A little under a year ago I offered up a quick list of goings-on that I was sick and tired of seeing pop up in the movies. With a whole new year of cinema now spread out before us, I figure it's as good a time as any to present another one. Here are four plots, characters, tropes, etc. that really need to take a hike.
"GASP! The killer has the power to lower my bars!"
I can tell you from experience that anyone who has ever tried to write or direct a horror movie (or thriller, or whatever) within the last decade hates the invention of the mobile phone, because it kills off what used to be the most reliable tension-building scenario in all of fiction: Someone is trapped somewhere with no ability to summon help.
Now, in reality, people do still manage to get stuck somewhere and be unable to call for help all the time. But moviemakers aren't at the mercy of reality, they're at the mercy of second-guessing audience members who now demand to know "Why don't they just call somebody?" As a result, bad movie after bad movie now trots out that most obnoxious of 21st Century movie clichés - the cell signal that drops out randomly in a dangerous situation - whenever the tension needs a cheap boost. Even good movies are forced to waste time showing us endless coverage of malfunctioning chargers, bad batteries, clumsy phone drops and overly low ringer volumes in order to explain why the good guys aren't just dialing their way to safety.
For a while I was willing to give a pass to the slightly smarter second-cousin of this hacky writing-shortcut - "We've got to climb higher/go to the dangerous area because that's where we can get a signal!" - but these days it's become so common it probably needs to go, too.
Army Field Manual Superpowers
You've seen this moment a thousand times in a thousand movies: A mysterious do-gooder - often a fairly average or ordinary seeming person - has become a huge thorn in the side of The Bad Guys, messing up their plans with combat/weaponry/survival skills that no living person ought to possess. Wishing to know more, the Bad Guy Leader (or sometimes another, separately operating Good Guy) orders up the background data on said mystery man ... and there it is, right at the top, a full explanation for everything he has been able to accomplish thus far: "Ex-[insert-branch-of-military-here]."
Now, I want to make this very clear: I'm not looking to disparage the skill sets of actual members of the armed forces - those who've served are consistently rated as attractive job applicants in a wide variety of fields for a damn good reason. However, according to the movies, the training for pretty much any given field of military service includes black belt level ninjitsu, instant/permanent mastery of every conceivable form of firearm, superhuman resistance to pain, the power to defy gravity and any other ability a modern-day action guy might need.
To be fair, this particular character detail has an understandable and storied origin: Post-WWI Hollywood frequently turned its sights on The Forgotten Man (you'll want to go to the 4 minute mark of that video clip - one of the all-time most effecting musical sequences) - i.e. the notion of the ignored/unspoken veteran, and it re-emerged in the wake of Vietnam as the reality of highly-trained/decorated vets concealing their background ("So-and-so was a Green Beret? But he's just a [insert-regular-guy-job], and he never talks about it!") arose in the American consciousness.
But it's become an irritating easy out. At first, the "ex-military hero" reveal was more of a way to establish character. In First Blood, John J. Rambo at first appears to be a shaggy, homeless drifter, so the discovery that he was actually a VERY important, highly-decorated, super-competent warrior (trained not only in survival but high-tech weaponry and complex combat tactics) told us not only what we could expect from his fight scenes but also indicated just how far he'd fallen for such things not to be readily apparent. Compare this to a similar reveal in The Transporter, where a Bronze Star and a photo of Jason Statham in special forces fatigues is supposed to explain how he can dodge bullets, improv skydive, kill a car with a tire iron while dangling underneath a moving truck and beat up an entire room full of much larger men using only a bucket of oil and a pair of bicycle pedals. Not. Exactly. The Same. Thing.