WARNING: What you will read could be considered SPOILERS to some of your favorite superhero films so if you don’t want to read on, this is your chance to turn back….
For a genre full of sexy people in leading and supporting roles, a majority of their film’s endings prove to us mortal movie goers that looks aren’t everything, and it’s what you can do with what you have that matters. Sex jokes aside, I can’t seem to get a film beyond a quality handful off the top that can end their films as well as they start them. It’s like your lover being able to kiss you intimately which leads to enjoyable foreplay only for the climax to be more than underwhelming and you leave your seat disappointed overall.
Superhero films of recent years have only grown in size and popularity with no sign dissipating anytime soon. One trend that seems to be working to the benefit of everyone is making superhero films “smaller” as opposed to over inflating them with ideas, characters, and effects that studios think we want. When I saw films like Logan, Deadpool, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, and many more, they stood out to me because I left the film with a satisfaction and a closure you want from movies. Those films (Logan excluded) would be just as good with or without sequels and that is thanks to them being complete stories regardless of future plans. That’s something that I’m fearing is vanishing due to the ridiculous fad that has become Cinematic Universes, but the worst fad of them all has been the decline of quality endings to these films that are larger than life.
While Marvel gets plenty of praise for creating likable and relatable characters, it’s no secret to us or the studio that villains don’t matter to them much. Films, like the ones I mentioned above are great character pieces, stories of hardship, determination, and arcs that involve closure. That’s what most films are. Films of all types are journeys through the perspective of one or more characters, but a story can’t be great if the first two acts have you hooked only for the ending to take the wind from your sails. I wish I could take a poll because I have a strong feeling that a majority of you would agree that a film that starts off weakly can redeem itself with a strong conclusion rather than the reverse. Why? Because at least you get that closure.
What I’m seeing with superhero/comic book movies is a gratuitous desire to expand spectacle rather than story. One of the best modern examples of a terrific ending with a popular superhero film is Captain America: Civil War. While the film is just all around fantastic, it gets capped off (puns) with an ending and climactic finish that makes you emotionally uncertain and almost anxious. That’s the type of emotional roller coaster I want from the final act of a film because I want the destination to be as wonderful as the journey was. In film, the expression of “it’s not about the destination, but the journey” simply doesn’t work when telling a story. Sure, it’s great for 20 somethings to say when they take their wanderlust trips to Europe or across the country, but in film making, you’re taking a huge risk in not presenting a strong payoff for your audience.
I think the root of the issue is not that screenwriters aren’t writing out strong endings, but rather that the endings for these films cause a pressure that builds up in whomever is in charge and warps their thoughts to think we as fans want a CGI money shot each time. Emotional satisfaction is where they will always win. With Deadpool, the satisfaction came from Deadpool getting the last laugh in a literal comedic way. The Dark Knight was a rare instance where the villain and hero both sort of win which leaves the audience tilting a line that makes them unsure, but still insanely satisfied.
The trend here is that, those films executed what is generally a simple concept: hero wins or hero loses. That’s a formula that reads like 2+2 for all the non infants, but instead we get light beams, overpowered big baddies with unbelievable motivations, or just instances where emotions are told to us rather than shown. I’ve learned as a young, hopeful screenwriter that less said is more for movies emotional moments, and sometimes saying less can hit us the hardest. Enough of the predictable action where heroes take on villains without real loss or potential of more troubles coming from the battles. Sometimes it’s best to get a lot of the action out of the way throughout the first two acts and leave the emotional punches for the end instead.
Here’s what I hope you take away:
- Film is like great sex, get us excited, and prepare us for a great finish
- A great ending can often make up for bad Acts 1 and 2
- Villains and heroes are what drive a film to greatness
- Execution of the endings can make or break a great film
Categories: FILM ESSAYS