The Revenant – Pacing versus Payoff

After hearing about its Best Picture Oscar nomination, I was compelled to finally see Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” (2015). It was a lot of things—intense, fantastically acted by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, and most notably: beautifully, perfectly shot. That being said, it was also self-indulgent, unnecessarily long, and painfully disjointed for much of the second act, a.k.a the bulk of its 2 ½ hour runtime. Considering it’s ‘inspired by true events’, it seems they had the beginning and the end all planned out (and they were executed so well), but too much of the movie feels like it’s just one idea being piled on top of the other.

It’s a revenge flick. DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, is wounded physically and emotionally to the point where we as the audience believe he’s hit rock bottom. But he doesn’t. There’s about an hour and a half of Glass suffering, crawling his way towards his distant revenge—and honestly it feels inconsequential. A series of unfortunate events strike Glass one after the other, though hardly connected between each other and hardly contributing to the story or his own character development. Each scene often ends with Glass falling unconscious before waking up to another torturous event, like the ever-tempting transition of a children’s novel. As a revenge flick, it’s understandable they want to give the audience reason after reason to sympathize Glass / hate Tom Hardy’s character John Fitzgerald, and it does… but in a drawn out, choppy manner that had me asking “…really?”

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SPOILERS FOR THE REVENANT:

            When Glass finally gets close enough to be discovered by the men who had thought he was dead, it happens so suddenly and for no good reason, that it leaves you wondering what the last hour was even for. Obviously Glass gets closer and closer to their encampment, sure, but the release/relief feels so unearned (for me at least). That’s not to say that every plot should follow a linear A to B to C pattern, but maybe the events of the film should be connected or even remotely affect each other in the slightest. And if not to drive the plot forward in some way, a good scene should tell us create tension or build the character. Glass shows little change throughout, grunting and wheezing the whole way through, and any hurt inflicted on him feels like a cheap thrill more than a valuable addition to the tension. To put the viewer through that much pain (and it is painful to watch, in an emphatic way) to only dish out a weak payoff feels like you cheated them for much of the film.

The finale and his ultimate revenge is very satisfying, but considering the amount of buildup that frankly fizzled out half an hour too early, the emotional punch of The Revenant was all but lost on me. It’s still a fine film composed of great factors—perhaps it could’ve been edited to become truly great. It just shows the needlepoint that effective plot so delicately balances on.

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Is “Exotica” Culturally Insensitive?

             Finding an older audience during the 1950s and 60s, Exotica was an American genre of music that branched off of Jazz and used certain combinations of instruments and effects to ‘transport the listener’ to various idealized landscapes, usually for a cheap and sometimes erotic thrill. The name is said to have come from Martin Denny’s 1957 album, also titled “Exotica”, in which Denny and his band performed songs written by other notable composers of films and later exotica music. It certainly came at the right time—World War II had just reminded the world how small it was, and many Americans were left with a longing for adventure and travel, though they lacked the means (and perhaps the true desire) to actually go to these exotic locales. Like their audience, the artist’s visions of these places—ranging from savage African jungles to the lost city of Atlantis—were based purely off of fantasy. And though Exotica has long since fallen out of the public eye, does it have a place in the modern, closely connected world, or would it just be discarded as ‘racist’?

Without a doubt, something like Exotica wouldn’t exist today, at least not with the gall to imagine ‘real’ locations through a series of stereotypes, and a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that the wide world is no longer a ‘fantasy’, but very close and very real. The inclusion of actual fantastical settings could be taken either as a means of defending the entire genre as harmless imagination, or as white-musicians reducing cultures to silly characterizations—a means for ‘armchair’ travelers to compartmentalize the world around them through easy-listening. This seems a bit condemning to what should really be judged on a record-to-record basis. If anything, the artists behind these works were more misguided than hateful. To listen deeper, let’s look at one of the most prominent musicians behind Exotica:

