Going to the movies this summer was the equivalent of waiting for the A-Train on a urine-drenched NYC subway platform in July.
For every “Civil War” there was a “Ben-Hur” and “Warcraft.”
If you look beyond the stench of “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Ice Age 4,” “Jason Bourne,” “Tarzan,” “Gods of Egypt,” “Ghostbusters,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” “TMNT: 2,” “The Huntsman War,” the critically panned, but successful “Suicide Squad,” and critically-praised flop, “Star Trek: Beyond,” there are some things that we as screenwriters can take away from all of these summer bombs.
First: Characters matter. Whether it’s Harley Quinn, Captain Kirk or a lesbian taco, relatable characters still DO matter to the audience. A character, real or animated, must be written as a 360 degree person with flaws, dreams and goals in order for the audience to care. Even if it’s an established character, such as Professor X or a stereotype, like The Middle Eastern Pita Bread in "Sausage Party,” it’s our duty as writers to expand upon what is known or perceived. With every Harry Potter film, we witnessed and embraced the characters’ growth.
Second: Dialogue matters. There was a time when I could leave a theater and recite a line or five from the film. “Jaws,” the original summer blockbuster: “You’re Going To Need a Bigger Boat.” “That’s a bad hat, Harry.” “Smile you son-of-a-BOOM!”
But aside from the witty and fun banter in Shane Black’s, “The Nice Guys,” I can’t remember a single line of dialogue from the multitude of turds I saw this summer. As writers, we have to stay away from the easy and discover new ways for our characters to say something. Where is this generation’s, “Yippee Ki Yay, Mother…”
What did we get? “Independence Day: Resurgence.” Judd Hirsch running around calling everyone “Putz” in order to remind us that he’s a colorful Jew.
Third: Story matters: Even if it's a sequel or a reboot, an original story is still important to the audience. So many of this summer’s bombs just felt like retreads of other films or their predecessors. “ID2: Resurgence” was just a more expensive “ID.” How many times have we seen enormous motherships exit from ominous clouds since 1996?
“Ghostbusters” was beat-for-beat the original without Bill Murray (okay he has a cameo) and Harold Ramis. The audience is thirsty for stories that at least take an original spin on a well-known topic. That’s why Netflix has taken off with “Stranger Things,” “The Get Down” and “Lady Dynamite.”
The blame really rests with the studios themselves. More than ever, the global Box Office has become more important than the American. China is the new American Box Office. Thus the results are over-the-top cartoonish images. Images that lack real story and characters that insult our audiences' intelligence. The films must be easily translatable into different languages. It’s easier to find a word for “putz, rather than a complex insult.
On the bright side, we didn’t have to smell another Adam Sandler stink bomb.