How to Fix: Guardians of the Galaxy II

Damn, what a missed opportunity.

I enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and hoped the second would be more snarky fun.

Instead, it’s a stiff, nonsensical mess.

What Went Well

The fight scenes and set pieces are absolutely stunning. I mean just gorgeously filmed, with excellent special effects, and clever shots.

The soundtrack was similarly inspired. Any Cat Stevens fan is a friend of mine.

Zoe Saldana continues to do great work with slight scripts. And Kurt Russell was a great choice for Ego.

What Went Wrong

Ye gods, so much.

Almost everything feels stiff and forced. The weird sniping between Rocket and Peter is overwrought and comes out of nowhere. The opening credits sequence with Groot is cute but completely drains the background fight of any tension. The feud between Gamora and Nebula feels rushed and shot through with bad timing, from the “not ripe” yaro root joke that falls flat to Nebula’s kamikaze run entrance that has absolutely no effect on anything else that’s happening.

So many things seemed designed to drain the events of any meaning. Yondu loses his control-hawk, but it doesn’t matter because he gets it back within a day of getting captured. The Sovereign tracks them across the galaxy, but it doesn’t matter because their pilots are so bad they can be held off by one ship while Peter flies around asking for tape. It doesn’t even matter that they “kill” so many Sovereign pilots, since their ships are all remote-controlled drones. Nebula takes out Yondu for a bit, but it doesn’t matter (in the sense of her becoming the new captain) because the writers want to make jokes about Taserface.

Then there’s the big, gaping, passive hole at the center of the story.

Peter’s relationship with his dad is supposedly at the heart of the plot, but there’s no tension there, either. Peter is never forced to choose anything, he just gets carried along with events. He meets his dad, and just goes along home with him. He finds out his dad is evil, and then immediately is forced to go along with his plans (until rescued by his friends).

There’s no drama, no moment of choice anywhere. It’s just one set piece after another, all of which we know the Guardians will come out on top for, until credits roll.

How to Fix It

We start with the spine of the story: Peter and his encounter with Ego. We strip out the parts that add fake tension: he killed Peter’s mom, he smashed his walkman, etc. We take out the forced usage of Peter as a battery.

Instead, we push Peter into a terrible choice: his father or his friends.

Maybe Ego is dying, and only Peter can save him by staying on the planet and serving as a second battery. Or maybe Ego promises Peter he can bring his mother back, if only he helps him “recharge” by overtaking those planets he’s placed seeds on.

Either way, we need the climax of the story being Peter making a choice. He needs to be forced to choose either the father he never knew, or the ragtag family he’s assembled on his own. We need to see both choices as something Peter could do. Whatever he chooses, he’s going to lose something.

And then we can echo that conflict out to the other plotlines. Nebula can still take out Yondu, but then have her take over the control of the Ravager ship. She jettisons Yondu and Rocket out of an escape pod; they’ll have to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, she’s decided to take the ship and track down Gamora, for her revenge.

When she arrives, it’s in the middle of the battle between Ego, Peter, the other Guardians, and the Sovereign. And Nebula will have a choice: to protect her sister, or to stand by and watch her fall.

Meanwhile, Yondu and Rocket are facing a choice of their own. Having hobbled over to a nearby star system to lick their wounds, they have to decide what to do next. Yondu tries to induce Rocket to join him as a Ravager, saying something to the effect of “this is where you belong.” They can steal a ship, and then keep stealing, for as long as they want. No Peter to keep them from grabbing a few batteries when they want.

But then they see news of the Sovereign fleet heading to Ego’s planet, and they realize their choice could mean all of their friends will die.

Finally, we need to fix the character of Mantis. Currently, she’s Ego’s plaything. Her role in the story is to be a love interest for Drax. She doesn’t affect the story in any way, or have any choice she has to make.

So let’s give her one. Make her one of The Sovereign, a mutant named Bug that the gold people think of as a mistake. She stows away on the Guardian’s ship to get away from the home where everyone hates her. Drax discovers her during the initial fight with the Sovereign, and decides to take her under his wing.

The rest of her storyline can play out normally from there, with one twist: during the final battle, she gets contacted by the Sovereign command with an offer: betray the Guardians, and earn a hero’s welcome back home.

More than polishing up the dialog, or making the actors do more takes until it feels natural, or dropping the weird cameos from Howard the Duck and the Watchers, it’s these changes that will push the movie into a meaningful, purposeful shape.

How to Fix: Rogue One

What Went Wrong

Almost everything. From casting, to story, to editing, this movie is a step backwards for the Star Wars franchise.

Let’s start with the protagonist. Throughout the movie, she is almost completely passive. I don’t know if the actress is any good or not, because most of her screen time consists of her gazing gratefully at the men that are doing things for her.

Compare this with Rey, who we see surviving just on her wits and her skills in her first few minutes of screen time.

An example of how blatant her passivity is: in one scene, there’s a glorified claw game that needs to be manipulated. Not difficult, certainly something that anyone with any manual dexterity at all could use. But rather than grab the controls herself, and execute the mission we’re supposed to believe she passionately wants to succeed, she hangs back and let’s the nameless guy next to her take over.