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Les Baxter (1922-1966) was a musician who arranged and composed experimental and ‘worldly’ albums long before and after the Exotica fad lasted. His earliest album, “Music Out of the Moon” (1947) was a soft-jazz record underlying a spacey theremin (incidentally, it was among the music Neil Armstrong brought and played during the Moon landing of 1969). By 1956, Baxter started composing the soundtracks to numerous films across every genre: “Pharaoh’s Curse” (1957), an Egyptian-themed horror film; “The Invisible Boy” (1957), a space-set science fiction film; “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” (1958), a Western. Baxter has a very prolific and long-lasting career containing dozens of soundtracks and albums, yet they all aim for a certain immersive and transporting experience for the listener. It was his 1951 record, “Ritual of the Savage”, that proved most influential on Exotica as a genre.

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Immediately, the title is problematic, but let’s put that on hold. The music itself is mostly general swing jazz mingling with congas, marimbas, and other instruments that might come to mind when one thinks of African jungles, with the occasional bird call or tribal chant thrown in for good measure. Politics aside, the music is cheesy, but Les Baxter knows how to compose good music! He does specialize in easy listening after all. Title aside, the album is pretty tasteful in it’s content, at least for the purpose of the music: to provide white suburban folk with a taste of the taboo. Is Baxter’s character and integrity to be judged by his complying to an audience? Judging by his massive and diverse catalogue, Baxter wasn’t just ‘cashing in’ on a trend, but rather showed genuine interest in creating emotive and picturesque music. Returning to the questionable terminology in Exotica song and album titles, perhaps this reflects more poorly on society in the 50s and 60s as a whole rather than the individuals; perhaps Baxter is simply giving his musical interpretation of the romanticized versions of Africa and other oft-dreamt about places, as opposed to the real place.

Perhaps the problems one could take away from Exotica comes from the misconception that Africa and the ‘Oriental East’ belong alongside the likes of the Moon and the bottom of the Ocean—to be fair all were about as equally distant from the average listener of Exotica. As a slight remedy, some choose to limit the genre of Exotica to only include real-world locations, however fictionalized. What it ultimately comes down to is the responsibility the listener must take. As with all art that could be seen as ‘controversial’ or ‘challenging’, a mature listener should take into consideration the implications, good or bad, of what they’re listening to. Exotica can exist in today’s world without being just a dated or ‘guilty pleasure’, but perhaps it should also be more than just ‘easy listening’. Art should never be dismissed and left outside the listener’s circle, at least to a point—it’s safe to say Exotica has good enough intentions not to cross any drastic lines.

By the end of the 60s, commercial appeal of Exotica had waned enough to push it to the backgrounds of public interest. It has since been considered to be absorbed by more general genre of Lounge Music—while very few works that could be considered ‘Exotica’ have come out in the decades since the 60s, the theme of escapism has become a common feature of many film and television soundtracks and concept albums spanning all genres.

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Behind the Vision – H.R. Giger

With an immediately recognizable style that mixes science fiction, fantasy, and a sort of erotic horror, Hans Rudolf Giger was a Swiss-born painter whose inspired vision brought his work as far as Hollywood, where he would paint concept art for movies and music alike. Born February 5, 1940, Giger’s inspiration was drawn from books (particularly playwright Samuel Beckett of “Waiting for Godot” fame and crime writer Edgar Wallace), the skulls and mummies of his local museum, and his own, haunted dreams—not a surprise considering his close proximity to World War II. Speaking to Vice in a 2014 interview, Giger said “I could feel the atmosphere when my parents were afraid…I felt the fear of that very much.” Perpetually haunted by nightmares, Giger claims painting his visions was the best and sometimes only way to stop them.

