Last week I wrote about too much non-action on pro wrestling shows, and how much better a show is when it features more action and less talk. However, the action needs focus and purpose provided by storylines and angles. Otherwise, it’s simply two wrestlers or teams throwing fake punches at one another.
TODAY’S ISSUE: The importance of a strong storyline
To engage in a meaningful physical struggle, the combatants require a logical, reasonable reason to fight. I believe a straightforward, simple motivation is more elegant than a convoluted one, although in a carefully woven story, both sides might believe they are just. That makes for a powerfully emotional confrontation, but it can be difficult to accomplish, especially in the context of professional wrestling.
Indulge me for a moment and think about movies. The famous battles, when properly choreographed and filmed/edited, are entertaining enough on their own merits. Yet they mean so much more when strong motivations are clear to the audience, especially when the battle is logical and in context to the story.
If Rocky Balboa had been the number one contender to Apollo Creed’s world title because he’d beaten everyone else, had the best trainers and the best facilities, their clash in the original film would not have been special at all. What made Rocky’s efforts in going the distance so amazing was that he was an underdog so far out of Creed’s league, Apollo trained harder for his ring entrance than the fight itself. The joke of a challenger with no real ring skills used pure heart, guts, and determination to overcome the odds. That’s special.
In Kill Bill, The Bride was horribly wronged by her former partners-in-crime, and for no reason other than that she wanted to retire from the assassin game and lead a normal life. With every swing of her sword, you could feel her gaining a small degree of redemption for all she’d lost at the hands of Bill and the DIVAs. Each name she scratched from the list seemed to soothe her troubled soul, and fans anxiously awaited her final showdown with the man who orchestrated her near-destruction, Bill himself. Sure, the sword battles were all amazing scenes, but The Bride had such strong motivation, it made each kill that much sweeter.
The epic lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker near the end of Revenge of the Sith was fueled by anticipation, and the emotion involved. Star Wars fans have known of this epic encounter for decades. In wrestling terms, Lucas promoted the Hell out of their match before the two squared off, and ensured all the hype led to a pivotal confrontation worthy of it’s reputation. At the critical moment, Obi-Wan was forced to slice off both Anakin’s legs and his one good arm, in an amazing “finishing maneuver”. From a storyline standpoint, that one move had implications for the next three films, because the triple-amputations, burns, and lung damage Anakin suffered forced him into the famous Darth Vader life support suit until the day he died.
You’ll notice that Obi-Wan didn’t shove Anakin’s face between his butt-cheeks, strip him to his bra and panties, or get help from an improbable Leprechaun during their showdown.
It doesn’t take Shakespeare to create a compelling, interesting reason for two wrestlers to want to battle each other; in fact, simple, straightforward feuds can be the best. We see too many overly complicated storylines or angles that are prematurely dropped and never provide answers. For example:
Divas gone wild. For a while, the Mickie James/Trish Stratus feud was the best written program in wrestling, bar none. The whole identity-theft gimmick was brilliant, and really served to further Trish’s sense of urgency against her psychotic challenger. After James won the title, Stratus turned the tables on her, and began dressing like James (which James obviously did NOT appreciate). Trish also introduced Beth Phoenix as somebody James had wronged in the past, but that angle also never went anywhere. Sure, Phoenix is out injured, but you don’t have to take bumps to advance a storyline. At least tell us what went down between James and Phoenix years ago, and why Phoenix would hate James enough to attack her over and over.
Both angles seem to have fizzled away. Trish failed to reclaim her gold as the storyline suggested, and now Trish and Mickie co-exist on RAW without a trace of the heightened emotion in their feud any longer. In fact the last time the two met in the ring, Mickie James won the match, followed immediately by Trish getting into a feud with Melina. I guess the Mickie/Trish angle is over now. What a letdown.
Never go against the family. Nunzio was brought in as Jamie Noble’s cousin. There were supposed to be dangerous consequences to bringing Nunzio to WWE a few years ago. What ever became of that angle? The two have never even been seen on camera together for years. That’s just sloppy writing and follow-up.
Don’t cross the boss. Last December on RAW, Vince McMahon “fired” Eric Bischoff as General Manager of the brand. Soon after, he held interviews, and even once announced a date that the new GM would be selected. Since then, Vince has been involved in his separate feuds with Shawn Michaels and Triple H, and the GM angle seems to have been dropped. Sure, those issues lead to the reformation of DX, but what was all the GM build-up good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again!
What was that? Finlay’s Little Bastard has been seen coming out from under the ring week after week for a while now. How does he get from city to city? The ring is never in the same place twice. Is he there when the crew breaks down the ring and packs it into the truck? What does he eat? What does he do on days when there are no live SmackDown! shows?
Is it real, or is it Memorex? Kane. I hate writing about Kane. As I’ve described in this column in great detail, Kane’s past is so convoluted, I can’t understand how the character even knows what planet he’s on anymore. Recently, a Kane imposter has been stalking the Big Red Machine, and it’s been revealed that he is somebody from Kane’s past. However, the audience doesn’t know who he is, what he did to Kane, or why Kane fears him. It must have been pretty awful, since Kane is usually the one terrorizing his victims, not tucking his tail in fear.
At Vengeance, the two Kanes faced off in a six minute snoozefest, in which the imposter Kane defeated the original via a blocked top rope maneuver countered into a chokeslam. The outcome was not convincing, as the match could have gone either way. The next night on RAW, Kane destroyed his doppelganger, ripped off his mask (although the TV camera could not see his face), and tossed him out of the arena. If that’s the end of the angle, it was yet another storyline that faded away rather than going out with a blaze of glory.
Much like a joke with no punch line, wrestling angles that fail to deliver a payoff are nothing more than a waste of time. I’m constantly amazed that writers are allowed to simply drop a storyline in the middle on so many occasions.
Wrestling fans should be allowed to see a solid storyline that leads to a big showdown and some sort of character resolution. Bookers should keep it simple, remember the history they’ve already written, and ensure each arc has a beginning, middle, and definitive ending.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
Check out the second installment of The Acute Angle by Ted VanHouten IV, Mark Neeley’s NeelDown Video Review of Judgment Day 2004, and Iain Burnside’s latest Anti-Pulse.
p.s. – Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? After all, they’re both dogs.