Her actions are just one piece of the story that’s problematic. At several junctions, characters make decisions that are out of step with what we know about them, and don’t make sense within the world as a whole. Why assassinate an enemy scientist, when you could capture them? Why send a signal to a fleet that you’re on the planet surface, when the reason they’re there is because they know you’re on the surface?

Why film a 2-minute scene with one of the classic villains of cinema, just for him to throw puns?

Perhaps the film as shot would have better explained all of these inconsistencies. But the edited film is so choppy, so eager to hop from place to place and set of characters to set of characters, that it becomes a confusing mess. We never spend enough time with the protagonist to care about her, or any of her companions (save for two, which I’ll get to later).

Again, I can’t help but contrast it with Episode VII, which used long takes and wide establishing shots to give us a sense of mood and place. And for the protagonist, it takes its time letting us know who she is, following her for a day before the main storyline gets going.

We get no such chance to learn about the protagonist of Rogue One. Only 2 min scene followed by 2 min scene, emotional beats chopped off at the wrist, ad infinitum.

How To Fix It

The real tragedy to me about this movie is that the core story is fantastic: Imperial scientist is working for them against his will, and instead of collaborating, uses his position to undermine them from within. Daughter finds out, and decides to mount a rescue. In doing so, she has to “go rogue,” rebelling against the rebels to get what she wants.

That’s a great story. It directly addresses the moral problems in the Star Wars universe, where we’re supposed to celebrate the destruction of a battle station on which hundreds of thousands of people were living and working. Were they all worthy of death?

Unfortunately, that story has been buried underneath disconnected characters, sloppy editing, and a tension-free plot.

We need to make some major plot tweaks, trim several characters, and bring the focus back to the central character.

We open by fleshing out the party scene that was a 10-second fuzzy flashback in the film. It’s a good-bye party for her dad, one last night of drinking and dancing in his Imperial uniform before moving out to farm country. Jyn’s sneaking downstairs to grab some extra dessert after bedtime, mostly oblivious to the dialog between her father and the Director (who is trying to convince him to stay, ribbing him about getting his hands dirty, etc). She gets caught, of course, giving her father a chance to sweep her up in arms and dote on her, calling her by her nickname.

Right away, we establish that we’re going to humanize the Imperials a little, and that our protagonist’s allegiance might be ambiguous.

Next we show the family at work on the farm, years later. Jyn doing chores, eating with her parents.

There’s a knock on the door. It’s their old family friend, the Director.

Her father invites him inside, outwardly friendly but it’s clear there’s tension between them.

They talk. The Director pushes her father to come back to work. Says he can’t do it without him. When her dad refuses, the Director responds with a threat: “You won’t like it when I come back tomorrow. I won’t be alone.”

Her dad again refuses, and the Director leaves. Her parents stay up late, talking about what to do. They decide Jyn and her mom should leave at first light, heading to the shelter.

But when the Director returns the next day, with troops, as promised, they’re ambushed by a rebel squadron. Jyn and her mom flee as her dad is captured, but her mom is killed in the crossfire — by the rebels.

Jyn gets to the shelter, waits as she was told, where she’s found by Saw.

Now we’ve established a lot of backstory in just a few scenes: the ambiguous relationship her father has with the Empire, the dangers of living in a civil war, and why Jyn might hate the rebels as much as she mistrusts Imperials.

Next scene: Jyn a little older, running a scam for Saw. We learn Saw is a scoundrel, one of those living just outside the law that sometimes help the rebels, sometimes the Imperials, as suits them. She returns home, flush with cash, when she sees a rebel leader leaving. She confronts Saw, finds he’s been helping the rebels out, sometimes without pay. Angry that he’s working with those that killed her mother, she strikes out on her own, leaving Saw’s home and his friends.

So now we have more backstory, another layer to Jyn’s personality. And we’ve introduced Saw, and know who he is and what he’s doing in the movie. We care about both, the protagonist and her surrogate father. We can take either side in their argument, and feel justified.

Next we see Jyn, a little older now, committing another theft. She gets caught this time, and sentenced to a labor camp for her crimes. It’d be nice if we could see an example of swift-but-cruel Imperial justice here. It would give the audience a reason to lean toward the rebel side later on.

The rebels attack the prison transport, freeing everyone, including her. Most of her fellow prisoners are rebels, but she curses them. They restrain her, take her back to base — can’t let her go, she’ll run right to the Imperials and give them away — where they find out who she is, and her connection with Saw.

Saw, it turns out, is their only connection with a mole deep inside the Emperor’s Death Star project. The mole’s used Saw to pass intelligence to them for years. Saw’s holding the last message for ransom, though. He says it’s too important to let go without getting properly paid for it.

The rebels make Jyn a deal: if she meets with Saw, and negotiates a fair price, they’ll let her go.

She agrees. They assign her Cassian and the droid as her minders (jailers), and send her off.

She still meets Chirrut and Baze, but not as strangers. She knows them both, because she grew up on their planet. They know where Saw is, and readily take her there (after disposing of the Stormtrooper patrol that tries to grab them).

