Monday, March 20, 2017

The Distance Between Greatness and Mediocrity

This post has almost nothing to do with James Bond.

The reason I mention him, though, is that over the weekend I was reminded of something he said, that was going to form the introduction to this post until I decided to remove it for being a sentiment I didn't want to endorse. Also, I don't like the cosmetics industry. Anyway...

Over the weekend, I watched three films that caused me to consider just how small the difference between a great film and a mediocre, or even bad, film actually is.

First up was Disney's live-action "Beauty and the Beast", which is well made but which really isn't a particularly good film. It's more enjoyable than "Logan", to be fair, but then it was "Logan's" very strength that meant it wasn't particularly enjoyable. The basic problem with "Beauty and the Beast", though, was that everything that was good about it had already been done better in animated form some decades ago, while everything that was new just wasn't as good.

And so we have the original, which truly is a great film, and a near-remake that just didn't live up to it. The differences were small, but they made all the difference.

(Oh, and incidentally, this also ties into my theory about remakes: while it's tempting to remake something great, you probably shouldn't - you'll fall short in the inevitable comparison. What you should look to remake are things that had a good idea, had lots of potential, but which for whatever reason fell short of that potential.)

The other two films were "X-2" and "X-Men: The Last Stand", the second and third X-Men films. Here, again, we have a great film - X-Men 2 was the film that finally toppled "Superman 2" as my all-time favourite superhero film, and although it no longer has the top spot, that's largely because it has been eclipsed by "The Dark Knight", "Captain America: the Winter Soldier", and "The Avengers", and not because it has not aged well.

But then we have the third X-Men film, and oh dear does it fall short! And yet, it should work - it has the same cast, it has the same strong dynamic between Xavier and Magneto that makes that whole series work, it has what should be a very strong story, and there's a lot of good stuff in there. (My personal favourite is Logan's line, "I'm not your father, I'm your friend" - it's a small scene, but Rogue's subplot is one of the things that stops it just being a blackhat/whitehat slugfest.)

But, ultimately, X-Men 3 just doesn't work. Whether it's because it's trying to do too many things in too little space, or because it was rushed out by the studio because they were desperate to beat "Superman Returns" to the theatre (oh boy, did we all lose out from Bryan Singer's decision to do that one!), or perhaps because they spend too long on their big set-piece action finale without enough good build-up to support it, the film just falls short.

(On the other hand, it's not as bad as "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", which I get to tackle next. I'm really not looking forward to that one!)

There are other examples of this, of course. As I said at the outset, this post has very little to do with James Bond, but "Skyfall" and "SPECTRE" make up one of the best examples of the phenomenon at work - you've got the same lead actor (who has the role down to a fine art by now), much the same core cast, the same director, and a time-honoured formula... and yet one is great and the other just doesn't work.

Anyway, that's my big thought on films for today, and also my review of the new "Beauty and the Beast". For what it's worth, LC enjoyed it considerably more than I did.

#14: "State of the Art", by Iain M. Banks

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