One common failing of bad movies is that you have no idea what could happen to the hero if the hero fails to achieve a goal. When there’s no clear consequence, there’s no reason why the hero should do anything. Near the beginning of every movie, you need to show clear consequences of the danger facing the hero.
In “Frozen,” Elsa, the hero’s sister, nearly kills her with her icy powers while they play. Later the hero, Anna, nearly dies again when Elsa accidentally hits her with the icy powers. Since we’ve seen the danger one before, it’s easy to see why the hero and all her friends have to act right away or the hero will die.
In “Die Hard,” Hans the terrorist shoots the company president in cold blood when the president refuses to open the vault. That immediately shows what could happen to the hero if he fails.
In “Finding Nemo,” we see a barracuda kill the hero’s wife and all of her eggs except for one. In “WALL-E,” we see a land filled with broken down robots. In “Star Wars,” we see Darth Vader capturing Princess Leia and then later blowing up her planet with the Death Star.
The sooner we see the horrible consequences facing the hero, the better we can understand the hero’s motivation later in the story. Without this early example of the horrible consequences facing the hero, we have no idea why the hero needs to do anything. In “The Last Action Hero,” the hero is a kid who magically winds up living in a movie world. However, there’s really no threat to the hero at all.
At the time “The Last Action Hero” came out, it got stomped in the box office by “Jurassic Park,” which in the opening scene shows a dinosaur mauling a man although we don’t see the dinosaur. However, we can see and hear the doomed man’s tortured screams and his futile thrashing about as the other workers try to subdue the dinosaur and save the trapped man. “Jurassic Park” clearly shows us the danger facing the hero. “The Last Action Hero” does not, which is partially why it’s a weaker story because there’s no reason for the hero to do anything in “The Last Action Hero.”
Another disappointment is “Pleasantville,” where the hero enters the black and white world of a television family sitcom. There’s no danger of what might happen to the hero so there’s no reason for the hero to do anything in particular or worry about a deadline of any kind. The lack of horrible consequences driving the hero forward and creating a deadline to force the hero to act makes “Pleasantville” a mediocre movie like “The Last Action Hero.”
The horrible consequences doesn’t need to be some major earth-shattering catastrophe. In “The Karate Kid,” the hero gets savagely beaten up by the villain. Now if the hero wants to avoid getting beaten up again, he needs to act now before he has to face the villain again in the final karate tournament.
When your hero faces no horrible consequences with no deadline to act to prevent that horrible consequence, there’s no urgency in the hero’s motivation, which creates a rambling, plodding, and ultimately boring movie.
So make the horrible consequences facing your hero clear and make it early. The sooner we can see what horrible fate awaits the hero, the sooner we can start rooting for the hero.