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“Erotomechanics VII”

It was in his late-twenties and early thirties (circa 1970) that Giger’s work began spreading outside of his local art museums. In the mid-70s, avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky brought Giger over to work on the attempted film adaption of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic “Dune” (1965). Though that film fell apart, the production crew somewhat shifted into the hands of director Ridley Scott, who was particularly taken with Giger’s painting “Necronomicon IV”, pictured here:

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“Necronomicon IV”

As one could imagine from the painting’s title, Giger was heavily influenced by the occult-based work of H.P. Lovecraft—though his work evokes a sort of ‘biomechanical’ science fiction rather than fantasy. It was with Ridley Scott in the late 70s that Giger would make his most iconic and lasting designs, on the scenery and titular monster of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (1979). Giger was allowed a surprising amount of freedom within the production of “Alien”, and it was his idea to create not only the ‘Xenomorph’, but the demented cycle of birth it uses on it’s victims; essentially the most disturbing and memorable aspects of the film, which would continue to use Giger’s designs and ideas across multiple entries in the franchise.

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“Alien” has left a legacy not for just for it’s mixing of science fiction and horror (“In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream”), but for it’s disturbing mixture of sexuality and the macabre. Everything from the phallic skull of the Xenomorph to the invasive nature of the (fan-termed) ‘Face-huggers’… Horror is often described as ‘the return of the repressed’ and Giger and Scott knew this and took advantage of it when their works collaborated so seamlessly. To be impregnated by a horrific, otherworldly being, doomed to birth one yourself—it really is the stuff of nightmares. Apart from the movie’s antagonist, Giger also designed ‘The Derelict’ (the crashed ship the protagonist’s explore) and it’s mysterious pilot, termed by fans as the ‘Space Jockey’.

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Though the Alien franchise and its spinoffs continue to be Giger’s most popular work, he also designed several posters and villains for other films, notably the fatally seductive Sil from “Species” (1995). He also designed the album artwork for a number of bands, typically under a hard rock or metal genre, including Danzig, Korn, and the Dead Kennedys.

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Danzig’s “Danzig III: How the Gods Kill” (1992)

In May of 2014, after sustaining injuries from a fall in his own home, H.R. Giger died in a hospital in Zurich. His paintings, though a therapeutic outlet for him, stand out so prominently to his audience because of their ability to express deep-rooted fears and impulses in everyone—Giger just had a dark mind and enough talent to portray it. Unnerving to some, though he claims to have seen beauty in his own work, by accepting that the twisted things we try to suppress are still human.

“Some people would say my paintings show a future world and maybe they do, but I paint from reality. I put several things and ideas together, and perhaps, when I have finished, it could show the future.”

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“Li I” (1974), named after Giger’s wife, artist Li Tobler. She would later commit suicide in 1975.

Sources:

“HR Giger obituary”, The Telegraph. May 14, 2014.<http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10828342/HR-Giger-obituary.html>

“HR Giger Works Weekends”, Vice. May 13, 2014.
<http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/hr-giger-works-weekends>

Joshua Rothkopf. “H.R. Giger interview…” Timout New York. July 6, 2009.<http://www.timeout.com/newyork/film/aliens-creature-designer-h-r-giger>

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Does Music Need a Message?

Music is by far the most widespread, accessible, and immediately intimate form of art that completely engulfs us wherever we go. It’s not just the radio that dictates which musicians get heard—more niched followings are carved out through various Internet outlets that cater to different kinds of audiences. People listen to and create music for so many different reasons, but the constant barrage of music that surrounds us can send some mixed messages. Obviously not all of it is positive, and not all of it strives to be anything other than a cheaply packaged pop hit, which begs the question: how much, if any responsibility do musicians have to speak to their fans?

It’s admittedly a loaded question—what dictates what’s important knowledge or emotions to be passed on? Let’s jump to one end of the spectrum. Look at Rage Against the Machine, with their far-left political lyrics angrily rapped out to the listener, urging the spark of revolution. Considering their self-titled 1992 debut album uses the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk as the album art, there’s no attempt at subtlety, but that’s the appeal of the band. Whether you agree with their views or not, their rap-metal instrumentation is hard-hitting, and the passion is clearly there in songs like “Killing in the Name Of”, which speaks out against police brutality, and “Know Your Enemy”, which directly calls out American institutions. It’s anti-authority and pro-self, and they as a band have stood firmly behind their message through the duration of their career.