Notice: we don’t need any backstory on Cassian, or the pilot, or any mysterious goons working for Saw that capture them. Since everyone knows each other, we can spend more time showing what matters. Also, the stakes are higher, because these characters all have relationships with each other.

We also don’t need any scenes showing Director Krennic and his problems. Why do we care? It’s enough to see the Death Star looming over the horizon, and firing on the city. We can find out later they did it just to test-fire it.

So, we have Jyn reunited with Saw. This scene is filled with tension now: will he welcome her back? Will she put aside her antipathy for rebels long enough to get free?

And: what’s the message Saw’s holding on to?

Saw is glad to see her, still feels guilty for letting her go. Won’t stop working with the rebels, though. He’s seen too much of the Imperial yoke to want to wear it forever. Jyn says she doesn’t want to negotiate, that her jailer should do that.

Saw tells her negotiating won’t be necessary. Because the message is for her.

That’s when he takes her back and plays it for her. She hears her father for the first time in years, explaining how he was taken from her, and how he’s been working against the Empire from within.

This scene is the turning point of Act One. The moment when Jyn starts to have something to live for besides herself. And when she starts tilting toward the rebel side.

We still have the Death Star blow up the town, and Saw’s people have to leave. He doesn’t hang back to commit a pointless suicide, though.

Instead, the pilot kills him.

We don’t know anything about the pilot at this point. We’re told he defected, and so Cassian breaks him out of jail when things start collapsing around them. He breaks off from the group, though, and finds Saw gathering some last-minute things to take with him (including the message from Jyn’s dad).

The pilot shoots Saw, then hurries to the transport. Tells everyone Saw died under a pile of rubble. Too bad the message was lost.

Because the pilot’s a double agent. The Emperor’s set one of his classic traps for the rebels: give them what they think they want, but be there to snatch it away at the last minute.

Now we’ve got a reason for the pilot to matter, for the audience to care about him. And to worry about Jyn’s survival.

They get back to the rebel base, where they’re assigned to go fetch Jyn’s dad, now that they know he’s the mole.

Cassian still gets secret orders, but they’re to kill her father only if it looks like he’ll be captured and interrogated by the Imperials. Since he’s been their mole for so long, if they fail to get him out, the Empire can learn exactly how much they know, and change it so their knowledge is useless.

They get there, stage a rescue, but it all goes bad when Imperials bomb the place. The pilot, forced off his vantage point by Cassian (who was readying his sniper rifle), used the opportunity to sneak off and radio them what was going on.

So no Director Krennic, but we still have Cassian make a choice not to kill Jyn’s dad, when it’s clear the mission has failed and the Imperials know about their mole. He and Jyn still have a fight as they take off in a stolen shuttle, but this time it’s him as the only rebel against her crew of rogues, instead of Jyn the captive against a group that Cassian leads.

When they get back, there’s more reasons for Jyn to abandon the rebel cause. She makes her case to the Council — shrunk to just a dozen people, instead of seemingly everyone in the rebellion crowded into one room — but they decide not to go after the Death Star plans. They want to prep for a conventional assault on the station, they don’t want to waste people and resources on a likely suicide mission with dubious benefit.

She’s crushed, wondering what to do, when Mon Mothma takes her aside. She can’t give her any official backing, she tells Jyn, but she can see that she gets off the base safely and has access to enough equipment to pull off her raid to get the Death Star plans.

So there’s hope. Jyn gathers her crew — the defecting pilot, the two temple priests from her childhood — and starts prepping the raid. Cassian comes to her, asking to be part of it, to prove to her that he can be trusted.

She agrees, and her crew is complete. There’s no group of redshirts going with them. They’re going in stealthy and quiet, using the pilot’s knowledge of the facility and her ability to get into places she shouldn’t to pull it off.

One more change: as they’re stealing the shuttle for their mission, and asked for the call sign, she tells the pilot: “Tell them our call sign is Rogue. Rogue One.” It’s a symbol of her independence, her refusal to submit to authority of any kind, no matter how seemingly benign. She’s on the rebel side, for now, but she’s not really a rebel. She’s a rogue.

When they get to the planet, things still go pear-shaped. The pilot betrays them again, radioing Darth Vader that the rebels are there.

His betrayal turns out to be a boon, though: since he’s connected them to the Imperial network, they’re able to get a signal to the rebel fleet that they’ve gotten the tape, and they should send a ship into orbit to receive the transmission.

So we still get our space battle, with the rebels sending in more and more ships to both get the plans and then try to get their people off the surface (which is the real reason they need to drop the planet’s defense shield). We still have Jyn’s squad being picked off one by one, as they race against time to both get the plans and get them transmitted off-world.

But having spent so much more time with them, as a group, we care more. The victory — their victory — comes at a high price.

How to Fix: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

What Went Wrong

Man, this movie tried to pack it all in. Dark wizards, magical creatures, conflict between governments and the individual, romance, the tension between preserving wild beasts and keeping people safe. It feels like they didn’t think they had enough material for a single movie, so they stuffed it with extras to try to fill it out.

