The job of a mentor is a simple one. A mentor is the one who will teach you how to fight like a ninja and kill a man simply by pressing his thumb. A mentor is the one who will teach you to only use these skills for good and that with great power comes great responsibility.
This is all well and good if you are about to save the universe but your average Joe Blogs would settle for a little help with avoiding the traffic on the way to work or help teaching bullies a lesson or two.
If you take a look at the great mentors of history through a totally unbiased lens (that of the movies), you can only come to one conclusion. Any movie that features a mentor is made possible only because the mentor teaches his student the skills needed to conquer some form of bad guy. Sure the mentor could just sort out the problem himself but then the movie would become pointless and boring.
Personally I happen to think doing something the complicated way just so a movie can be made is a little on the risky side and makes me ask how many mentors really drop the ball.
1 – Yoda – Star Wars
The one good thing that came out of the Star Wars prequels was that we got to see got a chance to see Yoda kick some serious ass when he needs to. This means that over the course of his lifetime he has probably fought with and defeated hundreds of bad guys who have turned to the dark side of the force.
What does stand out in the Star Wars prequels, set only 19 years before the original trilogy, is Yoda’s ability to jump around all over the place in a way that seems impossible for anything other than demented cat. If Yoda really is 900 years old the 19 years between the prequels and the original trilogy would be the same as 2 years in human terms. It is somehow difficult to believe that in two years Yoda has went from being able to jump around like a horny gymnast on meth to a nearly crippled green squid who hobbles around struggling to breath. Aging doesn’t exactly work in this way.
The point that is been made here is this. It was Yoda who sent Luke Skywalker off to fight Darth Vader, the most evil, dangerous and powerful person in the entire history of forever. On top of this Yoda sent Luke off to fight this bad guy having made him jog half a mile and perform some one handed vertical push-ups instead of going to do the job himself.
Yoda has at least nine centuries of Jedi experience behind him, Darth Vader has about forty years and Luke has about three minutes if he is lucky. It does not matter how good of a mentor you happen to be or how much you, as a mentor, are vested in your pupil’s success, you really do not want to put such a huge responsibility in such inexperienced hands. To sum this up Yoda, potentially the most experienced Jedi in the entire universe, sent a pouty faced pretty boy to do a job he was much more experienced to do. It seems a bit stupid to risk millions of innocent lives and the fate of the universe on the ability of your pouty faced student who has the most limited Jedi training ever.
2 – Falcor – The Never Ending Story
Before we go any further can we just say that we know Falcor is probably more of an oversized sparkling puppy with dodgy eyes than a real mentor but for these purposes we’ll say he is close enough.
Throughout the entire story of The Never Ending Story the luck dragon, Falcor, is able to fly in the face of the Nothing who is the most powerful force inside Bastian’s head. We see him as the last existing creature after the rest of an imaginary world falls apart. He is even able to survive after the world itself is nothing more than dust. We know this because, as a luck dragon, he has this amazing power to show us this just in the nick of time.
With such an amazing power you really have to wonder would it not have been a lot luckier if the bad stuff hadn’t happened in the first place. Bastian may have had to learn to trust himself and that he had the power, yeah, yeah, yeah, but wouldn’t it have been so much simpler if Falcor just flew himself into the human world (something he manages to do when he inflicts trauma on those unfortunate looking bullies at the end), and grabbed Bastian, then whisked him off to Fantasia. He could have done this without all the dying, crying, tears and heart-wrenching despair. I bet if you were to tell the truth you would admit to crying when the horse sank into the Swamps of Sorrow.
3 – Gandalf – Lord of the Rings Trilogy
It is hard, if not impossible, to say that Tolkien is not a complete genius who single handily managed to change the face of fantastical fiction forever and invented several new genres along the way. This may all be true but the character Gandalf appears to have been used to tidy things up a little too conveniently.
