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.

How to Fix The Phantom Menace

Stay with me on this one. Underneath all the Jar-Jar antics and the layer-cake of special effects is a good movie, I promise.

But there’s a lot of work we have to do to uncover it.

What Went Wrong

I don’t think I can add anything to the many others who have chronicled the movie’s shortcomings.

Let’s move on.

How to Fix It

Three major changes will do most of the heavy lifting for us.

First, Anakin needs to be older. Preferably pre-teen, say 11-12 years old. Just this one change by itself makes so much more of the movie make sense.

When Anakin meets Padmé for the first time, his lines are kind of creepy for a little kid. Make him a pre-teen, though, and suddenly he’s a very young man trying (and failing, horribly) to hit on an older woman.

The Jedi’s later remark that Anakin is “too old” to be trained is nonsense for a boy that looks no older than any of their younglings. If Anakin were 12, though, and already arrogant and head-strong, those objections would be sensible.

Second, we need a different motivation for the Trade Federation’s invasion of Naboo. I know, I know: the second movie gets bogged down in Senate procedure and no one cares. But that’s my point: the movie as written does a horrible job of making us care. The right explanation, embedded into the script, would go a long way to fix that problem.

Instead of some vague “trade dispute”, we should have a concrete problem. Naboo has an ore that gets mined by the Gungans and processed by the land-based Naboo into some material needed for making droids. Both the Trade Federation and a rival group buy that material from the Naboo and make their — rival — droids from it.

The Trade Federation comes to Naboo and asks them to sign an exclusive trade deal, so Naboo will only sell to the Trade Federation, which would give the Trade Federation a lock on the droid market.

Naboo refuses, of course, so the Trade Federation cranks up the heat: a blockade of the planet, cutting off all trade to the rest of the Galactic Republic. The Senate has to get involved at that point, since the Trade Federation are breaking the free flow of goods across the galaxy.

This is the dispute the Jedi fly in to resolve at the start of the movie: not a vague thing, but a concrete drama with greedy officials and brave (if naive) patriots facing off.

This scenario also sets up the “symbiont circle” between the Naboo and the Gungans that Obi-Wan talks about. Without the Gungans to mine the ore, the Naboo wouldn’t be able to refine it and sell it, generating trade. In return, the Naboo provide the Gungans both money — of course — and technology, by maintaining the systems that keep the Gungans underwater cities going.

The Trade Federation, with their invasion, break this circle. They not only take control of what industry the Naboo have, they start mining the planet themselves, using droids instead of Gungans.

This is why the Gungans have to flee their cities toward the end of the movie. No one is maintaining them — the Naboo are rather busy — and they’ve lost their main monetary supply. Not to mention all the extra drilling the Trade Federation is engaging in, to suck Naboo dry before the Senate can act.

Our final change is a series of small ones that add up to a big one: we need to shift both both Jar-Jar and Padmé’s roles in the story.

Jar-Jar needs a purpose. He’s a goofy-looking character that’s supposed to provide some comic relief, which is fine in theory, but he needs to serve some use for the other characters.

We should give him several things to do. To start, when he runs into Qui-Gon at the beginning, he should accidentally save the Jedi’s life: when they fall under the bot transport, Jar-Jar shields Qui-Gon from the heat of the transport’s engines using his large, floppy ears, keeping them both safe. When they leave the Gungan city to travel through the Planet Core, we should see Jar-Jar giving them directions, acting as their navigator. In their initial encounters with Trade Federation droids, Jar-Jar should take out a few, if clumsily and slowly. And when Qui-Gon goes hunting for parts on Tatooine, Jar-Jar should follow at a distance, unseen, “swimming” through the sand with just his eye-stalks showing, determined to keep watch over the human to whom he owes a life-debt.

Finally, Jar-Jar, not Anakin, should be the one locked in the fighter that ultimately — and accidentally — takes out the Trade Federation’s droid command ship. Taking Anakin to Naboo makes no sense, he’s too young (at any age) and should be left safely on Coruscant (perhaps under the watchful eye of Senator Palpatine?). Jar-Jar’s goofiness fits in perfectly with what happens in this sequence, and playing the hero here sets up his presence in the Senate later on.

Padmé’s scenes should all be shifted to show her headstrong, sometimes reckless, nature.

When the Queen and the Jedi are debating going to Tatooine, we should actually see the debate. Her Captain should make his case for not going, the Jedi should make their case for it, and the Queen should have her handmaidens weigh in. This last will frustrate the Jedi, so used to being obeyed without question, and give the fake Queen a chance to hear from the disguised Padmé what she should do.

