No Change, No Story

“Kingsman” and “Mortdecai” are both stories about someone having wild adventures in an international arena, much like James Bond movies. The big difference is that “Kingsman” is a good movie and “Mortdecai” is not. Examining the two movies, the most glaring fault of “Mortdecai” is its lack of change. The hero barely changes and none of the supporting characters change one bit.

On the other hand, “Kingsman” offers an ally and a henchman in addition to the villain. In “Kingsman,” the hero runs into a snobby aristocratic teenager who thinks he’s better than the hero. Only later when this snob gets washed out of the competition does he reappear later to further torment the hero. That completes this henchman’s story arc. In the beginning, he torments the hero and in the end, he continues to torment the hero until the hero defeats him.

“Kingsman” also includes an ally, a girl who’s competing for the same position as the hero in the secret service. At one trial, the girl must overcome her fear of heights with the help of the hero. Later this ally must rise in the atmosphere all alone to knock out a satellite with a missile. To succeed, she needs to overcome her fear of heights once more, and this time she succeeds, completing her story arc.

To heighten the climax, every story needs to threaten not only the hero and innocent people, but someone the hero loves. In “Kingsman,” the hero is under threat himself along with everyone in the world. However, the biggest threat comes when his own mother is programmed to kill her new baby. That’s someone the hero loves and that further provides a threat to the hero that if he doesn’t stop the villain, he’ll lose, innocent people will lose, and someone the hero loves will lose.

“Mortdecai” offers little of this structure, substituting story for silly action that goes nowhere, foreshadows nothing, and changes characters not one bit. It’s a good idea poorly executed. “Kingman” is a mediocre idea executed perfectly. Basically “Kingsman” rehashes the typical James Bond plot of an evil villain threatening the world and a spy has to save the world. Worn out plot, but well-down story structure.

That’s the difference in creating a good movie. It doesn’t matter if the plot is familiar. What matters is the execution. “Mortdecai” is an example of a good idea poorly executed. Take a great idea, give it a weak story structure, and you wind up with a weak story without fail. No amount of Hollywood A-list stars, directors, or special effects can save a bad script that begins with a great idea.

Ideally, you want a great idea. Failing that, just write a good story with a mediocre idea. You’ll go far further with great execution than you will with poor execution, and it all revolves around creating a solid story structure first.

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