Gandalf is a pretty awesome guy. He can fight a huge fire-rock-monster-demon for weeks and weeks without ever stopping to eat, drink, sleep or take a dump and still come out on the other side of it with hair that looks like he should be in a Head and Shoulders commercial. He can use his staff to create a bright light and talk to moths, and probably a load of other cool things. This guy can probably click his fingers to shoot fire from his ass while using a mind control technique to make Burt Reynolds lap dance for him. Since Gandalf has such awesome powers why does he not just leap onto a passing eagle, fly to Mordor himself, and dispose of the ring rather than making everyone else’s life suck?
The guy spends the entire movie hiding behind this claim that he has bigger plans to save al of humanity, elvendom, dwarf-race and hobbithood from enslavement and genocide. It makes you just want to give him a shake and tell him to man up. It really does not seem right that he turns a hairy-footed child into a hero who gets so messed up by the end that he has to take the elf-boat to lala-land. This is all a little bit of an extreme way of seeing what the poor guy “is made of”.
4 – Fin Raziel – Willow
It is unfortunate to say the least that when Willow discovered the good witch she was turned into some kind of weird big-tall rat creature which made it pretty hard for her to wield any of her usual powers. Even so was her best bet really to turn to a farmer with no magical training whatsoever?
When the whole wide world is in danger of being taken over by the evil Bavmorda would it not be a better idea to seek out the help of a real wizard? Why would Fin Raziel put all her money on a man who has little more going for him than a big heart? She is certainly no shining example of wizardry which means the whole magical battle to be decided by Willow’s ridiculous party trick which involves hiding under a table. It was not even Fin Raziel who taught Willow this trick and Bavamorda only fell for it because apparently she has the attention span of a gnat. You have to wonder if things would have been better have Fin Raziel not been involved at all.
5 – Mr Miyagi – The Karate Kid
The Karate Kid seems to take place in some kind of alternative reality in which karate is the coolness factor that cool kids everywhere state their reputations by. For reasons unknown karate is awesome and our lead character Daniel must learn all about it to stop his life being so miserable.
Well, this is what the movie wants us to believe. This is where the man who wrote the book on movie mentors comes on to the scene to lend a hand. He manages to get Daniel to take care of all his chores while looking bemused and spouting senseless phrases. Somewhere in the process Daniel manages to learn karate and how to beat up the other kids.
Mr Miyagi, you certainly do rock! You teach an impressionable teenager that the perfect way to solve your problems is to start throwing kicks and punches towards someone’s face. Would Daniel not have been better off with some counselling and perhaps some sane and measured adult help?
6 – Splinter – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Have you noticed how karate and ninja based movies always seem to involve teenagers? Why not try directing these youngsters towards following some sort of useful pursuit that will lead them to success in later life?
As we know a super-secret clan of super ninjas infiltrate New York City. Is it not in the slightest bit strange that the FBI, the military or even the NYPD seem to be totally oblivious about this? Since Splinter the rat knows about this surely it would be better for him to tell someone rather than keeping it a secret just so his prodigies can learn a valuable about teamwork.
What makes matters even worse is that in times of need the old flee ridden rat can hardly lift his head. What sort of ninja is this thing supposed to be? Splinter really needs to stop pretending to suck just so some mutant turtles can have a few minutes in the spotlight. Or at least call 911 and mention that the city has just been invaded by guys in pyjamas.
7 – Dumbledore – Harry Potter
If you ever needed a textbook example of an all-powerful mentor who somehow manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time all of the time then you need to look no further than Dumbledore.
Think about this. You happen to be the most powerful wizard in the world ever and everyone who is anyone knows it. You could organise a massive hunt for the enemy, you could build a powerful weapon to combat the enemy, you could do an infinite number of useful things but instead you teach a bunch of geeky kids at a school. Well actually, you don’t even teach at the school because you are the headmaster. Basically you just sit in a room wasting time and pretending to look busy unless you happen to realise that something is going to happen then you find yourself to be in the least useful place imaginable.
Harry Potter on the other hand manages to stumble upon important, story-changing things out of sheer luck. Dumbledore on the other hand has to search to the ends of the earth; spending weeks and months away and leaving his students at risk from god know what. Then, at the end, he just goes and dies trying to protect the children he previously left vulnerable. If the guy had not blown so much in the first place, he’d probably still be alive today.