Unfortunately, they had enough material for at least three movies. Stuffing them all into the same film just squeezed them all so they couldn’t breathe.

But we can fix that.

How to Fix It

Break it up into three different movies.

There’s at least three plots I can see that could carry their own films. First, there’s Scamander and the gang searching for the fantastic beasts that escaped from his bag. Second (the least-fleshed-out plot), there’s Langdon Shaw (son of the newspaper man) and his attempts to impress his father with a big scoop. Finally, there’s Graves and his hunt for the obscurus’ host.

Each one of these could easily be their own movie. It would give us more time with all the characters, allow their relationships to deepen, and give more time to setup Graves as a friend that betrays Scamander and the gang, instead of leaning on “oh that’s Colin Farrell, he’s definitely the bad guy.”

So how would we fill out each of these plots, to make them a full movie?

The first plot doesn’t really need anything. Having Scamander come to New York and meet the other main characters while trying to re-capture his fantastic beasts is enough. This time, though, we make Graves a friend of the group, someone who understands them and argues with the President (who is the antagonist for this first film) for leniency.

Of course, Graves is only doing it because: a) he wants to use Scamander’s knowledge for his own ends, and b) the beasts in question are illegal, and anyone willing to break laws is a potential ally of his.

Also this way, we don’t have to have Kowalski lose all knowledge of Queenie. We can give them a proper happy ending, with them starting a secret romance.

The second plot needs the most filling out. We already have a hook to get it started, though: Scamander comes back to New York to hand-deliver his book to Tina. While there, they go to see a circus, where there just happens to be a magical creature that’s been captured. It’s on display as something other than it is, and everyone thinks it’s fake.

But: Shaw’s son suspects it might be real, and starts investigating. Meanwhile, Scamander and Tina are arguing because he wants to rescue the magical beast, while Tina (and her bosses) want to keep it under wraps, for fear of revealing magic to society at large.

Eventually, the creature escapes, forcing all four of the gang to join forces again to track it down and trap it before it causes so much damage that Shaw’s son gets his scoop. After they succeed, we get to see Scamander’s mass obliviate trick (just not the whole city, that’s ridiculous). Shaw’s son, frustrated and angry at being embarrassed in front of his father, stumbles upon the Second Salem group, who tell him what he’s come to suspect: witches live among us.

The third movie is the hunt for the obscurus. Scamander is again visiting Tina — maybe to ask her to marry him? — when Creedance’s powers start to spin out of control. This time, when Senator Shaw is murdered, we’ve got a lot more invested in the newspaper family, and Langdon’s step forward with the “solution” for his father will carry a lot more emotional weight.

We get the same climax, the same reveal of Graves as the villain, etc. But now we’ve spent three movies with all these characters, and everything that happens means more.

How to Fix Deadpool

This movie was surprisingly good. I’ll admit I know nothing about the comic book character aside from his appearances in Squirrel Girl. But it felt like Ryan Reynolds has been working his whole life to be able to play this role, and it fits him like a leather gimp superhero suit.

There’s actually nothing to fix here. Honest. It’s funny, irreverent, and personal, exactly what it needed to be.

Nothing to fix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Went Wrong

Ok, you got me. There’s one thing that bothered me: it got a little cliché at the end.

Vanessa getting kidnapped because the bad guys can’t find Deadpool, I understand. Vanessa getting tied up, I understand. But Vanessa helpless until Deadpool can rescue her? Felt too typical, too normal, for any movie, let alone one that was going out of its way to be different.

How to Fix It

Rather than push Vanessa’s character into damsel-in-distress mode, I’d prefer her to escape on her own. Preferably, via her mutant powers.

There’s a perfect moment, after we first see her tied up, and then Deadpool shows up. The villains’ backs are turned while they banter with Deadpool. That’d be a great moment for Vanessa to suddenly color-shift, and then become invisible.

When the villains turn back to sneer at her, she’s gone. They pop open the container, wondering how she escaped, but then get distracted again by Deadpool.

She uses the fight to wriggle her way free of the constraints, then hides, coming out to deliver her sword blow to the villain just when needed.

It’s a small change, but giving her a mutant power — one that she’s presumably kept from Deadpool — gives her character a little more depth, a little more mystery, and letting her use it to free herself is both more in line with her character (strong and independent) and subverts the clichéd ending.

How to Fix Captain America: Winter Soldier

I loved this movie when it came out. It was interesting, well-paced, and felt like it did justice to all of its characters, no matter how minor. Not to mention the events of this movie aren’t just taken seriously, they pushed the ongoing MCU TV series and movies in a different direction.

But re-watching the movie revealed a few flaws.

What Went Wrong

In a word: cinematography.

The camera is moving throughout the movie, jostling and shaking back and forth constantly. Its particularly egregious in most of the fight scenes, where the trembling camera combines with super-quick cuts and bad framing to render them illegible.

The scene where Black Widow and Captain America are sitting talking inside Falcon’s house? The camera constantly dips down and tilts, so that different parts of Black Widow’s head are in frame every couple of seconds. What did the shaky-cam bring to this scene?