And when Qui-Gon actually leaves the ship to search for parts, the Queen should send Padmé because he needs a translator: it turns out Padmé speaks Huttese. Instead of Qui-Gon playing reluctant tour guide to the handmaiden, we should reverse this. It’s Padmé who has seen poverty up close — which is perhaps why she ran for Queen in the first place — and the Jedi that has been coddled in the Inner Worlds. This change will give Padmé much more depth as a character, and reinforce the sense that maybe the Jedi are a little out of touch, a little too arrogant, to play their role properly anymore.

A final Padmé change: in the final assault on the palace, when she and her guard are pinned down by droids, *she* should be the one to shoot out the glass window and insist they winch up. It’d be a nice echo of Princess Leia’s garbage chute solution during her rescue, and again show us that Padmé is able to think sideways to get around problems.

With these changes, we take a movie that can be skipped without missing anything to one that is crucial to understanding the rest of the series.

Anakin, the young hotshot, both too old to be properly trained and too young to be left alone, shows both great potential and great risk.

The Republic is coming apart at the edges, its reach shortened and its ability to settle disputes peaceably in doubt.

Padmé’s recklessness in the pursuit of what she wants lets her reach her goal, but only at the cost of launching Senator Palpatine’s career as Chancellor, paving the way to his ascent to Emperor.

And the Jedi, assured and passive on the outside, are shown to have grown too insular, too used to their comfortable lives in the Inner Worlds to see the dangers to the Republic from within, or even to find a child as talented as Anakin in the Outer Rim.

How to Fix The Force Awakens

Don’t change a damn thing.

Seriously, I’ve seen the movie twice now, and will go in for a third as soon as I can. It’s gotten me excited about Star Wars for the first time in years (you can date my waning enthusiasm for the day The Phantom Menace came out).

I think it echoed the original trilogy without aping it, subverted it when it could, and updated the whole thing to the 21st century without being preachy about its progressivism. It’s an amazing feat, and I don’t know how they pulled it off.

Already looking forward to the next one.

How to Remake To Kill A Mockingbird

Rewatched To Kill a Mockingbird this weekend. My wife had never seen it, and I hadn’t seen it years.

Apparently my memory of the movie is vastly different from what’s actually there.

For example, I don’t remember Scout’s older brother, Jem, at all. Ditto Boo Radley and his plotline.

In my remembering, the movie is basically Scout and her father talking about the evils of prejudice, then a courtroom battle where Atticus defends Tom — accused because of his skin color, and nothing else — then wins the case, and everyone lives happily ever after.

This is not what happens at all. The movie spends most of its time following Scout and Jem, not in the courtroom. Atticus loses the case, and Tom commits suicide by cop. Boo Radley emerges from hiding to kill another man, and gets away with it because the Sheriff lets him off.

It’s a dark, dark movie, that deals head-on with many of the issues of its time: segregation, the struggle for justice in the face of prejudice, the failure of our system of government to protect minorities against the depredations of the majority.

So how could it be updated?

We could shift the court case from race relations to a different battleground: reproductive rights.

The courtroom case is part of the fallout from a divorce. The couple had two children normally, and was in the middle of trying to have a third with the help of a fertility clinic when they split. The husband wants to keep the multiple fertilized embryos they have from their time at the clinic, while the wife wants to have them destroyed.

Who will get custody of the embryos? Are they property, and so should be divided between the couple? Or are they children, and so should be given to the parent that will best care for them?

To keep things from getting two cliché, we put the husband and wife on opposite sides of the abortion debate as well. The husband is generally pro-choice, but will be tempted to argue that the embryos are children, and so destroying them would be murder. The wife is more religious, and inclined to be against abortion. But she’ll be pushed to argue that the embroys are just property, with a monetary value that she could pay as compensation to the father, so she can dispose of them as she wishes.

Our “Scout” and “Jem” are the couple’s existing two kids. Through them we see the fault lines through the town: the anti-abortion protestors that gather into a mob at one point to try to burn down the fertility clinic, the pro-choice groups that can’t decide whose desires — the man or the woman — should trump the other, the judge that doesn’t want to end up trying two cases for the same divorce.

Our Boo Radley subplot is a woman from the poor part of town that has just discovered she’s pregnant. She’s not married, and the father isn’t around anymore. Should she get an abortion? In the southern town they live in, that’ll mean a long, expensive trip to the nearest large city. But keeping the child will mean an even longer, painful pregnancy followed by a very expensive mouth to feed.

