[6 May 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
A hundred years from now, when the history of the new millennium is written in regard to film, whatever passes for a future movie journalist (if such a thing even exists) will probably opine that the then supervising Hollywood studios discovered a brilliant subgenre cash cow—the superhero/comic book action fantasy—and then beat that poor allegorical animal ATM to death. They’ll go back to Richard Donner and Superman, Tim Burton and his Batman films, flip through the flops of a pre-Kevin Feige Marvel, and dissect the dumb way DC dealt with their potential properties and then declare both a Golden Age and a filmic Fall of Rome. In the end, they will argue over what actually led to the categories demise, and one phrase will stick out amongst the various causations: “the Internet and social media”.
Indeed, the undeniable influence—be it indirect or actual—of the flame war fanboy and his brethren in Messageboard Nation will be cited as the source for why the once viable format faltered, and then failed. With their constant clamoring, desire to dictate even the most minute detail of a given film, they have become the callous crowd convinced that killing such a fatted calf is the right thing. Just this past week, the cast of the new Star Wars film was “announced”, and instead of taking the obvious pros and cons of the actors chosen in stride, the screeching Twitter outrage and blog bludgeoning began in full force. Similarly, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 recently arrived in theaters only to cause even more mayhem. Within hours of premiering, websites who pride themselves in “thoughtful” film criticism were Buzzfeeding the angry masses with clever, click-through headlines such as “The 10 Things Wrong with Spider-Man 2” and “The 15 Unanswered Questions Left for Spider-Man 3.”
Now, no concept can handle such intense, microscopic scrutiny. Look over the most flawless piece of art and you are bound to find a brushstroke out of place, or a color combination that just doesn’t work. 100% perfection does not exist, and in the soapbox democracy of the WWWorld, consensus is impossible. For every voice that enjoys a certain entertainment, there’s someone (or several) who find it offensive, weak, nominal, antithetical to their predetermined mindset, or perhaps the worst of all, outside established comic book canon or narrative mythology. This last idea is perhaps the most baffling of all. It’s safe to say that no recent superhero film is 100% faithful to its source, and yet when Christopher Nolan turns The Dark Knight into a serious crime drama (with costumes), no one seems to be screaming that loud.
Indeed, all of this seems to be a roundabout, self-important way of complaining about a less than successful cinematic experience. If The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was the best reviewed film of 2014, there would still be a considerable amount of aesthetic criticism, but it would be present in drips and drabs. Just go over the Facebook on any given day and look for the one or two people protesting what Nolan did with their favorite caped crusader or Marvel’s manipulation of its characters and you get the idea. There’s no din, no seismic outrage. In the case of Marc Webb’s weird reboot, which is part RomCom and part overstuffed spectacle, the complaints came from the beginning. From the goofball chemistry between leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone to the choice of Spider-babes (Gwen Stacey) and villain (Dr. Curt Connors, a.k.a. The Lizard), everything was ‘wrong.’
Of course, Hollywood initially could care less. Applying the ‘infant’ ideal to their blockbuster entertainment, they have quickly recognized that international audiences really don’t require a lot of depth and detail in their popcorn past times. Instead, foreign markets apparently want brightly colored objects moving rapidly in front of their faces, just like infants do. This is not meant to diminish the importance of such box office returns or to slander an entire population, but minimal dialogue and maximum eye candy have taken several questionable properties far into the billion dollar stratosphere. This, in turn, has caused the fanboy voice to become even more aggressive and shrill. Filled with a sense of entitlement that only a few decades of dedicated comic book collecting (or film going) can create, they now insist on indirectly determining the make-up of these movies by their grating group speak approach, in defiance of current business model which has Tinsel Town rolling in the bucks.
Unfortunately, it appears that the studios are starting to listen. They are using social media stridence to make the occasional decision, empowering these trolls. Of course, the last time anyone checked, the whole “too many cooks” cliche still applies. Now, they will never admit it, but the suits understand that a disgruntled fanbase is a less invested fanbase, and before long, their loyalty (already challenged) will falter. Granted, it’s hard to imagine the various Avengers becoming commercial dinosaurs (or worse, pariahs) but with enough vocal opposition comes the concept of being “uncool”, and no genre or subgenre can survive being labeled as such.
Take the recent announcement of a Justice League film. Fans are already angry over the way in which Man of Steel has morphed into Batman vs. Superman vs. Any Other DC Character the Filmmakers Feel Like Throwing Into the Mix Now and with the possibility of contentious director Zack Snyder staying on to see this material through to completion, some in the suggested demo have started checking out… a good two years before the movie will be released. The same with Star Wars. Devout fandom has turned into tirades as “Expanded Universe” and other beloved material is ignored or altered to achieve J.J. Abram’s creative aims.
It’s all becoming too much. You can already feel the glut. In 2014, audiences will revisit the X-Men, have already seen what Captain America and Spidey can do, and there’s the Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as other possibilities being shuffled around, and things only get worse in 2015. With Marvel making plans for the next decade and a half (!) and DC determined to catch-up, the situation will hit maximum density before long, resulting in an even bigger backlash than the one we’re seeing now.
The studios won’t care, as long as their foreign markets continue to contribute two to three times the domestic gross on each effort released. Instead of waiting around to polish their projects, Hollywood has take a “strike while the fire is hot” mentality with these movies. Too bad they can’t see the said flames are already faltering, and it’s the fanboys who are fueling the cool down—perhaps, to their own detriment.