It seems the camera only stands still for the CGI shots, like when the heli-carriers are taking off near the end of the film.

How to Fix It

Simple: stop shaking the camera. We’ve had the technology for shooting movies in a stable fashion — even action scenes, mind you — for a few decades. Use that.

We’ve also got to reframe most of the shots of the movie. The sequence where the Winter Soldier, Cap, and Black Widow are all fighting around an overpass is in particular need of a re-shoot. Most of the shots are at odd angles, with any background that could help orient the action completely out of frame.

This is a great movie. It deserved to be shot clearly, without the headache-inducing edits that chopped movies like Quantum of Solace into a boring mess.

How to Fix Thor

I’ll admit it. My wife and I are re-watching all the Marvel movies in preparation for Civil War.

Like Iron Man 2, Thor is mostly good. On this re-watch, Loki came across as more of a tragic figure to me, a son trying to prove his worth to his father, but choosing the wrong way to do it. Thor grappling with his newfound weakness on Earth is still my favorite section of the movie (I’m a horrible person, and laugh every time Jane hits him with her car).

But there’s one glaring weakness in the film: Thor’s Asgardian friends

What Went Wrong

I don’t list them by name, because, well…can you remember their names? Or really, anything about them?

Sure, one is female and one is big and hairy and one is Asian and one is dapper. But that doesn’t tell us anything about them as people, as characters and personalities.

We never get a sense of them as individuals, and we don’t get a sense of them as a team. As a result, every scene with them in it lacks emotional weight. We simply don’t know who these people are, or why they’re friends, and we don’t care.

This is important because several key points of the movie involve them: the expedition to Jugenheim, their betrayal of King Loki, the fight against the Defender in the Earth town. Leaving these characters as bare sketches, as stereotypes, lowers the stakes in all of these scenes, weakening the movie as whole.

How to Fix It

Intro Thor and his team by showing them on a mission. Something small, but enough to see them in action and solidify their camaraderie.

We should see each of them exhibit their abilities. Using the Big One’s gregarious personality and Loki’s lies, the two of them talk the group past some guards. The Asian One and the Dapper One do some scouting, which requires them to scale some stone walls and do a little acrobatics. The Female One sticks by Thor’s side, stopping him just as he’s about to step on a trap. Thor can lost his temper halfway through the mission, putting them all in danger and causing his team to bail him out of trouble.

It doesn’t need to be long, just enough to give us a sense that these people have been working together for a long time, they trust each other (mostly), and they’ve all good unique histories. Maybe each one is from a different world, and so they can all give us some sense of how the Nine Realms work together?

To make room for it, we drop the intro sequence about the war with the Frost Giants. It’s confusing, it’s backstory, and we don’t need it. We do need to see Thor’s team in action.

The mission sequence also gives us a chance to show Thor’s second of three strikes. Odin welcomes them home after the successful completion of their mission (it’s the reason for the celebration in the beginning) but chastises them for taking a risk, etc. He can mention a previous (recent) strike, one that Thor thinks of as an adventure, but Odin sees as a mark of his immaturity.

We still have the Frost Giants sneak attack in the middle of this, and the Defender does its job. But now Thor and Loki get to ask what they were after, and Odin gives them the history, but abbreviated, and without the Earth piece.

With that change, the stakes are higher throughout the movie. When Thor goes to Jotunheim, we understand that he’s disobeying his father again, and dragging his team — who we know and care about — along with him. When Thor starts fighting, we understand that not only has Thor put peace between the worlds at risk, he’s put his team in danger, since we just saw Odin warn them against crossing him a third time.

We totally understand when Odin appears and takes them home, then yells at Thor and takes his hammer. It’s the culmination of a chain of events, not a father suddenly turning abusive because his kid stayed out past curfew.

And when Thor’s friends face off against the Defender, we care a lot more. They’ve broken the terms of their freedom in Asgard to find their friend, only to discover he’s no longer the strong fighter he was. The fight against the Defender will likely be their last, but they’ll fight it together.

How to Fix Iron Man 2

Re-watched this one over the weekend, and it holds up better than I remember. Rourke’s villain is still over-the-top, and Rockwell’s industrialist is so sleazy and incompetent it’s hard to believe he’s in charge of anything, let alone a large company.

But overall this is a fun movie, despite dealing with heavier subjects, like Stark’s relationships with Pepper, Rhodey, and his mortality.

A few things could have been done to make this movie even better, though.

What Went Wrong

Because of the noise generated by the villains, the emotional beats can get lost.

At the end of the movie, we think that Pepper Potts is giving on being CEO, and Tony’s going to take over. This undermines the sense of Pepper as being the more competent of the two, and is misleading: Tony doesn’t return as CEO.

We also think his best friend stole one of the Iron Man suits just to punish Tony for getting drunk at his birthday party, which makes him seem petty and mean.