The conflicts in this remake will push on multiple issues: abortion rights, women’s rights, the way the law treats the wealthy (the couple that could afford fertility treatments) differently from the poor (the woman that can’t afford to keep or get rid of the baby).

None of the solutions will be obvious or straightforward, despite the rigid way these issues are usually viewed. In fact, by filming the remake in black and white, we can visually undermine the simplistic approach that’s usually taken.

Even when we try to frame the events in black-and-white, we end up with nothing but shades of grey.

How to Fix Jurassic World

What Went Wrong

Almost everything. Nothing makes sense: not the CEO that doesn’t care about business, or the way his employees in the lab can just hide information from the rest of the company, or the kids’ parents who shipped them off for a “family weekend” that didn’t include them. The plan to turn velociraptors into weapons is laughable, and the park’s lack of a plan to handle an escaped animal is criminal.

But the worst part of the movie is its treatment of Claire.

At the start of the movie, Claire is the hero. She’s a professional woman who doesn’t have time for children and knows it, who is struggling to find time for her sister’s kids — that were dumped on her, it’s clear she didn’t have any choice about the trip or its timing — and manage a multi-million dollar park, despite a CEO that doesn’t seem interested in business.

She’s surrounded by people that want her to give up and go back to a subservient female role. Her sister wants her to pop out some kids. Her boss wants her to stop caring about her job. Her subordinate (Owen) wants her to take his orders and his termination-worthy sexual harassment.

It’s clear that the movie wants us to find her off-putting at the start (they even dress her in white, for goodness sake, to emphasize her supposed frigidity). The intention is that as time goes on she’ll become more sympathetic, but only as she takes on a more traditional, more subservient, role: she takes off her outer clothing to expose her breasts (despite the chill of the evening), she accepts motherly responsibilities over her (frankly bratty) nephews, and she submits to Owen’s sexual advances.

But every step along the way is a loss of her agency. By the end of the movie, she’s the selfless, unambitious woman everyone wanted her to be, instead of the level-headed boss she was. She’s gone from hero to sidekick, from independent woman to love interest.

How to Fix It

There’s a lot that needs to change.

We’ll start with Claire. We gender-swap the company manager and animal trainer roles. Now Owen’s role — velociraptor-whispering wilderness bad-ass — is filled by a woman, and Claire’s role — overworking manager who’s lost their sense of wonder — is filled by a man.

The manager’s character arc shifts away from forcing an ambitious person to fit into a traditional gender role. Instead, the manager, in contact with the kids and the trainer, and getting to see more of “his” park than usual, rediscovers his sense of wonder. Through their adventures — which have to include some moments of peace and reflection now, instead of pure destruction and death — he reconnects with the reason he took the job in the first place. By the end of the movie, he hasn’t abandoned his career for a family, but the park’s creatures become more than just assets.

We also change up the villains, which will let us give the trainer the character arc that’s missing in the original version of the film.

The villains are animal rights activists that want to free the dinosaurs and return them to the wild. They’d planned to do the release at night while no one was at the park, but their leader (still played by Vincent D’Onofrio) convinces them to take advantage of the chaos of the I. Rex’s escape to move ahead of schedule.

Now instead of mustache-twirling military villains, we’ve got real people with real concerns — the treatment of the dinosaurs at the park, their restrictions on breeding, etc — that you could make sympathetic arguments for.

In fact, at the start of the movie, the trainer is sympathetic to their arguments, and perhaps has a fight with the manager about it. Over the course of the movie, though, as she sees the destruction caused by their actions, she rejects the activists’ extremism and comes to appreciate the balance between commerce and science that the park represents.

As for the CEO, we make him a Costa Rican native that was educated in the US before joining Hammond’s company. A real up-by-your-bootstraps guy, he cares about the business and making money, but he chose to build the park as a way of giving back to Costa Rica: the construction jobs, the tourist money, etc. Each one of the workers that dies is someone he knows, each one hits him hard because it’s one of his countrymen.

Finally, we need to change the kids. They’re no longer siblings, and they’re not here as part of a family “retreat”. Instead, the older kid is American and deaf, the younger is Costa Rican and autistic. Both are there as part of a therapy camp for disabled kids the CEO wanted to host.

The manager’s grumpy about the camp, since it’s more work for him. But the American deaf kid is his nephew; he got him into the camp as a favor to his sister.

As part of the camp, the kids are sequestered in a part of the park that’s herbivores-only. Within this safe zone, they can roam around inside the bubble cars as much as they want.