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Is the moral of the story more effective if it’s pounded into the head of the listener? Or is there more rewarding substance to be found when the listener has to stumble upon it themselves? Rock as a supergenre generally leans towards power driving the music, but then again the “power” is blurrily defined as is whatever it seeks to drive home. Take another popular rock band of the era: Nirvana, and their smash hit record “Nevermind” (1991). Comparing it to “Rage Against the Machine” (1991), it’s more brooding, with more vague/surreal lyrics to guide the listener. Their messages share the same, ‘punk’ roots, but they branch off—“Rage” is geared more towards political growth while “Nevermind” favors emotional growth. Both challenge their audience in some way, Nirvana with a groan and a shrug, Rage Against the Machine with a kick to the head.

But as with any easily-accessible art form, music runs the risk of becoming disposable. One of the most common excuses you’ll hear from somebody watching a cheap sitcom on TV is that when they get home, they just want to ‘turn their brain off’. Pop music often functions on the same level, with no substance besides a beat or hook that may get stuck in the listener’s head. Sometimes music functions just as white noise in people’s lives—even Rage Against the Machine can work simply as catchy riffs to some. Are we becoming increasingly lazy and uninvested as consumers, or is to too harsh to expect people to constantly be challenged? Perhaps that runs the risk of killing the fun of music for some, but that in itself shows the different purposes of music. Some use it to connect with an artist on an emotional level, some listen to it for fun, some use it to open an intellectual discussion, some use it in an attempt to close a discussion. It also harks back to the plain fact that nobody’s message is ‘right’ for everyone. So far, though, this has only referred to the lyrical content of music, but what about instrumental music?

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Let’s look at a couple types of instrumental music: Electronic and Jazz. Nothings stopping the two from intermingling, but there are clear compositional and functional distinctions between the two, and the scenarios they may be listened to in. The stereotype of electronic music is that it’s only there to enhance the high of whatever drug you’re currently on, the bass thumping through the bathroom door of the sleazy nightclub you drunkenly taxied to. Jazz tends to hold the opposite image: formal attire, maybe a glass of wine, a classy setting to compliment not only the artist but the very art he strives to perfectly convey—but stop. These are simply two genres of music; it’s the cultures surrounding genres that define these stereotypes and thus the messages that inherently join them. The message of instrumental music tends to be the energy that a song may convey—subcultures form around groups of people who understand the music on the same wavelength.

Music as a ‘fine art’ extends centuries back, bouncing between everything from a bard’s lyrical tale to an orchestral symphony, both of which may have carried the power to genuinely move their respective audiences. In a way, it’s impossible to imagine music without a message because it can’t exist—messages exist in all things to some capacity. Even the most minimalist, experimental records carry a meaning, and perhaps one more passionate than a Van Halen track about sexy parties. Does music need a message? Arguably no, but I doubt it could exist without some kind of message, which would make it interchangeable with the ‘purpose’ of music. Whether or not that message is received by or impacts the listener is entirely up to them…and isn’t that why we all listen to music?

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Is Star Wars Owned by the Fans?

It’s a question that can be applied to almost any artwork—with varying degrees of subjectivity—but in this case we’ll look at what may be the most popular franchise of all time: Star Wars. How much, if anything, does George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, owe to the fans of his epic space opera?

Most impassioned fans of the series would argue that George only planted the seeds of what would grow to become the story we all know and love today. Let’s not forget that although Lucas wrote the scripts for his saga and directed the first film, “Star Wars”, later subtitled “Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977), he passed the reins for the rest of ‘the Original Trilogy’: “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) was directed by Irvin Kershner; “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” (1983) was directed by Richard Marquand. Though Lucas oversaw the entire trilogy’s production, it is worth noting that the films changed considerably from his original scripts and ‘vision’ for the series. None of this was a problem for the fans, who remain loyal to Episodes IV through VI to this day.

