of actors in Hollywood movies is a good thing. God knows the major studios have a history of whitewashing — but casting should be done on its own terms and not on the basis of a Chinese government mandate. The result is not Chinese actors being given the opportunity to take on more important roles, but too often being employed in superficially created tacked-on side characters.

This is a tend that we will likely see more and more in the coming years, and it will be interesting to see just how many random scenes and characters will make it into films just to get a slot in the Chinese multiplex.

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