How to Fix It

During the fight between Rhodey and Tony at the birthday party, we need to hear Rhodey lecture Tony about his other lapses. We need a sense that this is the last straw for Rhodey, that Tony — because he’s dying — has been neglecting his duties as Iron Man. Getting drunk while in the suit at his party is just his latest shirking of responsibility to Rhodey, and it’s gotten bad enough that he finally just takes one of the suits, instead of waiting for Tony to step up.

For the Potts plotline, all we need is for Tony to talk about how good she is at the job. He can drop a compliment into his failed apology when he brings her the strawberries. The comment bounces off her anger, of course, and rightly so, but it’ll reinforce the idea that she’s the right CEO.

Then, on the roof scene, instead of offering to resign, Pepper should ask how *he* dealt with all the stress. She can talk about how it’s worse for her, since she has to worry about him, too, but she doesn’t even come close to quitting. Instead, this is a moment for Tony to support her emotionally, telling her she’s doing great, she’s better at it than he was, and she’ll make it through.

Small changes, but they’ll underline the emotional parts of the story, and strengthen what is already a good movie.

How to Fix Spectre

Such a disappointment.

What Went Wrong

The entire film is pure formula. Intro is an action sequence where Bond kills someone. Following scene is him seducing an informant — who is never seen again — followed by Bond fighting with M over his rogue methods. This is followed by Bond seducing another woman, getting tortured by the villain and then shrugging it off, more fighting scenes, the woman’s in love with Bond, cue credits.

How completely boring.

How to Fix It

Instead of playing to formula, we’ll subvert it at every turn.

Take Dr Swann. As written and cast, she’s just another young Bond girl. So we’ll recast her, putting Amy Purdy — Paralympian snowboarder and double amputee — in the role.

We’ll introduce her much earlier, putting her on the ground in Mexico City, where she’s on the trail of the group that’s trying to kill her father.

Bond’s there, too, but they’re working at cross-purposes. His mission is surveillance, but hers is assassination. The chase across Mexico City is in part a race between the two of them, a race that Swann wins.

Bond spends the rest of the first half of the movie one step behind Swann. When they meet, it’s not like two potential lovers chatting over coffee, it’s two fierce competitors battling it out.

Our mid-point reveal is now multi-faceted. We reveal Swann’s prosthetic legs, and that getting them for her is the reason Mr White joined Spectre in the first place. She reveals her mission to Bond, who realizes his personal vendetta and hers are aligned. Reluctantly, they join forces to go after Blomfeld and take down Spectre.

Here we subvert another expectation: Blomfeld is actually the widow from the first half of the movie.

Bond still goes to the funeral, but the widow gently puts him off when he tries to seduce her. On his way out, Bond sees Swann, and goes chasing after her, and so forgets about the widow.

But in one of the final scenes — say when Bond and Swann crash a party held at a chalet high in the Alps that they hear Blomfeld will be at — he sees the widow again.

They flirt this time, playfully, with Bond clueless as to who she really is. That is, until someone else passing by greets her by name.

Bond naturally readies for a final showdown, but Blomfeld laughs at the idea. Why would she want to kill him? He’s been doing great work for her so far.

She proceeds to outline how well Bond has helped her: how his pursuit of low-level thugs has weeded out her weaker minions, leaving the organization stronger (Casino Royale). How he failed to prevent her gaining control of vast quantities of water rights in South America (Quantum of Solace). How he took down a thorn in her side who was trying to take over her computer systems (Skyfall).

She has no reason to kill him, since he’s been helping her all along. Even the MI5/MI6 merger has been good for her, since she only needs half as many moles as she used to.

She turns to leave, but runs right into Swann. Swann, of course, has every reason to want Blomfeld dead: for first ruining her father’s life, and then killing him.

A fight ensues, Blomfeld flees, Bond and Swann give chase. We get a great sequence of them skiiing and snowboarding down the slopes at night, Bond clumsy, Swann graceful and Blomfeld desperate. They finally corner Blomfeld against a cliff, where Swann, overcome with rage, pushes her off.

Both Bond and Swann sigh with relief, thinking its over, that they’ve put their ghosts to rest. But when Bond returns to London, Q tells him of a message he intercepted: of a meeting being called between Spectre’s remaining seven heads. They’ve injured the organization, but they’ve not taken it out.

How to Fix Revenge of the Sith

Almost done with the prequels. Thankfully this is the best of three, though given the generally low standards of the first two that isn’t saying much.

What Went Wrong

I’d be remiss if I didn’t once more point to the most comprehensive take down of these movies.

Most of the problems with Revenge of the Sith are carryovers from mistakes made in the first two movies, emotional beats that fail to land with as much impact as they should because the foundation work for them hasn’t been done.

For example, Padmé and Anakin’s romance should feel tragic, with Anakin’s concern for her driving them apart even as they try to keep their growing family a secret. But their interaction in Attack of the Clones was so still and formal, it’s hard to believe either of them would miss the other, except that the plot calls for them to. Instead, their “love story” feels like a piece of background that Lucas wanted slotted into place, as cold and unfeeling as a CGI’d starship.

Even Count Dooku’s death, which should be a pivotal moment, is treated so perfunctory that it feels trivial, just one more Sith slain by a righteous Jedi. No big deal.

