Topic of the Week: What Happened to Taking Risks?

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

When the new X-Men: Apocalypse trailer was released, I cringed at the mere thought of watching it, after the bad taste that Days of Future Past gave me.  But, because I am a masochist, I watched it anyway.  And Holy Cannoli, did this not only look bad, but it was also emotionlessly bad.  For the first time, I had no feeling whatsoever from watching the trailer to a superhero movie.  It was that blah.  Make no mistake, feeling nothing is worse than even the most negative feeling when watching a trailer for what is supposed to be an epic, emotionally charged story.  Why were my emotions absent?  The trailer gave me the impression that the filmmakers did not want to do anything original.  Movies such as Apocalypse and Star Wars Episode 7 make me ask, do big movies take risk anymore?  The answer is no, and here are my reasons why.

Reason #1. – Lack of diversity

There was a time when superhero movies took risks—the early-to-mid-2000s.  For me, this was a fun time to love superhero films because there was something for everyone.  Bryan Singer’s modern look and depiction of X-Men, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, the ultra-violent and depressing revenge tale that is The Punisher, and the dark, grounded look of Nolan’s Batman.  Sure, there were stinkers (Daredevil, Hulk) but before Iron Man there was diversity.  Filmmakers were willing to be make movies that were 100% serious, in that they were devoid of self-aware humor, and were about well-developed characters struggling with personal conflicts.  Even the bad ones had memorable characters (see Harry Osborn in Spider-Man 3; it’s pretty glorious).

I don’t feel the emotion from any of the newer superhero/blockbuster films, mainly because all of them are ripped straight from preexisting comics.  There are no new takes on characters, such as, “what if Mary Jane was the first person Spider-Man fell in love with?”  Instead, the modern superhero/blockbuster film tries to do certain stories and situations that we’ve seen before.  I remember when I saw Amazing Spider-Man 2 (don’t ask); I had no investment when Gwen died because her death was the most talked-about Spider-Man comic book shock of the last forty years.  And if the problem’s not “oh, I’ve seen this before”, it’s “wow, they expect me to be emotional when a certain “shocking” event happens?”.  Case in point: Bucky in Captain America: The First Avenger.  In the comics, he is Cap’s best friend; in the movie, he is criminally underdeveloped and appears in a handful of scenes.  Yet, apparently we are supposed to care when he dies.  Now, when Ben Parker died in Spider-Man or when Cyclops died in X3 (I know, not a good movie), I either felt sad or pissed.  Why?  Because 1) the characters were developed to be likable and/or interesting and 2) the deaths were not done for shock value.  This leads me to—

Reason #2 – They don’t want you to invest in characters

Marvel’s films are the worst at one-dimensional characters, because none of them evolve or even have dramatic scenes.  In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they could have talked about Captain America being the man out of time.  Instead, they give us jokes that he has seen Star Wars, and doesn’t want to date anyone.  What the hell!  They have one of the best characters in one of the best stories and they screw it up!  Another character that criminally has no character is Iron Man.  One minute he tells us that he is a changed man and the next he is being a dick.  Iron Man has switched from being nice to a dick more times than a WWE wrestler.

Everything these characters do feels like they are going through the motions.  You get more emotions out of Peter Weller as RoboCop than any of the Avengers, especially the biggest idiot of them all—Thor.  After the first Thor came out, everyone was saying that the chemistry between Portman and Hemsworth was awful.  Yet, nothing improved for the sequel.  Their romance was a “driving force” for both of those films, but why should I care when their relationship is basically, “Hey, we think that each other’s hot, so let’s have children who will follow in our shallow footsteps!”  I’m sorry, but the relationships in these movies are as bad as Twilight.  It just doesn’t seem that way because right now it’s not cool to make fun of Marvel movies.

Reason #3 – The fans rule movies

I was listening to Chris Jericho’s (wrestler, singer, and actor) podcast, in which he stated, “If the fans rule the match, the match is not exciting.”  In my opinion, this rule also applies to movies.  After Godzilla (1998) tanked, fans clamored for a simple monster movie with a non-lizard Godzilla.  What they received in 2014 was a Godzilla movie that tried mightily to service them with not only a non-lizard and bigger Godzilla, but also two other monsters, PLUS major stars Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe.  The movie was also a direct sequel to the 1954 original (and it even showed footage from that movie).  Sure, fans got what they wanted and what they knew they were going to see, but they forgot to demand one thing—authenticity.  A movie is authentic when the filmmakers are making their own decisions and not servicing fans with a bunch of bells and whistles.

Reason #4 – Sequels

Nowadays, you don’t even need to see the movie, because the Internet and media bombard you with news about the sequel(s) before said movie even comes out.  Let’s look at Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I haven’t seen it because there is no point; based on the news that all of the stars are going to appear in future films, you know that they all live.  You also know that nothing earth-shattering happens, 1) otherwise people would actually be talking about it and 2) because we already know that Civil War directly follows this film, and the only notable consequence of it is that Ultron’s destruction has caused the government to enforce superhero registration.  Do I really need to watch Ultron to find out anything else, when I already know the aftermath?  Movie news nowadays spoils the movie as badly as a Wikipedia synopsis.  Why should I be invested when I already know who’s going to live or who’s going to be in it?  Don’t you think The Force Awakens would be more exciting if we did not know for sure whether or not Luke Skywalker is coming back for the eighth one?  Or that there will be a new villain in the eighth one?  Studios have become so franchise-crazy that they have robbed moviegoers of the true movie-viewing experience.  Franchises are not made to tell an engaging story; they are simply a safe way to keep people coming back to the theatres, and relieving all writers, producers, and filmmakers of their true purpose—generating new ideas and original ways to tell an old story.

Maybe one day moviegoers will be tired of spoiled, fan-servicing, and shallow cookie-cutter movies, and demand ones that actually take risks.

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