When everybody gets excited for ultra-gear thrillers like GI Joe, we get nervous. Techno-thrillers are brilliant when done right (think Casino Royale) but worse than awful when done wrong (think Firewall). Here are 20 tropes filmmakers should avoid.
1. Do not lower any characters through the ceiling of a museum/government building/secret lair on a thin wire so that they can dangle alluringly over a glowing object that they are about to steal/appropriate/destroy.
2. Make sure your main character is none of the following: A former bad guy/good guy who has to come out of retirement for one last job; A regular person who has been misidentified as a seriously elite bad guy/good guy and is now on the run and somehow, improbably, able to evade trained trackers without any prior training themselves; A person with a giant gap in their memories who must figure out what caused the gap and what happened during it; A man who is ultra-competent who must save his annoyingly useless/weepy wife and/or snotty/rebellious teenage kid.
3. Do not include a geek talking about covert gadgets as comic relief.
4. Do not get lazy and turn your bad guys into "evil people who get their kicks out of torturing our hero." Bad guys in a thriller should always have an agenda. I don't care what it is: Overturning a political regime is great; so is world domination. Nothing is more boring or stupid than a bad guy who just wants to get his or her jollies. Save it for Saw 12, OK?
5. Your entire story should not revolve around a missing tape/USB drive/piece of footage/surveillance photograph. That is not a plot. It is a MacGuffin.
6. Women in your story should not exist solely to be looked at. Black people in your story should not exist solely to be killed. Asians should not have Asian accents unless they are actually from Asia (also they should not run dark little shops that sell mysterious items). Arabs should not be terrorists. White people should not be rich weirdos whose family members have turned up missing.
7. Do not suggest that the ancient, mystical manuscripts/objects in your tale actually have mystical power.
8. No character at any point should suggest that something that isn't a computer will be hacked. We will not be hacking the planet, the biosphere, the culture, outer space, the monster's genetic code, or anything other than AN ACTUAL COMPUTER. And when we do hack that computer? Please bother to ask your sysadmin for the names of a few real network tools instead of making stupid crap up.
9. When your main character discovers that he or she is under surveillance, do not illustrate this discovery with a freakout scene of ripping apart a hotel room/apartment/car searching for bugs. Any self-respecting dweller in the information age knows that the best way to avoid surveillance is to throw that freakin' cell phone away, don't surf the internet from your own computer, rip all OnStar crap out of your car, and stop using credit cards.
10. Showing your hero's face getting sweaty is not a way of ramping up the tension. Just stop it.
11. If your main character is hallucinating/going mad/getting paranoid/being drugged, do not indicate this by showing people's faces looming into the camera and having their voices get echoey. As a corollary, do not indicate that we have entered the realm of flashback by going black-and-white or giving us ultra-saturated color.
12. At no point in the story is your main character allowed to look in a mirror, check him or herself out, and make an admiring quip about how badass they are.
13. Speeches given before firing a gun should be no longer than the time it takes to pull out the gun and fire.
14. High tech items in the story should not all be disguised as innocuous objects. ("This scarf is actually a camera. This stuffed Garfield is actually a grenade.") Sometimes a gun or micro-surveillance device can look like itself.
15. Characters should not have cutsey or butch nicknames like Red or Titan. Everyone in a thriller goes by his or her last name except while having sex or using a pseudonym/codename. That's an unbreakable rule.
16. Car chases in the country cannot take place on precarious ridges next to a gorgeous ocean view. Car chases in the city cannot involve the top of a truck being chopped off in a low tunnel. Car chases in tunnels cannot include scraping against the walls so that sparks fly. In addition, there will be no moment where the bad guys bump their vehicle against the good guy's vehicle, especially if they have some kind of saw or jabby thing that's intended to cripple the good guy's car. You are permitted to drag your hero behind a car/train/bus on the gravel ONLY if he or she gets really scraped up horribly or there is a good excuse (like body armor) that scraping isn't an issue. Do not scrimp on the explosions or jet packs.
17. Do not send your main characters to infiltrate a party at the rich white people's house wearing formal evening gowns while the geeky comic relief waits outside in a van and gives directions from a tiny radio nestled in your main characters' ears. Rich white people live in Faraday cages, OK? You're going to have to figure out a better way to communicate.
18. Absolutely no character will ever be referred to as another character's "handler." What does that even mean? If you mean bodyguard, just say it. If you mean creepy dude with a nebulous mission and unexplained relationship to the power structure of your characters' secret cabal, it's time to scrap that "handler."
19. Gunfights should not take place in an abandoned factory/warehouse full of conveniently-located vats of boiling oil or giant hooks or bone-crunching gears.
20. Mad scientists are no longer permitted to operate from private islands or VIP areas of goth nightclubs.