How to Fix It

For starters, we need to make the changes I outlined previously, for the first two movies.

This means there’s no Count Dooku in this one. He died in Attack of the Clones, a tragic end for a renegade that thought he was doing the right thing.

We also have to continue rewriting the scenes between Padmé and Anakin. Two people in love, hiding their child from their superiors, should display a lot more fear and desperation than they do. We need to see their relationship deepen and grow, despite their need to keep it in the shadows.

It would help if we got some hint that Padmé made an effort to hide her relationship with Anakin. We should see her dating other men, or dropping hints that she was being courted by someone else, to deflect attention from the young Jedi that apparently spends every night in her quarters.

Ditto for Anakin. We need to see him lying to the other Jedi, making excuses and begging away from assignments that would make him leave the capital. We need to feel the danger that Anakin and Padmé are in, and how far they’ve already gone to maintain their relationship. So when we see Anakin slipping to the Dark Side in order to save her, its one more small step along the path that he’s been on for years.

We also need to see more tension between Anakin and Palpatine, preferably over Padmé. As a Senator that’s presumably alarmed at the direction the Republic is going, we should witness her at her work: campaigning for re-election (with Palpatine possibly campaigning for her rival), lobbying for support for bills from her other Senators (bills that would likely reduce Palpatine’s authority), giving interviews with the media to support her position.

All of this should make Palpatine grit his teeth, and Anakin should be constantly defending Padmé to the Chancellor. It’d be one more sign to the audience of his feelings for Padmé, and it would tip off Palpatine to the significance of Anakin’s devotion.

And once Palpatine realizes that, he decides to kill Padmé.

That’s the final change we make. The visions Anakin sees of Padmé dying are not of her “losing the will to live” — which is frankly insulting for such a headstrong character — but of Palpatine draining her life force.

We know Palpatine has manipulated the Jedi’s visions of the future before. He decides to kill Padmé, knowing the visions of her in danger will drive Anakin further down the path to the Dark Side.

His plan is originally to blame her death on the Jedi, pushing Anakin to break with them for good. But when he finds Anakin near death after his fight with Obi-Wan, he drains her life force and uses it to keep Anakin alive, in a single stroke sustaining his most powerful apprentice and sealing Anakin’s allegiance to him.

How to Fix Attack of the Clones

Another tall order. I like this one more than Phantom Menace, but it’s flaws are deeper, even if there aren’t quite so many mistakes.

Let’s dive in.

What Went Wrong

Again, I’ll refer you to the abundant literature on what’s wrong with this movie.

How to Fix It

There are two major changes we need to make, and a few minor ones. The major ones involve Count Dooku and the romance between Padmé and Anakin. The minor ones are shifts in emphasis that make the movie more interesting.

Let’s start with the assassination attempt on Padmé’s life, which leads to Obi-Wan and Anakin guarding her and makes the entire romance subplot possible.

The assassination makes no sense. They put it down to Padmé being the leader of the opposition, but the opposition to what? The Chancellor is from her world, so Naboo is basically ruling the galaxy at this point. How could she be part of opposing her own government?

There’s also no tension in that first explosion. We don’t know what’s happening, suddenly things are blowing up, and now we’re watching a scene that should be moving and sad between Padmé and her guard. Unfortunately, since none of the guards even have names in the last movie (or this one), let along personalities, none of this works.

The explosion needs to almost kill Padmé. We need to see her coming down the runway, and watch it blow up, and her vanish under a pile of rubble. They dig her out and get her to a hospital, where we learn that several leading senators have had unfortunate accidents in the last few months. None looked like assassination attempts, until now. That’s why the Jedi get involved: to solve a genuine mystery.

With this change, the confusion at the beginning adds to the tension. We care about Padmé, and we share her confusion at being targeted. Who is after her? Why are they targeting Senators? We want to know, so we want to watch the rest of the movie.

This leads directly into our first major change: the romance between Padmé and Anakin.

It has to be entirely rewritten, from start to finish. Anakin spends the first part of the movie glowering at Padmé like he wants to take her in the basement and do weird things to her with a pair of pliers. He spends the second half glowering at her like she’s just hit his favorite puppy. All of that, along with the lines about “teasing the Senator” and “I hate sand” and everything else, all need to go.

Instead, their feelings for each other should be a surprise to both of them. They should remember each other, and be friendly — but nothing else — at the start. As they flee Coruscant, they reminisce about their adventures from the first movie, and catch up on what’s happened in their lives since then (this sharing will also catch up the audience, filling in details on how Palpatine has taken Anakin under his wing and why Padmé gave up being Queen to become a Senator).

Once on Naboo, among the beauty of her retreat, they both start to relax their guards, and discover they enjoy talking with each other, perhaps too much. This should climax with the kiss on the balcony, as a mix of everything their feeling: the danger they share, their past history, the way they can confide in each other.

The very next scene is Anakin having his nightmare about his mother and waking up in his room, sweating. We skip the fireside scene and its awkward “I’ve brought you into this incredibly romantic room to break up with you” vibe altogether.

