The success of The Avengers in 2012 had a ripple effect on big budget movies going forward. Shared universes. Lighter superhero tones. Fun. Fun. Fun. All that garbage. One of the trends it created was the barrage of team movies. Sure, we’ve always had team movies, but the Avengers brought it to a whole other level. I’m sick of team movies. I’m sick of the obnoxious way they are marketed. I’m sick of the Thanksgiving sized stuffing of characters. Hollywood has always been a business, so making movies for money is nothing new. The way these team movies are made though is so shamelessly constructed. We’re graced with another one this weekend in The Magnificent Seven. Not only is this a team film, but it’s also a remake. It’s like a double dose of milk duds.
Even though this movie showcases a talented cast and solid director, these trailers have driven me to the point of high rage. Maybe the film will be good. I haven’t seen it. The previews are so calculated and overly marketed, it’s frustrating. We got the stoic leader (Denzel Washington). The wise cracker (Chris Pratt) is a staple. Let’s not forget about the bad ass assassin (Byung-hun Lee). Oh yeah, and throw in a wily old veteran (Vincent D’Onofrio). Chris Pratt even markets the movie within the movie – “What a bunch of misfits we are.” Ohhhhhhhhhhh, just like Guardians of the Galaxy. Cut me a break. The trailers showcase front and center why I’m tired of this genre.
To fully understand what makes a team movie crash and burn, let’s go to some recent examples of lackluster team movies, and why they don’t work.
The Protagonist Gets Shafted (Suicide Squad)
What better way to start our kvetching than with a movie that is still stinking up multiplexes. Some of the best team movies actually focus on a protagonist. I’ll graciously give Marvel credit with Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, there are a lot of characters, but it’s still Star Lord’s story. When he opens his mother’s final gift, that’s a true character arc.
The one element that actually worked in Suicide Squad was Will Smith’s Deadshot. This was his story, or at least it should have been. In order to provide for his daughter, Floyd Lawton resorts to the only thing he knows – shooting people. Even when Batman takes him down, he feels crappy about it. There’s some good stuff there, but it’s totally glossed over because it’s a team movie. They have to hit their quotas with Harley Quinn, Joker, and a horrible Rick Flag/Enchantress love story. Oy vey. Instead of locking in on one great character, the movie half-asses four or five. Fail.
The Story Gets Shafted (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
I’m probably too hard on the MCU when it comes to movies like Captain America: Civil War or even Iron Man 3. I will never apologize for disliking Avengers: Age of Ultron. This is an example of a team movie where the plot is a complete and utter mess. I could just default to blaming this on the ridiculous amount of characters, but I refuse. X-Men: Days of Future Past is another team movie where the character roster is bigger than the short lived sitcom Just the Ten of Us, but it works. Director Bryan Singer does a masterful job of using characters only when it’s appropriate for the story. As a result, Days of Future Past is a fascinating tale of how the past and future changes through the eyes of several key characters. Nothing feels bloated.
At its core, there’s a great story to be had in Age of Ultron. The idea of Tony Stark’s creation turning against him has potential. You could even do a warped son turns against father motif. Unfortunately, they are more concerned with setting up future films, and making sure every character gets sufficient screen time. Those are the pratfalls of team movies. Think of how much better Age of Ultron would be if we didn’t have a twenty minute Thor diversion where he watches a trailer for Infinity War, or Hawkeye’s completely contrived and useless family. Oh, people complained about Hawkeye being underused in the last film, so let’s force a worthless arc here. I detest Age of Ultron.
The “It’s Just Plain Dumb” Team Movie (The Expendables 3)
I don’t want to be that guy with the monocle who sips apple martinis and bemoans action movies are beneath him. I like a lot of dumb movies. In fact, Armageddon is a great team movie. It’s stupid, yes, but it works because the characters actually have distinctive personalities. You care about them. This is why I refuse to “check my brain at the door” for The Expendables 3.
Aside from Antonio Banderas and a few good Mel Gibson moments, the other 900 characters are interchangeable. They have no personalities. Can you dig up one memorable moment from Randy Couture? If they didn’t have stupid names like Lee Christmas or Drummer, I wouldn’t even know who they were. They all run together like someone mashed playdough into one big ball of gobbledygook. The Fast and Furious franchise is also guilty of this.
The Expendables 3 is also the worst kind of team movie. It shoves so many names in your face that the cast loses all meaning. This movie is sadistic in how many characters it crams into one film. They actually contrive a plot devise where Stallone bounces his old team just so he can get younger/hipper cast members, like the Oscar bound Kellan Lutz. Of course they all come together at the end for one big idiot-fest.
What irks me most about a team movie like Expendables 3 is simply how dumb it is. To hear Harrison Ford’s character Drummer say “Drummer’s in the house” and “Time to pick up the tempo” is painful. This guy was Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Sad. At least that’s better than Ronda Rousey playing the clichéd “I’m going out of my way to show you I’m the tough girl” role, where she beats up a group of guys and mutters “men.” That’s worse than losing to Holly Holm.
I’m Sick of Team Movies
The Expendables 3 perfectly harkens back to The Magnificent Seven, as it also plasters big names in front of our eyes. Maybe it won’t be as dumb as Expendables 3, but I have no doubt it will suffer the same problems: protagonist gets short changed. Story is too cluttered.
The team movie can certainly be done well, but in today’s Hollywood there are too many pitfalls. That’s why I’m sick of team movies.
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.