It’s rare for me to watch a movie and not have at least one complaint about it before the credits roll. I’d chalk that up not to me being overly critical of films, but to how incredibly difficult it is for a movie to hold water all the way through yet not also disappoint in some way. Edge of Tomorrow turned out to be one of the rare cases where I was wholly satisfied, but the second the credits began, two guys sitting in my row started loudly discussing why they weren’t. They were disappointed that the movie [spoiler alert] doesn’t have a twist at the end. And while I guess I can’t blame them for expecting it to have a twist given how pervasive twists have been in entertainment over the past few years, I couldn’t fathom why they’d be disappointed the story didn’t have one.
The very nature of a plot twist means it reframes the context of the story it’s in, but if someone’s taken the time to really flesh out a world, develop characters, and craft an intriguing plot, it’s unlikely changing their context at the eleventh hour will strengthen any of those things. While there are many reasons why I could endlessly sing the praises of Breaking Bad, perhaps the biggest one is the fact that every single thing that happened in the show was inevitable because of who the characters were and the roads their actions consequently took them down. The narrative as a whole was a string of dominoes whose end wasn’t necessarily visible at the beginning, but with each piece that toppled it became clear what the next few would be. I love that kind of storytelling, because it lets a plot be delightfully potboiling while avoiding seeming predictable, but it does so without the writers having to resort to throwing a random wrench into the gears just to shake things up.
And perhaps that’s exactly why I tend to dislike a twist at the end of a plot, because (with the odd exception) it’s little more than a cheap, empty thrill employed for the sheer sake of a shock. But by changing the context of a key element of the story just to surprise the audience, a plot twist often also undercuts that element at the same time. There’s always a part of me that feels cheated when I learn a character isn’t who they were purported to be, or worse yet, when I can see who they really are from the outset and have to wait for the story to catch up to the reveal. But with the increasing pervasiveness of twist endings, viewers seem to frequently be doing the latter, leaving writers unsuccessful in their attempts at pulling the rug out from under the audience as a plot approaches its conclusion. And if audiences are so often ahead of the process that these attempts fail, why do writers keep persisting with them?
Maybe because there are so few truly original movies these days. From Marvel Studios to my childhood toys to reboots of sci-fi classics, it’s hard to ignore the fact that we’re living in a golden age for movie franchises. To sell audiences on the idea that there’s something new enough at the heart of properties that have been around in some fashion for years or even decades, employing a twist in concert with basic modernization seems to be the order of the day. And while I do enjoy a number of the not-so-new franchises that have become popular in the last few years, I’d be hard-pressed to ever pick watching an installment of one of them over watching something original that stands on its own. Really, it’s an awful lot like the plot of Edge of Tomorrow. Movies are looking to repeat the same formula over and over while implementing one small change in the hope that it’s enough to yield success, but total deviation from the plan everyone thinks should work is much more likely to win the day in my book.
And despite how much I dislike them, this column unfortunately has a twist ending of its own: it’s my last. Other commitments have made an increased demand on my time and sadly left me unable to continue with a weekly column, but I’ve loved my time at ComicMix and will certainly miss you, dear readers!