Sunday, 20 May 2012

A plea for Character Development

I watched Iron Man this week.  I also watched the Fantastic Four.

Let's me be clear here.  I love Marvel.  I love the Marvel Universe.  I have Marvel Top Trumps and Marvel Guess Who and 100 Classic Covers Marvel postcards.  I grew up reading mildewed and damp boxes of Marvel comics from the 70s and 80s - a legacy of having six big brothers.

I love Marvel.

But I don't love Marvel films.  Not all of them.  Let's take Captain America, or no.  Let's not.  I've ranted about Captain America before (5 Ways to Kill Conflict and Bore the Hell out of Your Audience).  Let's take Iron Man and the Fantastic Four.

Here I am, I'm a fan.  I'm not an obsessive detailed fan.  I don't have every back copy of every comic and know the history of every character, the various artists and writers.  Really I don't.  I didn't even know the Scarlet Witch and Vision were a couple until recently (he's like a robot right?).  So I'm a warm, cuddly easily pleased sort of fan.  The sort of fan that will go to the cinema and buy the DVD and eat it up with low expectations and a bucket of popcorn.

But still I say to you:  DON'T CHEAT ME.

You can spend multiple millions on a film.

You can cast spectacular looking actors.  They might even be able to act.

You can give me the best special effects money can buy.

So don't bloody well scrimp on the story.

Films can look pretty. They can cast big names.  But unless there is character development they are forgettable. 

Captain America.  Nice nerdy kid gets super powers, takes on arch enemy and his best mate is murdered.The impact of this on him is... nil.

Fantastic Four.  Scientist piloty types get sent into space have cosmic ray accident, develop super powers and... nothing.  Well, Reed Richards and Susie Storm get back together.  That's nice.  But do they change?Is there impact?  Well, no.


Is this because these films are aimed at kids or something?  Don't insult me!  Aladdin is aimed at kids.  Shrek is aimed at kids.  They've got more character development in one still than Captain America or the Fantastic Four.

Jeez Louise.

These isn't a feature of the superhero genre.  Iron Man changes.  He learns to be less self centred.  He learns to understand the impact of his actions, to care about others. Thor learns humility.  Wolverine to trust.

There is no excuse.

And of course, this isn't limited to film.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.  I love Greek Myth.  I love fantasy.  I love young adult literature.  I wanted to love this book.  But friend Percy loses his mum, finds out he's the son of a god, experiences any number of adventures and does he change?  No.


So, for the record Your Honour, if you give me a story without character development I will be disappointed.  It doesn't matter if it's prettily packaged, if you have a twisty turny plot and an unguessable ending.  It doesn't matter if your prose is pretty or your special effects stupendous.  If there is no character development I will regret spending £10 on a cinema ticket.  I will want to hurl your book at the wall.

Please, please, please whatever you are writing, have your characters change as a consequence of what they put you through, or your work will be utterly pointless.


littleindian said...

I have a simple rule for myself. If I like the book, I don't see the film.
No director / producer / casting manager / script writer can better the picture I have already created in my mind.
Saves me disappointments.

Unknown said...

When I read a book, I will never watch the movie to it. I made this a couple of time, and I was always disappointed afterwards. They changed so many things, and some were just different in my mind.
A movie is mostly made because of money, earning a lot of it is the most important thing. They think that people want to see an expensive movie with special effects and do not care about a good story. I still do. As a writer, I prefer to read or watch only things, movies as well as tv shows like sitcoms, with a good writing and a fascinating story.

Meg McNulty said...

I used to be of that mentality, but I've come round the perspective that film can bring something different to a story. It won't be the same as the book - it's more like a different interpretation of the same story - a conversation with it, rather than a direct copy. I took years over seeing the Narnian films because I loved the book but when I did I was pleasantly surprised. They brought out themes that had never really occured to me when I read the books and I found I liked them.

But then they had a character arc, which the above mentioned did not.

I think *everyone* cares about a story, really. The films that last are those with a good one!

littleindian said...

I agree with what you say, about different interpretations.
If I like a book, I will read it over and over again; sometimes I find a different perspective, a different interpretation. And I will hold on to it.
It has to be by myself. Like a challenge between the author and I. A treasure hunt.
Its just my way.

Andrea said...

An enjoyable rant! ;o)

Meg McNulty said...

I might have been mildly tipsy at the time....

Andrea said...

I had my suspicions...