The Rich Kid One Day From Retirement Just Wants Friends; A Discussion of Cliche’ , Tropes, and Originality

It’s difficult to call Real Steel anything more than a Rocky clone with robots, because truthfully speaking, it is a Rocky clone with robots. The overarching plot deals with the same underdog story that Stallone’s masterpiece dealt with, and the “down and out” boxer trope is immediately evident, literally since Hugh Jackman ends up playing a down and out boxer who tries to make ends meet with a host of fighting robots. Sadly, he just can’t win and somehow he ends up reuniting with his son after 10 years because the mother’s dead and someone has to have custody of the child. Factor in the fact that the underdog robot that Jackman’s son finds has to work its way up the ranks to stardom, plus the additional detail that the underdog robot gets to take on the reigning champ (and “Strongest fighter ever”), and the final detail that he almost beats the champ but loses because the judges say so, and you’ve got Rocky with robots.

Granted, 2011 had more than one Rocky clone, with Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy’s Warrior, where two brothers join a mixed martial arts tournament to scrounge up enough money to live – one to provide for the family of his dead friend, and the other to provide for his very real and very alive family. Suffice it to say, the same tropes are present, except the element of “down and out boxer” are replaced with “down and out MMA fighter” and “down and out soldier who deserted, but saved the lives of his fellow servicemen by ripping the door off a tank.” Again, the film is filled with training montages, difficult relationship between family and friends, and an almost miraculous rise to the top that culminates in one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen on television or film.

That being said, the term Rocky clone has quite a bit of significance, as any critic who uses the phrase immediately implies four or five things; first, the main character is down on his luck, second, the film is filled with training montages, third, the main character has difficult relationships with one of the other characters, fourth (and finally), the main character experiences an unprecedented rise to the top where he faces off with the reigning champion. The optional fifth is the victory; whether or not the main character beats the champion is up to the director and the genre of film. Usually, however, the main character loses the fight against the champion, but wins with the other characters. Rocky doesn’t beat Apollo Creed, but he does win the hearts and minds of the audience, and the love of Adrian. Warrior has two main characters and it manages to combine both victory and loss into a single believable element (no, seriously. Warrior is amazing).

As further proof, when it was first released, The Karate Kid was affectionately dubbed “The Ka-Rocky Kid” for following the guidelines set out by the first Rocky, except Daniel-San wins the fight in the end, in addition to the love of Ali and the respect of the brutal Cobra Kai fighter Johnny.

Obviously, Stallone’s film was not the first movie to use the aforementioned tropes, because Rocky was a David and Goliath movie, where the main character represents David, and his opponent, an almost unstoppable force of nature, represents Goliath. In fact, all of the aforementioned movies are David and Goliath affairs; each main character must overcome his own obstacles, in addition to the obstacles set up by the characters around him to win his personal battle, and do incredibly well against a champion that everyone else expects to beat him. In summation, the main character is expected to lose, and even if they do, the damage is done to Goliath in such a way that the audience understands that it was David’s victory.

Of course, David and Goliath weren’t the first to follow their tropes either, because even before their story was recorded, there were civilizations far before who had similar warriors fighting similar battles. Some lost, some won, but under each circumstance, the real victor was the underdog, and that’s exactly what it comes down to. Humanity enjoys a good underdog story; we, as an audience, enjoying watching people rise up and confront their challenges. We enjoy watching people win when we know they have no discernible reason that can explain their triumph, other than an unparallelled force of luck combined with a terrifying level of determination and, of course an outstanding training montage.

Interestingly enough, I’m not against these films for portraying no-win scenarios with victories provided by hard work and determination; once again, I’ve joined the “Never give up” school of thought. What I’m interested in is far more intrinsic than a seemingly impossible victory by a hockey team during the Winter Olympics, or a dog that can play basketball.

For a moment, however, I’d like to discuss ABC’s The Middle, a show that, on the surface, appears to be nothing more than a clone of Fox’s Malcom In the Middle. Right down to the inclusion of “middle” as a reference to middle class, ABC’s program is almost identical to Fox’s; both have fathers who struggle to provide for their families, both have mothers who are far more neurotic than should be healthy, both feature older brothers who are academic failures, but prodigies in other areas. Not to mention, both feature youngest children who express odd quirks , both shows feature misunderstood or neglected middle children. Finally, both shows feature middle class families struggling for money, while trying to overcome their natural dysfunction.

Also, back to the matriarchs, both shows have mothers that would terrify and potentially damage children if they existed anywhere outside the creative universe. No, seriously, envisioning Lois or Frankie as real mothers is an incredible feat. It becomes all the more incredible once one considers that families like these exist and situations like theirs are far more real than fictional; strong willed humans like the aforementioned mothers are created everyday thanks to difficult home lives and even worse social climates. I do digress, however.

My point is, The Middle and Malcolm In the Middle are shows that exist in different eras (literally, Fox’s program doesn’t air anymore; its run ended in 2006) but maintain a similar core set of guidelines. As I continue to write, however, I’m beginning to notice a trend where my assumptions are thoroughly and vividly dashed, which is exactly what happened when I watched a few episodes from ABC’s comedy. The show is hilarious, the characters are brilliantly acted, and Neil Flynn is in it playing a normal guy (instead of a homicidal, psychotic, and sociopathic janitor, like he did on Scrubs).

As I continue to watch episodes of the show, though, my original point about it being similar in nature to Fox’s hit remains, regardless of how much I laugh at the truly brilliant humour.

Despite this fact, I can’t call it a Malcom In the Middle clone for the simple reason that it’s not. I don’t mean that the premises aren’t similar, because they are, and I don’t mean the characters are the same, even though they almost are, and I don’t even mean that the random setting is the same, because it almost is. I mean that I can’t call it a clone, because it’s not a clone, just as much as Real Steel and Warrior aren’t clones of Rocky.

Quite the contrary, these independent properties are dubbed clones because they share the same core guidelines; in short, they share the same tropes, and therefore share similar details in character and plot. There is, however, one point I must make abundantly clear; a trope is not a cliche’. Instead, a trope becomes cliche when it is used poorly; the “one day from retirement” trope only becomes cliche’ when it’s inserted without any genuine reason or detail (unless it’s used for comedic effect, and then it’s a trope again). In a similar fashion, the “rich kid only wants friends” trope also becomes cliche’ when it’s clear that the rich kid is violent and sociopathic to the point of brutality. I can guarantee that that child doesn’t want friends who can end up dead in a deep freezer, but therapy – or a role as a supervillain.

I’ve noticed that whenever an individual dislikes a certain property originality is attacked first. The claim is made that “there’s nothing original these days; only remakes and reboots of popular properties are done,” and, quite frankly I don’t disagree.

The important thing to remember, however, is that originality is very rarely original, and regardless of how original one may claim their work is, it’s most likely been done before. Something original is only made once one takes the tropes created in the past and uses them in an amazing way, like Rocky, or The Middle. I suppose my main point can be summed succinctly: no matter what a person might think of Inception, a Scrooge McDuck cartoon from years ago did the “Dream within a dream” thing first.

The only difference is that Christopher Nolan did it better; Oscar wins, or not.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!


  1. It’s dougie time!

  1. February 15th, 2012
    Trackback from : free classifieds

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