Lazy Writing

Picture the scene; a square-jawed detective, invulnerable to deception, ambush, and classy looks from killer-dames. Let’s call him ‘Anvil’. Anvil Hardweather. His criminal informant (a sterling hooker with a heart of gold and a child living with her grandmother) has given him a tip. The psycho that killed his previous partner (an old-timer 3-days from his pension) is loose. And she knows where he is. Anvil arrives at the apartment block. He’s definitely not called for back-up, and he’s probably told his new partner (a fresh-faced rookie) he’s checking his laundry. But he’s not. He exits his American muscle-car, and the camera pans in on his mobile. Damn, he left it on the passenger seat under a box of cookies he bought from a charity shop. Oh noes!

Anvil peels off some boards, making no noise, and steps inside the block. Room by room he scopes the scene, the barrel of his non-regulation revolver scanning the place as though it’s an extension of his sixth sense. Corridors, stairwells, dark-spaces; all are swept aside with impunity. The camera is back at the car. The gentle glow of the half-concealed phone is lighting up the cookie box. It’s his rookie partner, calling to warn him it’s a trap. Then we see the room. It’s empty through the doorway view. There’s probably a chair with a tape-recorder, or a fishing rod (did I say Anvil’s dead partner was going to retire to Maui and sport fish?). Anvil approaches the door and steps into the room. The door is open at an angle that would comfortably conceal a saboteur, or a psycho-killer. But we know Anvil; he’ll make sure he’s safe… oh wait, no. Detective Hardweather becomes another statistic of formulaic detective guff. He strolls past the door, doesn’t check behind it, and bam…lights out.

This is lazy-writing. And you should never forgive it. But if you cast a critical eye on what you watch or read; you’ll notice it’s everywhere. Superhero films are, without a doubt, the worst culprits. Marvel has amassed an obscene amount of cash from its Avenger’s campaign but it’s riddled with plot-holes bigger than Galactus’s ass.

Galactus, super-villain with big ass (Marvel Comics)

The horror genre depends on your gullibility to make ends meet. I mean, by now, why has nobody invented the flash-knife—a handy tool for exploring sounds that come from a basement the soon-to-be-victim has never cleaned (so many cobwebs). Maybe it’s just spiders? Best leave them alone. Sci-fi requires us to go with the flow and I think we all know that in Star Trek, if they need to use the transporter in an emergency, there’s definitely going to be weird radiation interference (frankly, such technology would not get past Starfleet’s equivalent of the FAA).

Untested and murderously random Tranporter technology. (Star Trek, TNG, Viacom-CBS)

But the winner for pure contrivance is the thriller genre, into which Anvil Hardweather falls. Thrillers sell themselves on the premise of clever plots and twists. They want to be treated as the Einstein of fictional media. We can forgive comics and horrors their sins but thrillers? No. Ask more of the writers; don’t let them sell you down the river with tired formulaic nonsense. Keep an eye out for Anvil. And if you see him, switch off, or close the book.

Conan’s Wheel of Pain

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(Conan the Barbarian, 20th Century Fox, 1982)

A good place to start. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an enigma. A focussed mind and an exceptional physique provided the eighties and nineties with the iconic build of Europe’s greatest export. Moving from the shadows of competitive body-building and, in time, into the spotlight of Hollywood, Arnold was (and arguably still is) the only body-builder to conquer the silver-screen. While Lou Ferrigno was on par with Arnold, he didn’t quite have the same impact.

The Wheel of Pain (from Conan the Barbarian) was a torturous device of constant manual labour. Pushed and pulled for hours upon hours, this is about the only thing I have ever seen in movies to explain a physiological response as gratuitous as Conan’s sublimely-honed build. But is it accurate?

No, of course it’s not. Conan was a slave child and the calorific effort of moving a mini-forest worth of lumber would be phenomenal. I can’t recall the movie that well but I’m pretty sure there was scant reference to adequate nutrition, let alone the vast quantities of carbs and protein (and other
things) that would be required to facilitate the build of Arnold’s Conan. But that’s Hollywood. It exists to present the audience with heroes and heroines of unobtainable perfection; be it the impossible musculature of Conan, or the sleek lines of every female superhero. And for the record, there is no logical reason for the dimorphism displayed between genders. 

And that’s a problem right there. Muscle size. No matter what the load is, whether it’s tossing a car or punching chunks out of a concrete pillar, the strength required would be equal. So, in those films where women lift the same as men, technically, the female would require the same physical attributes as the man. In other words, why are super-strength heroines always dainty little slips? It’s all about image and marketing, which in itself is about gender discrimination and inequality. Which is a shame because it would be cool to see more male heroes that look ‘normal’ (and to be fair, in the post Arnold era, strong heroes don’t need to be massive – unless your name is Dwayne). But when it does come to muscle-men, logic dictates that the same requirement should fall on the shoulders of super-strong females. But that doesn’t fit the Hollywood narrative of what a ‘woman’ should look like. If Marvel ever gets real about making a female Hulk movie (I know she’s called She-Hulk, which is woefully derivative), I hope they CGI the crap out of it and make her as big as a house with really hairy legs. But hey, that’s not going to sell…

If we want to travel further down the rabbit-hole of unnatural selection, there is another problem with obscenely athletic physiques. Food. All too often, our heroes are out and about for 25 Hollywood hours of every day. They rarely sleep, they never poop, and for certain, they don’t eat a balanced diet. Muscles don’t grow out of thin air and hope. They are real physical components derived from adequate training stimuli and created from excess calorie consumption. Carbs and protein are fundamental to fuel our body and repair cellular damage. After that, with enough hormonal stimulus, a body will slowly lay down more muscle-fibre in response to exercise-specific stress. And man, is that process slow. There is a shortcut, namely steroids and growth hormone, but for the sake of litigation, I’m not going to discuss that in this post. Yet the point stands – our heroes appear to be the fitness equivalent of cold-fusion; unlimited power with little input. But there’s the rub; would you watch a film where the awesomely handsome hero stops whatever he’s doing to crack out his 400g tub of pasta and chow down on a tin of dry tuna every two hours? And have you ever had the displeasure of smelling the buttcheek-breeze of someone on a high-protein diet? It’s just not pleasant.

So, if we consider that your average, over-sized chemically enhanced body-builder trains for 2-3 hours and can consume 5000-8000 calories (or more) each day, you can see how Hollywood has it so wrong. But why? Well, movies aren’t meant to be real. At least, not the ones with heroes whose muscles take up more space than the end credits. With mutants and comic-fantasy, Hollywood doesn’t need to obey any laws of natural physiology. And in fairness, many of us love the sheer escapism of watching something so absurd as a man-mountain warrior emerge from a hard-labour camp with one piece of prehistoric fitness kit. As I say, it’s fitness Jim, but not as we know it.