Flash forward to the 90s. Star Wars fandom has all but faded into obscurity, only resurfaced by the occasional ‘Expanded Universe’ novel or video game adaption of the original films. George Lucas announces he will go back and create a prequel trilogy to his original films, as his scripts have always intended. Fans, of course, are ecstatic coming up to the release of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999). Now, countless words and rants have been made to this point, so we’ll just leave it at this: the movie disappointed many longtime fans of the series. Gone was the humor and adventurous spirit that Kershner and Marquand injected into the franchise, replaced by a (subjectively) poorer and lifeless film. Complaints only continued with the following releases of “Episode II: Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005), with all three films directed by Lucas himself. In defense of the Prequel Trilogy, it was the Star Wars for a younger generation, many of whom hold the Prequels to the same standard as the Originals.

While the Prequel trilogy should have alienated many fans of the series, it seemed to only unite the most devout—those who would read and write the innumerable spinoff tales to the movies. If George Lucas couldn’t deliver the Star Wars content they wanted, they’d do it themselves. Many novels, such as Timothy Zahn’s “Heir to the Empire” trilogy of novels, known by many fans as “The Thrawn Trilogy” (1991-1993) lived on as the canonical sequel to the Original Trilogy—which brings us to the year or so leading up to the release of the long-awaited Episode VII.

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October 2012: Disney purchases LucasFilm, George Lucas’ personally owned production company, for a hefty $4 billion. A trilogy of films set to follow “Return of the Jedi” are announced, Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. During the announcement that should have given fans hope of a return to form for the series, LucasFilm also announced that the wide catalog of spinoff stories were now officially “non-canonical”. Rebranding classic and beloved stories in the Expanded Universe as “Star Wars Legends”… many were displeased. We won’t go in to the Lucas’ noninvolvement with the release of “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (2015), but instead stop at the question: is the fans’ Star Wars different from Lucas’ Star Wars?

The worst offense to many is the Lucas has since gone back and altered the Original Trilogy, filling in long-endeared scenes with modern CGI, first in his 1997 edits of the trilogy, then his 2004 edits. As if making new content that displeased fans was not enough, he ‘corrupted’ that which fans loved, while blocking the release of the ‘original, unaltered’ Original Trilogy. Does he have that right?

Well, in this writer’s opinion, yes. While George Lucas probably should have stepped back from his ‘original vision’ and saw it for what the fan’s loved, it is ultimately his creation and he has the right—stubborn as it may be—to do what he wants with Star Wars (at least until he sold it). It seems that once the side opposing Lucas has amassed large enough numbers, it suddenly becomes acceptable to demonize him and his works, leading many to forget an important fact: he created Star Wars. Many would argue that Star Wars left his hands when it strayed far from his ideas and blossomed on his own, but Star Wars isn’t George Lucas’ grown child—it (was) his intellectual property. Frustrating as that is, it is also important to think what would happen if the masses dictated the output of every artist—it nullifies the purpose of art as self-expression. Right or wrong, Lucas has that right at least.

Regardless, since Lucas sold off his franchise, he’s been all but left outside on the production of the ‘Sequel Trilogy’, with his original scripts being thrown aside in favor of new director J.J. Abrams’ fan-fuelled direction for the films. And while the recently released “Force Awakens” has respected and pleased fans of the Original Trilogy, it has perhaps played it too safe, mirroring “New Hope” almost to the point of being a remake. This was the right move to please the widest variety of the huge Star Wars fanbase, but will Abrams take the series in a fresh direction even if it angers some? Only time will tell, with the eighth and ninth Star Wars films slated for a 2017 and 2019 release.

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Can a Character Transcend Canon?

