Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Why I seem to like movies that end in death - a guest post by KG

About this time a year ago one of my bestest blogging buddies, KG of KG's Movie Rants, and I exchanged guest posts on each other's sites. You can read his post here and my post there. Well, we figured we might as well do it again. Just like last year, neither of us put on any restrictions on what the other was to write about. We told each other to go for it and let the chips fall where they may. I really like where his chips fell, so I'll let him take it from here.

I have to warn you that the rest of this post is going to be filled with various spoilers to The Magnificent Seven, Rogue One and Logan.

A friend of mine has recently taken to making fun of me over the fact that I seem to be more likely to be a fan of a movie if it features the death of one or more of its major characters. I generally laugh the notion off because several of the films he cites as examples are fine films and would have garnered my praise either way; but I'm starting to think there may be some truth to the theory.

I think it all started when I commented on how much I had enjoyed watching the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven and the praise I had for its bold ending. Now, I did say spoiler alert, four of 'The Seven' die and I remember as I was watching the film thinking, "nah, there's no way they're going to kill anyone; how will they make a sequel?”. Well, sure enough, the dust settled, guns were re-holstered and the four remained dead. It was mind-blowing. We live in a time of franchises where films function almost solely as previews to films set to follow. Everything is about the sequel, the next step, the next dollar. It's become a rarity to find a big blockbuster film whose express intention is to function as a standalone.

Other films my friend uses to prove my necrophilia are Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Logan. Once again all fine films that could have been just as enjoyable if the main cast survived. I think The Magnificent Seven represented a defiant cry out against the franchise building mentality that has gripped mainstream cinema. Rogue One and Logan similarly had their parts to play, namely in terms of faithfulness to story and the importance of vulnerability.

Rogue One had clear and distinct limitations imposed on its story. It had to serve as a 'missing link' whose purpose was to join the prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy. The path that lay before it was perfectly mapped out as was the path that stood behind it. It was the epitome of a self-sustaining story because neither a sequel nor a prequel could come of it. So the question becomes what do you do with all these great characters that you've created to fuel the story? If they live then the automatic question becomes why would characters so badass and memorable not be in the sequels? This means that the only logical way to explain the characters' absence from the original trilogy and remain faithful to said trilogy is for them to die. The gravity of their actions go on to serve as the foundation of the original trilogy so their lives and deaths are not in vain; but they don't end up cluttering the sequels.

Wolverine is one of the best and most likable Marvel characters, at least in terms of superhero cinema. He's the classic anti-hero and in a world of people doing things out of responsibility and duty, adds a fresh take to the idea of what a real hero is. Added to this, adamantium claws are pretty cool but I think one of the major reasons Wolverine is such a relatable character is due to his vulnerability and not his invincibility. We know that Wolverine is going to come off the better in any physical fight you put him in; thus, the emotional battles he endures become all the more important. He's a character struggling with his immortality, his animal-like rage and the pain and destruction that both of these factors have caused others and, in turn, him. When we see him in Logan, he's absolutely broken - his physical body is starting to show the scars that his soul has been carrying for so long. His reduced healing factor gives us the explanation of how he's going to die but the more pressing issue is why he's going to die.

The obvious answer is to say because Hugh Jackman decided it was time to step away from the character. It's a valid point but I think it's an oversimplification. I once looked up "death" in the dictionary and after the definition; there was a line that spoke of the motivating powers of death. Everyone knows that they're going to die so they do their best to survive, to add meaning to the world and live their life to the fullest. You always hear questions asked about the meaning of life but what about the meaning of death? Just speaking about movies, I don't think the death of a character should simply be a cheap ploy to extract shock and sympathy from an audience as we’re seeing in both Marvel and DC cinematic universes.

When done right - as discussed in reference to the three above films - death adds to the story instead of taking away. Instead of an end, death can be a continuation. I'm not saying every blockbuster film needs to be made with the idea that its main character(s) should die but I think every blockbuster film should be made with the idea that its main characters could die. This will lead to films that function as standalone projects instead of promises of something that might be better in the future like The Magnificent Seven. Films that put the story ahead of everything like Rogue One and films where heroes are vulnerable like Logan and, therefore, the story has actual stakes.

I'll leave you with a quote from the messianic Tyler Durden, "You've gotta know - not fear, know - that someday you're gonna die." Do with that, what you will.


  1. This is such a cool thing to do! I still haven't seen the new The Magnificent Seven (but I've seen the original and I loved it), but I love both Rogue One and Logan and, like you said, the death of one or more main characters really adds to the story and makes it more real. And, you're right, blockbusters should be made with the idea that its main characters could die. That way, in my opinion, the film is more enjoyable because you don't know how it ends until it ends. Sometimes I really hate when the main character(s) doesn't die. It takes away from the film.

    1. The real possibility of a main character dying definitely helps a movie. It heightens the stakes of a film and tension in the viewer. I remember sitting in the theater during Rogue One and being pleasantly surprised the film had the gall to go that route.

  2. I think we've gotten away from killing anyone off (except on TV!) because , like you said, of franchise building. It's annoying though. I like it too when someone makes a bold choice in story-telling.

  3. "I'm not saying every blockbuster film needs to be made with the idea that its main character(s) should die but I think every blockbuster film should be made with the idea that its main characters could die. "

    This is clearly the reason the films you mentioned here worked so well. Alas, the man is always gonna try to make that money. Logan is the best because it's the last. It was exhilarating (in a more purely cinematic way than any other X-Men film) to sit in that theater and for the first time in 9 movies really see Wolverine as more than just a tortured badass, to know him as a tortured man as frail as you or me. I likewise found it ballsy to kill off huge characters in The Magnificent Seven, which didn't get a fair shake last year. I found it to be an absolute blast of a film. Rogue One only worked for me in this regard, that there was something at stake in the finality of that brief episode in the series. '

    Great stuff, KG. I really enjoyed reading this post swap. Cool idea!

    1. Thanks Kevin. You echo some great points made by KG. I think both of you are hitting dead center on this target.

  4. I'm still surprised they went there with Rogue One. Made the film very effective. And Logan...it still hurts.