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.