Some characters are just immediately recognizable, without the context of their film, book, or whatever it is they may appear in. You could show somebody a photo of Michael Keaton dressed as Batman, followed by a drawing of Batman from the comics, followed by Ben Affleck as Batman. Anybody who knows anything about the character would recognize each portrayal was the same ‘Batman’, existing within a certain canon comprised of a series of common denominators—we know Batman is Bruce Wayne, protecting Gotham City from the likes of the Joker, the Penguin, Two-Face, and so on. However, complications lay when the audience tries to piece together a chronology of the films. We may be able to easily define the Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” Trilogy (2005-2012) as a ‘reboot’ of say the assorted Batman movies from 1989 to 1997 starring first Michael Keaton, then Val Kilmer, then George Clooney. What sort of chronology (besides a somewhat tight frame of release) unites these four movies, and separates them from the Batman films since?

Let’s look at a more concise example: George Miller’s “Mad Max” series. There are four films in the series as of writing, all directed by George Miller, all starring the titular hero Max Rockatansky. Max is portrayed by Mel Gibson in the first three movies, “Mad Max” (1979), “The Road Warrior” (1981), and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985). Each movie is a self-contained story that happens to star Max, and each movie follows a loose chronology that can be spotted by small details like scars and items Max earned in the films before. Here’s the wrench: the recently released “Mad Max: Fury Road” starring Tom Hardy as the same Max is not a reboot. It’s not even Mad Max 4. Hints in the film (though never ‘official’) suggest it takes place sometime between “The Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome”. This may confuse or outrage some, but Miller has said he wanted Max to remain the same young, “contemporary warrior”. So the question is: does canon matter?

There is certainly a place for a story told throughout multiple entries in a franchise, and there is certainly a place for a reboot of that franchise in order to retell a story. But some characters transcend the need for chronology, and simply come bundled with a supporting cast of characters and elements that can concoct a fun, solo story. Long-running comics of superheroes seem to understand this—when you forget about the occasional company-wide reboot, we accept that Superman or Spider-Man have lived through thousands of issues of stories over many decades, without having to come up with some reason why they’re not 80-year old time travelers. It’s when the authors retcon and alter the stuff they’ve already written to better their future stories that it becomes a muddled mess, which can eventually lead to the need to wipe the slate clean; for example, DC’s universal-deconstructing/splicing comic series “Crisis on Infinite Earths” (1985). A good read? Yes. Necessary overhaul? Probably not.

This brings us to look at the man who is probably the biggest source of fan debates, various fictional chronologies, and a downright pointless canon: 007, James Bond. While the books may tell a smaller, continuous story, the famously convoluted film series has spawned a number of actors who, to different people, are “their Bond.” There are some who retain the idea that ‘James Bond’ is simply a codename various agents take on, and that the films do indeed tell a continuous canon. An interesting idea that can be supported by various hints in the movies, sure. When George Lazenby temporarily replaced the Sean Connery as Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969), Lazenby has one liner in the opening of the film that says “This never happened to the other fellow.” Probably more of a fourth-wall breaking wink than anything.

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There is a loose story told in the background of the 60s and 70s Bond films about the mounting power of evil organization Spectre and its ever-face-swapping leader Blofeld, but when you dig too deep into it, it just makes no sense. The stinger-reveals of new villains behind the curtains at the end of each film was just done for the purpose of bringing the audience back for more money. The Daniel Craig Bond films, starting with “Casino Royale” (2006) is said to be a reboot of the franchise. Yet “Casino” and its sequels “Quantum of Solace” (2008) and “Skyfall” (2012) each featured a new set of characters (besides Bond, M, Q, and other staples of the franchise) that could exist on their own, within the megatext of 007. It wasn’t until the presumably last Craig-Bond film “Spectre” (2015) that they sloppily tried to unite the four films under a ‘rebooted’ version of the Spectre organization. It made no sense within those films, and only served to further muddle the audience’s perspective of what James Bond is.

