Before you shoot me for saying this, please read this article so you can understand my reasoning behind it. And I know that I’ve written in The Badness of “Passengers” that there’s an overuse of clichés and that that’s where the badness of that movie lies. But, notice the word overuse. Movies are bound to have clichés these days, it’s impossible to have none, so it’s no surprise when one has one. But when there’s an overabundant of it really drags a film down.
Clichés have been around since practically the beginning of storytelling, not necessarily film. The term is mostly used to name a technique or story arc that has been used more than often in the past. Since the invention of the term, which by the way finds its origin in the French language meaning stereotype, it has been used as an excuse to call a movie bad, which it often is. But they always act like there are no clichés in other, well-praised films. These films do in fact deserve all the credit they get, because these films aren’t built on clichés, which a lot of films get wrong these days. They just reach for the manual of clichés to make their film more accessible, because who wouldn’t like to see a good looking teenage girl, who can’t find her place in school, fall in love with the most popular boy in school, who happens to be the boyfriend of the most popular girl in school? Anyone would, right? Unfortunately do the box office numbers lean to the yes answer. The average moviegoer doesn’t like to see well developed characters dealing with unoccasual situations, because they can’t necessarily relate to them. They don’t appreciate film enough and would rather watch the retelling of something that was boring to begin with. Now I seem to be ranting on clichés a lot, even though this article is called why clichés are important to film, so let me now recall some examples of clichés/formulas we’ve come to accept.
This is more a formula than a cliché, but over the years I believe that you can now start to see it as a cliché. It’s been done well, like last year’s The Nice Guys but also done pretty badly like in this year’s CHiPS. Both films used the same over-used formula of having two agents who are completely different from each other, solving the crime of the film. One was received well, the other wasn’t. Both films were also comedies, so where do they differ? Well, in a lot of aspects they do. Starting from the story and the jokes. CHiPS had a boring and underwhelming story, whereas The Nice Guys had an original, intriguing story, paying homage to similar movies out of the 70′ . That film also used the cliché formula as a basis and added something to every part of it, by adding to the characters for example. They weren’t superficial like they were in CHiPS. In The Nice Guys the characters were developed throughout the story and got their own personality. The wonderful acting of Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe of course helped with this as well. In CHiPS this wasn’t really the case. The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling was fantastic and made for an interesting and entertaining duo to watch on screen, whereas there wasn’t a lot of chemistry between Peña and Shepard.
So after this comparison, what did we learn out about clichés? They are used well, if you build on them, and don’t let the story entirely support on them and on nothing else.
Cinematic universes are dominating the film scene at the moment, and a lot of films want to become a cinematic universe, like Kong: Skull Island, who wants to start a cinematic universe including Godzilla, sounds kind of ridiculous, but they’re trying to do what Marvel did pretty well. But a problem with Marvel is that they have created the same movie multiple times. And that problem has gone over to other franchises or other movies and that is that every film has to have a generic villain, with a stupid plan to destroy the film which utterly ends up in a laser beam shooting up into the sky. This is often the case in the first film of a soon to become series, so don’t forget to integrate the origin story in which the main character loses his or hers parent or something similar and have the villain have some connection to the lost parent. It’s something we’ve seen so many times and Marvel has done it a lot as well, but I of course don’t only want to point the finger at Marvel, DC has also done it in Man of Steel and in Suicide Squad, which in both films really didn’t help with the final result of the film. I just hope that people will get disinterested in this formula of superhero films, at least critics seem to be, because each time you get to see the same movie, with just some changes and another main character, which is basically the only thing they change each film. I’m by the way also not saying that Marvel only makes films using this formula, there are also some exceptions, but a lot of the time this is sadly the case.
In the pictures above I’ve put some examples of giant laser beams in the ending of superhero films.
SO BAD IT’S GOOD
And of course when there are so many clichés in a film, it becomes good, well, not good good, but just good bad, if that makes any sense. An example is Max Steel (2016), which was the ultimate superhero cliché film, whereby it was very funny to watch. It borrowed a lot of elements of the previously named clichés. It was nearly impossible to count them all. Did some parent die? Yes, his dad. Does the villain have connection to the dad of Max? Yes, they were lab buddies. Is Max in love with the popular girl in school? Yes. You get the point.
This film was just funny because of the clichés. For the rest there’s nothing ‘good’ about the film, it really was one of the worst films of last year. It’s just watchable, because of the dumbness and because of the entertainment value I got out of it, even though it was not the entertainment the creators of the films were going for. And for that reason, clichés can also be good in bad films.
But a film can also contain a lot of clichés and not be funny, like Passengers (2016), but I’ve talked enough about that film in my article The Badness of Passengers, so you can click on the title if you are interested in reading about it.
I’m going to end this article here, even though there’s still a lot to talk about, you could write a book about it, but I think that I’ve brought up some examples in which clichés can be used good and in which they weren’t. To summarize it pretty short: clichés can be used as a basis of a film, just don’t let it support on they entirely, because the film will suffer from it. But if the film contains so many clichés, it may turn out to be good bad, due to the overall badness of the film to begin with. But when a formula, like the superhero formula, get’s overused, it becomes very boring to watch, because we’ve all seen it before, multiple times.