Most of the kids want to spend time outside of the bubbles, except for the autistic kid. He feels comfortable there, spends more time exploring in the bubbles than anyone else. This is how he finds a hidden route that leads to the velociraptor enclosure. He meets our trainer there, and develops a bond with the raptors.

He uses this bond later in the movie, when the raptors have turned against their trainer: it’s the kid that gets the raptors to back down, and gives the humans time to escape.

The deaf kid is too cool for most of the other kids — and can’t communicate with most of them, since he insisted on not having an interpreter — but the autistic kid finds a way to communicate with him using the HUD built into the bubble cars.

The two become friends. Eventually the autistic kid shows him how to get out from the confines of their camp, which is why they’re MIA when the I Rex vanishes, kicking off the trainer and manager searching for them.

It’s a lot of changes, but now we’ve got a movie where every character is sympathetic — even the villains — and they’ve all got story arcs that have them growing and changing over the course of the movie. And with the CEO knowing most of his employees, each death has meaning, each disaster is something personal. And since our antagonists are real people, causing real but preventable havok, we can end the movie with the park damaged but intact, having survived this attack, and the manager and CEO vowing to recover and rebuild.

We can do something that hasn’t been done in a Jurassic Park movie before: end on a note of hope.

How to Fix Avengers: Age of Ultron

What Went Wrong

There’s way too much crammed into this movie. We have to cover the twins’ origin story and the creation of Ultron, then build them both into credible threats, and then defeat them all. Oh, and we have to give time for cameos to every other hero in the Avengers’ solo movies?

There’s barely enough time to breathe in this movie, let alone let the main cast play off each other like they did in the first Avengers.

We get shortchanged on three fronts: the ensemble cast doesn’t get to interact enough, the villain doesn’t get to do enough to seem like more than a speed bump, and the twins have to info-dump all their backstory so you might care when one of them dies (I didn’t).

How to Fix It

Change the focus, and change the setting. Instead of trying to cover Ultron’s rise and fall, cover just his rise: his origin and initial defeat (but not destruction). And instead of flitting around the globe, keep the movie anchored at the castle they assault in the beginning.

Keeping the Avengers in the castle is easy: we let them find the scepter, but they can’t move it. Say its own power is being used to booby-trap it, so if they try to move it without disarming it it’ll blow up and level everything in a 10-mile radius. Stark and Banner will have to stay to study the scepter and disarm the bomb. The other Avengers will stay to guard them.

Meanwhile, the twins weren’t captured in the initial assault on the castle. They escaped and hid, so now they come out to strike at the Avengers, using Quicksilver’s speed for hit-and-runs that let the Scarlet Witch give the team disturbing dreams while they sleep.

We show their backstory by letting the Avengers discover it: they find a scrapbook in the twins’ former cell, filled with pictures of their parents and news clippings of the collateral damage caused by Stark weapons. This will give us some sympathy for the twins, and at the same time use Tony’s guilt over his company’s legacy to push him in developing Ultron.

From here, the beats play out much like the original movie: Ultron kills Jarvis and escapes to attack the team, only to be pushed into hiding. And where does he hide? Why, inside the Hydra machinery buried under the fortress. He uses it to build his new body, an army of android servants, and the giant engines he will activate to push up the ground under the castle (and surrounding town) to create his meteor.

Ultron and the twins never need to meet or collaborate. The twins have their own reasons for going after the Avengers, and don’t need to team up. But the effect of both pursuing their own ends will reinforce the feelings of dread the Avengers and their team start getting from the castle, which feels haunted: a gust of wind from a speedster whipping by, the flicker of a computer screen as Ultron hacks another system, waking up in a cold sweat from a horrible dream that you feel is a vision of a dark future.

All the while, this slow build gives us plenty of time for the characters to talk, to play off each other even as the team fractures under the Scarlet Witch’s influence.

Our climax brings everything out into the open: the twins reveal themselves at the same time that one of the Avengers stumbles across Ultron’s robot army. The Avengers are caught fighting on two fronts, until Ultron reveals the second part of his plan: the engines roar to life, lifting everyone off into the sky, threatening extinction for the human race, with the twins’ home town as ground zero.

The twins switch sides, Quicksilver sacrifices himself to help defeat Ultron, and they ultimately succeed in preventing the apocalypse, though they lose the scepter in the final blast.

But Ultron is not destroyed. A final shot shows the Cradle being hauled away on a truck crewed by Ultron’s robots, an ominous “Downloading” flashing on a display.

We leave the actual “Age of Ultron” and the creation of the Vision for a separate movie, so we can give that plot the time it deserves.

Aliens vs Predator: Which is the Better Movie?

