Open Forum Friday: Is Story Now Completely Irrelevant in Blockbuster Movies?

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The widespread acclaim for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy last week was nearly unanimous as audiences and critics finally agreed that it was a rare case of a summer movie delivering just as much fun and excitement as the trailers had promised. However, it is interesting to note that if you look at all of the rave reviews, the one thing almost no one has praised is the story. Isn’t that the one key ingredient always required to create a great film? Well… maybe not anymore. Steven Zeitchik recently wrote an article at the Los Angeles Times that explores this disturbing trend, something he refers to as “post-plot cinema.”

The funny thing is, he actually liked Guardians of the Galaxy and he says that there are advantages to movies without clear plots, such as the fact that they are essentially unspoilable and they focus on simply hanging out with the characters (the recent comedy hit Grown Ups comes to mind). It all seems to be a result of filmmaking by committee, where there is no clear creative vision and bits and pieces randomly get changed and tweaked until the final product is a mess. But as long as there are some sparkly special effects and a few memorable individual scenes, audiences will still eat it up. What do you think? Are today’s blockbusters lacking clear plots and compelling stories? And if so, is there anything wrong with that? Can a movie truly be great even when the story sucks? Give us your thoughts here on Open Forum Friday.

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  • Tim

    As long as today┬┤s blockbusters keep on being basically videogames/ comicbooks, then yeah, the story of those flicks will stay nearly nonexistent and irrelevant.
    Time to make films for adults again.

  • FilmGob

    Irrelevant for the mouth breathers, sure, but many of us still want some meat on the bone.

  • DrewNugent

    If plot is your main concern in film then just do yourself a favor and go read a book instead. Some of the most interesting films of the last decade (Tree of Life, The Master, Boyhood) all have very minimal plots, but thats not what its about. These films are about the journey, and the stories are told visually and through the characters. Guardians of the Galaxy may not be anywhere near as intellectually stimulating as those other films I mentioned, but its similar in that its more interested in the visuals and the characters, and that kind of filmmaking is what makes cinema unique and separates it from the other mediums.

  • Chuck Inside Llewyn Davis in there as well. Also, not of the last decade, but I always come back to Taxi Driver as a movie with a pretty minimal plot.

    The main problem to me is not blockbusters with no plot, but blockbusters with too much plot. The Tranformers movies are good examples of needlessly convoluted plotting.

    But all that is essentially moot, because plot and story are different things. Guardians of the Galaxy has a pretty clear story.

  • MisterQuigley

    I’m of the mind now that “reviewing” these type of movies by “critics” is pointless. Like, is anybody going to give The Hunger Games Part 3 a bad review? Nope – it’s $150 million splashed across the screen with J-Law and a plot that sold a million books. It won’t be GREAT, but no way in hell it’s gonna be bad.

    I’m all for kids getting to see movies that mark their childhood. I’m actually jealous (38). I have a serious problem, though, with the availability of screens. And the concept of “film” being squeezed so your local multi bumps Boyhood. Or The One I Love. Or Snowpiercer.

  • Kenneth Serenyi

    Marvel Studio films are a grand experiment that have never been tried before. Like a television series, the overall story arc is spread out through multiple episodes. Only after the current story arc is finished can the story be more fairly judged.

  • RockJoker

    I think there is nothing wrong or bad about that. As soon as it’s not become specific to all blockbaster movies. Personally i want both “plot-free” and “smart-plot” summer movies at my local theater. So, i think both formats have their right to live. Again, as soon as one of them will not push the other one off completely. What is not going to happen, i think. But, in this time of insane “trand-following” among major studios you just simply never know.

  • Dooobie

    I don’t think that is new. You can look at something like “Citizen Kane” or “Chinatown” – look how unsatisfied the story is solved. A few days ago I watched Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” – not much of a great story there (but a great film, though).

  • Kenneth Serenyi

    One of the biggest criticisms of ‘The Avengers’ that I hear is that there is too much character development, character interaction, and world building, making the first half of the movie “boring”. I suppose that 1.5 billion at the box office contradicts that critique but it looks like Marvel has elected to streamline the formula for their later cosmic centric films.

  • Matt the Kiwi

    If I look at the top 50 films I love then I would say about half have little in the way of complicated stories…think of Jaws, Star Wars or Robocop; all of which can have their stories summarised in a few sentences but all totally engrossing because of the way the story is told. I love a good story but don’t need all my films to be 3 hour, generation spanning epics. Critics are always pronouncing the death of something (westerns, WWII films, musicals, etc) until one comes along and does well and then they spring back to life.

  • Atrain

    I would argue the reason television is kicking cinema’s ass right now is because it’s become a haven for adult stories and storytelling, and leaving the cineplex for the teens and kids. Sure, it gets the luxury of full seasons to plot out, but there have been stellar single-episode story arcs too.

  • A_Eye

    The fact that “Edge of Tomorrow” which had perhaps the best story of any summer movie did so lukewarm at the boxoffice says it all.

  • Jameson

    There’s a difference between minimal/no plot and a plot that sucks. As mentioned, Boyhood and The Master don’t have much in terms of story, yet they’re very engaging. For something like Guardians of the Galaxy (and many comedies) story is less important than comedic delivery and acting. It does seem to be the case though that flashy effects and colors can distract from bad storytelling in the blockbuster genre.