Having recently revisited Rise Of The Planet of The Apes, it became clear just how flawed a film it really is. The more I thought about many of the successful blockbusters from this year, the more obvious it became that nearly all of them suffered from mediocre to bad scripts. I originally planned on the post being titled “A Year of Missed Opportunities”, but the scope of the title implies this year is an exception. The issue of major films going forward with flawed screenplays is not new, nor does it seem to be changing.
This year alone, many of the biggest films came close to being great. Unfortunately, for each of these nearly great films, there was a script that let them down. It would seem counterintuitive to move forward on a huge film without having a strong enough script, or even a completed script, and yet this happens all the time. Studios believe that hiring a talented director will counteract a flawed screenplay, and while this certainly helps the film, in the end it is not enough to save it.
Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is a perfect example of a film where the studio decided to hire an interesting director but dismissed the importance of having an interesting writer on board. Written by Don Payne and the writing team, comprising Zack Stentz and Ashley Miller, Thor surprised many with its unique take on the superhero genre. It also occasionally hinted at superhero greatness and that is more disappointing than anything. Branagh took the fantasy elements of the film seriously, and because of that, the film became an interesting family drama alongside a ridiculous action film. However, as great as the acting and direction was, the film is constantly held back by the simplistic and often times bad screenplay.
Similarly to Thor‘s almost greatness, Matthew Vaughan’s X-Men: First Class was another superhero film this year that was let down by poor writing. It was a rushed production, and Vaughan’s direction could only do so much to turn a mess of a script into a passable film. Elements of the plot were brilliant but too often the focus of the film fell on the least interesting aspects and this led to a complete mess of a picture.
It was not only superhero films that fell victim to flawed screenplays, but also JJ Abrams’ Spielberg tribute Super 8. And while Abrams wrote the screenplay himself, it was still a film that felt like a first draft, and not a completed, well-developed script. Abrams has a long history of employing writers who are unworthy of such important films, too often working with Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. He is a very strong filmmaker but he seems to be constantly fighting the screenplays, as they keep holding his films back.
It is a trend, one that Rise of the Planet of the Apes exemplifies, of great direction and poor writing. It is a shame that studios either do not care, or are entirely oblivious to the importance of a strong, interesting screenplay. Writing teams rarely produce work worthy of the directors and crew hired for these big budget films, but studios continue to dump major projects on writers unable to produce anything beyond the typical blockbuster.