So really, why can’t we just accept that certain characters transcend chronology. If a character is truly timeless (for a stretch of time at least), what’s wrong with throwing together the ingredients that unite the franchise and just enjoying another tale starring the hero the viewer comes to see in the first place? The needless tags of reboots on beloved franchises tend to set up the new entry for failure while also damaging the credibility of what came before. Just enjoy a character. You like Batman? Enjoy a work that stars him.

 

Are Superhero Movies Here to Stay?

Disregarding early films like “Superman and the Mole Men” (1951) and “Stamp Day for Superman” (1954), Richard Donner’s “Superman” (1978) brought superheroes to the big screen with a certain dignity that captivated audiences unfamiliar with the archetypes of comic books. It was a box office gamble that made it’s (relatively large) budget back sixfold—Warner Bros. biggest success at the time. It would spawn sequels like “Superman II” (1980) and… well some other sequels we’ll try to forget. Batman had already won viewers hearts over with the Adam West 1960s television series and accompanying movie, but it was Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) that reminded viewers how dark and brooding the character was depicted in the comics. “Batman” would also spawn three sequels throughout the 90s.

Marvel meanwhile were forced to sell off the film rights to their biggest characters to make up for weak book sales, a decision we can still see the repercussions of today. New Line Cinema created a trilogy of gritty movies based off the vampire slayer “Blade” from 1998 to 2004; Columbia Pictures published Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy from 2002 to 2007, as well as the 2011 reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man” and it’s 2014 sequel; 20th Century Fox have had a string of X-Men and Fantastic Four movies since 2000. The financial earnings of these franchises have only gained momentum since; “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) grossed about $750 million. Don’t feel bad for Marvel though. The self-published Marvel Studios films have established a cinematic universe (beginning with 2008’s “Iron Man”) that has included twelve movies up to “Ant-Man” (2015), with a combined income of about $3.6 billion (or about $300 million per movie).

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Enough number crunching. Since Disney’s purchasing of Marvel in 2009, their films have only gotten wilder and the audience has only gotten wider. We’ve reached a point where ‘Rocket Raccoon’ or a man who can talk to ants are recognizable enough to carry a smash-hit movie—where does it end? Many of the Marvel Cinematic characters are reaching their third standalone movies (Iron Man will soon be followed by Captain America and Thor) leading up to the third “Avengers” movie (to be released in two parts!). “Ant-Man” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” have met success despite their obscurity, and 2016’s “Doctor Strange” will no doubt do the same, but to what degree. Marvel seems to be grasping at straws at this point, but how long until a) they simply reboot their Cinematic Universe or b) regain the rights to characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men? More importantly how long until these characters are run into the ground?

Since 2013, legendary director Steven Spielberg has faced Internet fanboy rage over his prediction that the superhero subgenre would ‘go the way of the Western’, basically imploding from big studio’s overreliance on megabudget flicks about caped crusaders. Apparently DC Comics didn’t get the memo: Zack Snyder’s Superman film “Man of Steel” (2013) has set the course for DC’s own ‘Extended Universe’. After the upcoming release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), nine—no doubt costly—movies based on DC characters are scheduled for release up to 2020. The promise of standalone movies based on the likes of Aquaman, Shazam, and Cyborg suggest DC is very confident in their product, but how long will the audience be so accepting?

Superhero movies have been around for the better part of a century, but there has been more density and popularity with them in the past decade than the rest of that century combined. With both Warner Bros. and Disney feeding the money train that is superhero franchises, and millions of fans devoting themselves to collective cinematic universes, perhaps we’ve become deadlocked. Now we just have to sit through decades of reboots and crossovers until the eventual Avengers vs. Justice League two-film crossover event that will bring the utter collapse of the United States of America.

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Sources

Box Office Mojo, “Marvel Cinematic Universe”: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/franchises/chart/?id=avengers.htm

Graeme McMillan, “Steven Spielberg Says Superhero Movies Will Go “the Way of the Western”, The Hollywood Reporter: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/steven-spielberg-predicts-superhero-movies-819768