Making an exciting, compelling film isn’t easy if the barrage of terrible movies is anything to go by, but while there are a lot of reasons for a movie to be terrible there is one specific reason which occurs somewhat frequently that I’ve named The Spaghetti Taco Hamburger.
What is a Spaghetti Taco Hamburger? Separately, spaghetti is tasty, tacos are delicious, and hamburgers are great. But together, your taste buds are going in a million different directions, each flavor detracts from the others, and those three dishes become a giant muddled mess in your mouth.
Likewise, in film, a Spaghetti Taco Hamburger is when one film includes more than one movie premise to the point that it detracts from every other premise in the film, resulting in a muddled mess of a movie.
A film can have multiple storylines – an A storyline, a B storyline, a C storyline, etc. – but usually there will be an A storyline and the rest will be side storylines with the side storylines not detracting the from the main storyline. Each storyline needs to work together to create a coherent film.
A Spaghetti Taco Hamburger results when those side storylines are so strong and so disconnected that it seems like multiple movies crammed into one film, and when those multiple storylines start detracting from each other so none of them get adequate time to be flushed out.
A perfect example of this – and the film for which I coined the term – is Super 8.
The JJ Abrams-directed Super 8 had an interesting starting premise: a movie about a group of kids making a movie while dealing with their crappy parents. While that premise is interesting and those parts of the film were by far the best, that premise is not a summer blockbuster. So the producers crammed two other movies into the film to make it one: a movie about an alien monster attacking a small town; and a movie about a military cover up.
Separately, these three storylines could have made interesting movies had they had enough screentime to be properly explored. The problem is none of them had enough time, so all three of them detracted from each other resulting in one giant Spaghetti Taco Hamburger.
While I actually thought the initial premise of Super 8 had great potential and I would have loved to see an entire film just about that, the second example of a Spaghetti Taco Hamburger, The Amazing Spider-man 2, doesn’t have any redeeming storylines.
It’s easy for a superhero movie to fall into Spaghetti Taco Hamburger territory by having more than one villain in the film. But where Batman Begins succeeds in combining multiple villains, The Amazing Spider-man 2 fails. In an attempt to create an interconnected Spider-man universe at Sony (ala Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe), The Amazing Spider-man 2 crammed two completely separate villains with two completely separate storylines, plus set up for even more villains which would feature in future films, plus the Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy storyline all into one film. None of these storylines had enough room to breathe so what we got was a big, noisy mess. Unlike Super 8, none of The Amazing Spider-man 2‘s storylines were interesting or worth exploring. Unlike Super 8, I wasn’t bummed that The Amazing Spider-man 2 crammed too much in; I was just bored.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is another great example of a Spaghetti Taco Hamburger in that it has at least four different movies crammed into one two and a half hour film. Whereas The Amazing Spider-man 2 had four different storylines none of which were worth exploring, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had four storylines which would have made four interesting movies.
In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there is: A Man of Steel sequel dealing with the fallout of the events in that film and Superman coming to terms with his own place in the human world; a Batman solo movie introducing Ben Affleck as an older, more grizzled Batman who is tired of dealing with a string of never-ending bad guys; a solo Wonder Woman movie which introduces that character and also sets up the rest of the Justice League; and a Batman v Superman movie with Lex Luthor as the ultimate villain who is masterminding the battle between the two biggest super heroes around.
Each individual component of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was good and interesting, but by combining those four storylines into a single film each one got shortchanged and there just was not enough time to explore all of those concepts. All four of those concepts would have made great movies, but the combination made a Spaghetti Taco Hamburger and ultimately hurt the film.
Having more than one storyline, concept, or premise does not make a film a Spaghetti Taco Hamburger, but when those storylines compete with each other rather than help each other to the point that none of the storylines are properly flushed out the film becomes a big, muddled mess of a movie – otherwise known as a Spaghetti Taco Hamburger.