A friend of mine last week insisted that Aliens was a better movie than Predator. Having fond memories of both of these movies from my younger days, I didn’t believe her at first. I thought the movies were very different but equally good sci-fi films.

I re-watched both movies to test her thesis, and man, was I wrong. Aliens is far and away the better movie, and not just because Sigourney Weaver can out-act the former governor.

Both movies turn out to be very similar to each other, but the writing and structure of Aliens is much better, much better.

How They’re Similar

Both movies follow a military team into an uncertain situation. This uncertain situation turns out to contain an alien threat.

The alien threat in both cases clearly outmatches the resources of the team.

Both squads have an Outsider Who Is In Charge along with them (Dillon in Predator, Burke in Aliens). This Outsider has a different moral code than the rest of the team, being concerned with either profit or enemy intelligence above everything else.

The original mission in both movies is supposed to be rescue, but we find out the team has been tricked, and they’re really there to advance the Outsider’s agenda.

The Outsider is karmically punished for their betrayal of the team by the alien threat.

The climax of both movies is a one-on-one fight between the protagonist and the main alien threat.

What Aliens Does Better

Almost everything.

The Team

Let’s start with the team, since that’s who we spend most of the movie with. This is supposed to be a tight-knit group of people who have worked together for a long time, and we’re supposed to root for them throughout. So the film needs to take every chance it has to communicate that to us.

Aliens succeeds. Its marines seem to actually like each other, and function as team. We get to see them joking and talking as they come out of hyper-sleep and while they’re eating before the mission briefing. They continue to banter using their radios as the mission starts (before things go haywire).

We also get a clear sense of the hierarchy and role for each member of the team: we know who the sergeant is, which people are carrying the heavy guns, who’s got the radar for spotting, etc.

Predator fails to do any of this. The members of the team don’t seem to like each other at all. We don’t see them bantering, but we do see them do some macho posturing, which is not a substitute.

What’s more, none of the team members really seem to have a clear role. They all carry basically the same weapons, they don’t work in groups, and they all have the same skills.

The one exception is Billy, the tracker, but he’s so close to the “wise Native American hunter” stereotype that it doesn’t serve to flesh out his character, it just makes him more of a caricature.

The Betrayal

Next, the “turn” or “betrayal” moment, when we find out the Outsider has tricked the team.

In Aliens this is a real betrayal. Burke locked two of them in with an alien in the hopes it would impregnate one of them, and was ready to kill the others so he could take off on his own (with the alien and its host). The Outsider turns out to be a real threat to the team, and there’s conflict generated both in overcoming his betrayal and deciding how to punish him for it.

Predator‘s betrayal is much lower key. The team’s capture of the rebel camp seems effortless, with not much risk to any of the team members. Dillon’s betrayal is just an ulterior motive for getting in the camp. He never directly puts anyone’s lives in danger, and so the protagonist’s treatment of him feels overblown and melodramatic. There’s no real punch to it.

It would have been much better to make Dillon’s betrayal more serious. Imagine if Dutch’s team made it to the camp only to find that everyone was dead, with Anna the only survivor. She won’t talk, but they decide to take her back with them anyway. As they head back to the evac point, the team start getting picked off by the Predator. Eventually only Dutch, Anna, and Dillon are left.

Dillon finally confesses what’s really happening: he knew about the Predator, and contracted Dutch’s team under false pretenses because his first pick got wiped out by the alien. He wants to capture it, which is why he hasn’t been shooting to kill when he sees it. He’s ready to admit that he was wrong, though, and wants to help kill it so they can all get home.

Now Dutch has got a real moral problem: should he trust Dillon and work with him to defeat the predator? Or should he punish him for betraying his team and getting most of them killed?

Either choice is interesting, and would have a significant impact on the plot.

The Climax

Finally, the climax of Aliens is done better. I don’t just mean the robot-on-alien action (which is objectively awesome).

I mean that in the Predator climax, the alien gets progressively dumber. He starts out as this advanced warrior, but eventually ditches all his advantages — his armor, his gun, his helmet — to take on the protagonist in one-on-one combat. Against such a willfully dumb and weakened adversary, how could the protagonist lose?

In Aliens, the alien queen gets smarter as the fight goes on. We originally see her as just an egg laying machine. But she escapes from the power station before it blows up, stowing away on the ship. Once on the ship, she waits until they’re docked with the main one before emerging, and when she does she goes after the humans for food (Well, and maybe a little revenge. She does seem pissed off). She uses every advantage she has, all her strength and cunning, which makes Ripley’s victory even more impressive.