The James Clayton Column: Beating the baddies by pulling funny faces

Could the good guys in Micmacs be onto something? James considers a new way for movie villains to be beaten...

Of all the ‘reasons why the movies are better than real life’, the rule that ‘the good guys win’ is right there at the top of the list marked in highlighter pen and decorated with a doodle of a smiley face.

Classic Hollywood convention has it that good things come to virtuous, pure and decent characters and the despicable villains will be brought down, defeated and receive due comeuppance in the end. Real life only pays lip-service to Hollywood convention,, though. The good guys win? Yeah, right…

In real life, Pandora would end up totally pummelled, the entire planet turned into a vast unobtainium mine and the Na’vi rendered extinct (apart from the one that used to be a paraplegic marine. There’s a hit reality TV pitch in there somewhere, so they cryogenically save him for later).

Likewise, if it was happening in our actuality and not the screen realm of “a long time ago in a galaxy far away”, the Ewok insurgency would never be allowed to overcome the Intergalactic Empire. Utter evil undermined by furry critters whose entire existence is one of peace, love and tree-house parties in the forest? Not in this reality, sister.

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Because alien genocides aren’t well-documented in the news, I’ll turn to the greatest political drama of Golden Age Hollywood, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, to illustrate the point. It’s nice to think that the moral and righteous little guy could sweep into the big city like a fresh breeze and mend the wicked ways of the malevolent order. Sadly, that sort of thing only happens in Frank Capra films and, in truth, Washington would have destroyed and dispensed with Smith before he’d even had a chance to visit the Lincoln Memorial.

In reality, Mr. Smith goes to Washington, gets his hotel room bugged, has to pay protection to the mafia and finds himself the victim of a tabloid smear campaign. The Boy Rangers’ beloved white knight rides onto Capitol Hill only to be ripped to pieces by the cynical political machine and the sleazeballs that feast off it. Frank Capra’s version is definitely more appealing.

The ultimate überbastards of our mundane world are, indeed, the men in suits – the politicians and their big business buddies – and the forces of good haven’t got a chance against them. It appears to me that you’re more likely to find traces of unobtainium in the corridors of power than come across a clear conscience. How can we uproot the evil establishment with all these greasy palms, whitewash inquiries and self-interested slimeballs actively working to disempower what is right and just?

It’s been proven repeatedly that trying to defeat the baddies through political and legal avenues never achieves anything. It’s also boring and liable to end up in maddening bureaucracy and mountains of paperwork. Yet, in the movies the baddies are brought to justice and it looks like the good guys have a hell of a lot of fun doing it. Clearly, the only way we can make beneficial reform is by taking lessons from motion pictures.

Explosive uprisings like the climax of V For Vendetta and furious vengeance trips à la Kill Bill are all appealing, but ultimately are impractical and overly serious. Even though it’s only a couple of dumb crooks getting their comeuppance, I’m looking at Home Alone as inspirational material.

With a DIY ethic, a house full of homemade booby traps and a little imagination, sweet innocence (Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin) brings down the dastardlies in hilarious style. It’s proof that the old Klingon proverb “revenge is a dish best served cold” is wrong. Retribution is most glorious when you’ve reduced wrongdoers to humiliation and left them covered in paint and pillow-feathers.

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If I’m taking aim at the baddies on a global-scale, Kevin’s ‘house of horrors’ operation is going to need expanding. Luckily enough, Jean Pierre-Jeunet has made Micmacs and in doing so provided a sublime cinematic blueprint on how to bring down the nasty bastards with minimal bloodshed and maximum humour.

If Micmacs is anything to go by, the international arms trade can be brought to its knees by a bunch of quirky junkyard heroes armed with little more than their wit and some salvaged equipment. Where official inquiries, investigative journalism and UN peace missions have failed, a few homeless nutcases succeed in knocking out a couple of the world’s most wicked weapons manufacturers with a giant grin on their faces. Justice has never looked like so much fun.

After watching the two war profiteers get played against each other and pulled down by farcical plots, I feel way more empowered in my own individual ability to challenge evil than I did after Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Like a more-caustic, continental Home Alone, Micmacs affirms that defeating the Dark Side is most enjoyable and effective when it’s done as a DIY effort with light-hearted optimism and comic creativity.

You don’t need high-tech resources and materials. Jeunet’s latest flick shows how you can rout the bad guys with steampunkish style using recycled rubbish from the junkyard. Furthermore, Micmacs suggests that you don’t even need specially-trained military forces to fight iniquity. All you need is teamwork and a crack troop of kooks employing their own special talent where necessary.

Screw The A-Team. If I had an undercover mission I’d call up Bazil, his contortionist companion, the human calculator and the rest of the loopy simpletons to get the job done properly.

Bazil’s super-skill appears to be nothing more than an ability to pull silly faces and he’s mentally affected by the bullet lodged in his skull. Nevertheless, every single elaborate scheme, robbery, set-up and stunt he concocts with his rag-tag band comes off smoothly.

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Seeing them bring about the double-downfall of the arms dealers through a series of stealth plots, prank phone calls and fancy dress disguises, I’m reconsidering the avenues of justice in the real world. When international diplomacy, peacekeeping missions and activism haven’t stopped corrupt corporations and governments trading death-devices in the ‘real world’, the triumph of the underdog and retribution realised in Micmacs is sweet, indeed.

I’m sick of the bad guys winning. The victory of the good guys in Micmacs leads me to conclude that we need more madcap slapstick rebel bands if evil is to be thwarted in the ‘real world’. It also makes me wonder why I wasted all those years honing my ninja skills and training to be a masked vigilante. I should’ve just stuck to amateur dramatics…

James’ previous column can be found here.