Reviewing movies might be a fairly subjective exercise BUT every opinion needs to be explained with concrete reasoning and backed by evidence.
When doing a review, there are numerous factors that we take into consideration but there are FIVE fundamental elements that we judge a movie by, and these form the basis for our ultimate assessment.
These are : Characters, Plot, Tone, Substance and Performances. First, we look at Characters!
In many ways, characters (whether primary or secondary) need to be the starting point for any effective story. After all, without engaging characters we would find it impossible to relate to what was happening on screen.
Main characters, especially, need to be carefully crafted and developed, with depth and consistency. In fact, if the main character is written very well, he or she may actually ‘write’ himself/herself!
What this means, is that once one determines what makes the main character tick, his/her motivations, fears, drives, strengths and weaknesses, the plot will form around the main character in a naturalistic way.
One positive example would be Batman/Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
While there are many incarnations of the famous DC superhero, in Nolan’s hands, Batman is a reluctant hero and is looking for an opportunity to retire his cowl and cape and live a ‘normal’ life, with his dearly beloved Rachel Dawes.
In his mind, he believes that Harvey Dent will provide him a means of escape by taking on his role as protector of Gotham.
Unfortunately, the Joker gets in the way and his under-estimation of the villain ends up in Rachel’s death and Dent’s transformation into Two-Face.
Although his moral code – not killing the Joker when he had the chance – results in horrendous loss, Batman holds on to his principles to the end, where he sacrifices his reputation and heroic status to safeguard Dent’s legacy.
A negative example of poor characters ruining a movie would be Thor : Ragnarok.
Now, it is important to remember that Ragnarok was a third movie in a movie franchise and that the character of Thor had already been established in Thor, Thor : The Dark World and two Avengers films.
In his origin story, Thor is portrayed as an swaggering, arrogant, spoilt heir to the throne of Asgard but is taught a lesson in humility by his father Odin when he is banished to Earth without his identity-defining hammer, Mjölnir.
By the end of the first movie, Thor is a changed person, he finds love, friendship and a new responsibility as a guardian of Earth. This duty calls him back to Earth – as part of the Avengers – to thwart the devious plans of his brother, Loki.
Although his naivety is often a source of hilarity, Thor is a rather serious character and his commitment to doing the right thing is strongly reflected in The Dark World and Age of Ultron.
In the latter film, in a nightmare sequence brought about by the Scarlet Witch, Thor is troubled by a mysterious vision that he is determined to solved by the end of the movie.
However, when we encounter Thor at the beginning of Ragnarok, captured and interrogated by Surtur, he has been somehow transformed into a wise-cracking, free-wheeling maverick, without explanation!
This jarring change in character remains throughout the rest of Ragnarok, ostensibly to fit into the light-hearted tone brought about by Taika Waititi’s direction.
In fact, all the other characters are written in the same mode i.e. slapstick and non-stop scatological jokes are the order of the day!
If Thor’s character had been crafted in this manner from the beginning, there would have been no issue but it is impossible to square this version of Thor from all other versions previously presented.
This prevents Thor from being relatable as the inconsistencies in his character become too illogical to be accepted. Which reduces Ragnarok to a comedic farce and Thor to a dumb clown.
Where characters are well written and developed, weaknesses in the other elements might be glossed over as the audience’s investment in the characters might encourage overlooking or even ignoring the other flaws.
Which is why a proper investigation into a movie’s Characters comes first and foremost when reviewing the merits of a movie.
Next : Plot.