Instead, we let their decision about their relationship be ambiguous. Neither of them has decided to take things any further than that initial kiss. They could still pull back and stay friends, stay loyal to the causes they’ve pledged themselves to. Or they could take the plunge together, and damn the consequences. It’s not knowing that adds tension to the scenes that follow.

Anakin doesn’t tell Padmé about his nightmare at first, but over breakfast that morning she pulls what’s wrong out of him. And when she hears, it’s *her* idea to go to Tatooine and look for his mother, not Anakin’s. He wants to keep Padmé safe on Naboo, and doesn’t want to put her in danger. She sees a chance to distract both of them from their feelings for each other, while helping out a friend (she might even feel her own debt to the woman that sheltered them on Tatooine and allowed her own son to risk his life to help them).

She wins the argument, setting them on their course towards the final third of the movie *and* reinforcing our impression from Phantom Menace of Padmé’s willingness to take risks.

Now instead of the stiffness of the kiss between Anakin and Padmé before they’re led out to the Coliseum to die, a stiffness that comes from it being a kiss with no risk behind it, a “might as well say this because it has no consequences” scene, it’s one of mutual discovery, of the two of them realizing that they do love each other, and deciding to act on it.

So that’s Padmé and Anakin sorted. Now for the last major change: Count Dooku’s role.

As written, he screams villain at every turn. He dresses all in black, he speaks in ponderous “I’ve got you now” style, and he’s played by Christopher Freakin Lee.

While I’m a Lee fan to my core, the character as written is completely uninteresting. He’s a cackling capital-V Villain in a trilogy that’s all about how good intentions can lead you astray, about how evil can masquerade as virtue, about how hard it is to tell what’s the right thing to do.

Dooku should be an earnest renegade. Instead of being Palpatine’s Sith apprentice, Dooku discovered that Palpatine was a Sith, and broke with the Jedi Council because of it. He didn’t tell them because he didn’t think they would believe him, or if they did that it would be because Palpatine had already corrupted them. He went from system to system, cobbling together an Alliance to fight Palpatine and bring down the Sith.

He’s behind the assassinations, but only because he thinks the Senators he’s targeting are in league with Palpatine. In Padmé’s case, it would make perfect sense for him to add her to the list: she’s from Palpatine’s homeworld, she helped him become Chancellor, and if Dooku looks into her future, he can see the rise of the Dark Side.

Dooku thinks he’s the good guy, doing something hard but necessary to fight a greater evil. We should see him as being very similar to Qui-Gon, if Qui-Gon had lived and disagreed more with the Jedi Council.

He doesn’t want to fight Obi-Wan when he captures him. He makes an earnest attempt to get Obi-Wan to join him, to help him overthrow the Sith that have taken control. The scene between them should be fraught with tension, and we should actually wonder if Obi-Wan will join the rebels at this point, especially once he realizes that Dooku is telling the truth. When he refuses, and Dooku sentences him to death, it should be with regret and reluctance, not relish.

All of Dooku’s scenes should be shifted to show the conflict within him. When Mace Windu shows up with the other Jedi, Dooku should be horrified, not triumphant. He doesn’t want to see the Jedi Order destroyed, but he can’t let them win, either. He’s in an impossible situation, and his dialogue with Windu should be a plea for his one-time friend to join him, to stop doing the bidding of the Sith.

All the way up to the final combat between Dooku, Obi-Wan, and Anakin, he should be trying to get out of the fight, trying to find a way to work with the Jedi instead of against them. His reluctance should be clear at every point, and it should be the Jedi that act as the aggressors, that push him into fighting them.

This will inject a sense of tragedy into each scene Dooku’s in: we know he’s only playing into Palpatine’s hands, even if he doesn’t, and we can see how the Jedi are blind to how they’re being manipulated as well. Dooku becomes a much more interesting character, and we should feel sorry for him when he dies.

That’s the last change we need to make to the movie: Dooku should die at the end.

He should still take Anakin out early, by lopping off his right hand. He should still fight Obi-Wan off, and then move to escape. But Yoda stands in his way, blocking his path.

Here, Dooku refuses to fight his old master. He’s lost his way, but he’s not a Sith. He won’t go that far.

Trapped, he turns back to fight Obi-Wan, to see if he can get out a different way. Obi-Wan has gotten Anakin back on his feet, and together they manage to fight Dooku till he is on his knees, and disarmed. Helpless, he agrees to go back with them, to face trial and punishment.

Yoda turns to go back into their transport, and Obi-Wan as well. Dooku and Anakin are left alone for a moment.

This is when Anakin finds out Dooku was behind the assassination attempts. Dooku tells him as part of one last plea for mercy, for Anakin to help him, and as a warning about what he thinks Padmé will do. Instead, Anakin is enraged that Dooku would threaten Padmé’s life. Filled with anger, he kills Dooku.

Thus the movie ends with three things certain. Palpatine has grown so powerful that even the opposition to his rule is playing into his hands. Padmé and Anakin are going to act on their love while keeping it hidden. And that love, though unlooked-for and hard-won, is driving him towards the Dark Side.