There are a couple of reasons I’ve re-posted below my reviews of three Marvel comic book movies, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, reasons besides I’ve fallen behind on the blogging again and I’m desperate to fill space while making it look like I’m still here and still at work.
The first is today’s the first day of my movie reviewing class or, as it’s more portentously known in the college catalog and on my students’ transcripts, Media Criticism in a Wired Culture. This means a new crop of students is about to find out that their mild-mannered professor has a secret online identity as a superblogger and I think it’s only fair that since they’re going to be graded on their writing about movies they should be able to judge whether I’m any good at writing about movies myself.
Also, I’ll be using these three reviews to begin teaching an important lesson, which is: “See how I do this? Don’t do it that way!
“You don’t want to wind up writing reviews that take longer to read than it does to watch the movie.”
The other reason is that they’ve already been given their first reading assignment, Mark Harris’ article at Grantland, “The Birdcage: How Hollywood’s toxic (and worsening) addiction to franchises changed movies forever in 2014”.
As you can probably guess from the title, Harris thinks movie franchises like Marvel’s Avengers series are not good for the future of moviemaking. He doesn’t go as far as saying that the franchises in general, or comic book movies in particular, are the ruin of all that is sacred and holy, but he sees the bare-ruined choirs to come. Regular visitors to Mannionville and particularly readers of my movie reviews can infer that this is not a subject that’s worried me much. I can see Harris’ point and appreciate his concern. Moviemaking has always been about moneymaking but in past many of the people whose job it was to see that money got made cared about the product they were selling as a particular sort of thing. Not art, necessarily (in fact, rarely), but not just as entertainment. They understood that they had to sell a quality product to make money and the quality of their product depended on the art and craft of whole lot of creative people working for them, from directors to stars to cinematographers to production designers to screenwriters and on down to carpenters, electricians, prophandlers, and focus pullers. If Harris is right, and he probably is, the new generation of moneymen and moneywomen think of their product as no different from breakfast cereal, cold medicine, smart phones, or hotel chains. Movies to them are consumer goods people are going to buy some kind of anyway so the trick is simply to make them buy their brand. Quality takes care of itself. What makes the money is successful marketing and the key to successful marketing is branding.
This isn’t likely to end well. I can see it turning movie theaters in to Circuit City and Blockbuster and other retail outlets devoted to and utterly dependent on the consuming of useless toys and crap, businesses done in because their costumers eventually didn’t need any more of the useless toys and crap they offered or, at any rate, didn’t need to buy it at the rate that made the stockholders happy.
And this is worrisome. Not to mention depressing. But it would bother me more and depress me more if at the moment some of the franchise movies, the Marvel comic book movies in particular, weren’t among the very best movies being made.
I don’t mean in comparison. And I don’t mean for what they are. I mean they are among the best directed, best written, best shot, and best acted movies coming to the theaters. Once upon a time, people despaired that every other movie released was a Western. I think someday and soon people will be saying Guardians of the Galaxy and Winter Soldier are, if not The Searchers, then our era’s Red River and High Noon.
Tell me if you think I’m wrong or Harris is wrong.
Because that’s your assignment.
Or you can just stay right here and leave a comment.