A Colossally Bad, and Therefore Inevitably Inescapable, Thing for Franchise Fans to Do

My recent blogging respite has refreshed me, and left me…on fire with a great idea! Let me explain.

Recently, someone spoke out in my presence about their desire to “see #AvengersEndgame one more time, to help it beat Avatar.” They wanted to see it again just to help push it over the edge, so to speak, and give it the all-time record for global box office ticket sales.

I responded with my typical sort of zinger, “You know you don’t get any of that money if they hit number one, right?” The thought was reiterated that they “just can’t stand” that “Avatar is number one” because they “hate” that movie and love #AvengersEndgame.

I can’t believe people say Fandom is broken!

As a quick aside, I also remember how desperately fans wanted Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace to “beat” Titanic. They also wanted Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens to “beat” Avatar.

I don’t know the specific beef that Star Wars fans have with James Cameron, but it’s pathological at this point. I half-expect to see voodoo dolls with miniature Kylo Ren lightsabers sticking in them, in these peoples’ houses.

As I kept thinking about the box office “championship,” and later while speaking to a friend about it, I realized that there’s an idea brewing in our times of crowdfunding and fan tribalism.

Fans should just buy tickets and not bother going to the movie. Just buy a ticket a day. Go if you can, or don’t go. The important thing is just to purchase the ticket.

I mean, think about it. If it’s that important that the movie you “love” is number one, there’s no reason not to do that. Then you get to have the bragging rights that you helped the movie in some way, and so part of that “victory” is yours!

A Glorious Victory

Imagine, if you will, a glorious day when someone remarks that [Insert Movie Title, Most Likely One Released by a Disney©®™ subsidiary] is “Number One in the World!” You’d be able to remark that they “couldn’t have done it” without you.

They’d ask, “How many times did you see it?”

You’d reply, “Oh, only three times…but I bought tickets for fifteen shows!”

To make it even more serious, the Studio Execs could set up an online pledge form for fans to promise to buy tickets for a certain number of shows. This would help with gross box office projections, and enable the studios to send emails with campaign appeals to remind people of where they are on their pledges.

People could upload photos of their tickets to prove their fulfillment of the commitment; like Rotten Tomatoes, we want to keep things “verified.”

As an added enticement, they could then send out limited edition pins to those who make the commitment. People love collectibles, and then they could walk around with a pin declaring that they “helped” the movie they enjoy “hit number 1”!

Imagine the treasure trove of exclusives possibly branching out from there. You could make it a tiered system where there’s a pin for the lowest level, a shirt for the next, and a special hat for those who pledge to buy tickets at the “premiere level.”

I mean, this isn’t really that far a step for people who buy tickets to four showings on opening weekend without even having seen the movie. They don’t even care about reviews or enjoyability. They just want to see it four times so they can…I don’t know…see it four times in three days for whatever reason.

One Last Alternative

Alternatively, you could just like what you like and not care whether a movie makes $2.6 Billion, or $2.7 Billion. Either way, you can rest assured that it’ll make it that much harder for a smaller film to get noticed as every multiplex makes sure to book every screen for Franchise Blockbuster Movie 12: The End of the Era Before the Next Era Starts.

And isn’t that the point?

The Most Meaningless Nerd Insult

Just a brief musing today.

As I was rewatching Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace today for a special podcast episode that will be revealed soon, I had reason to think about what’s become the most meaningless nerd insult.

“Fanboy”

20 years ago, as I was in the odd position of having to defend a Star Wars film, I was called “fanboy.” It was a word meant to degrade someone’s reaction as less objective than others. A “fanboy” is someone so steeped in the culture of their preferred franchise(s), they’re incapable of honest reaction.

I’m aware that calling someone a “fanboy” now isn’t inclusive enough of the ladies, but I mean no offense. Whatever current form it’s now taken (fanperson? fanbeing?), the traditional insult is “fanboy.” If there’s an updated form, feel free to let me know.

You could say that Marvel movie fans are in this camp right about now, as each release is immediately categorized and cataloged purely within the context of its relation to the other releases. I call it “Grading on a Curve.”

Either way, the term took an odd twist and became truly versatile in the short span between the release of Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Those who were critical of The Last Jedi were called “fanboys.” Those who loved Solo were called “fanboys.” It came to mean someone who was both excessively critical and excessively forgiving of a franchise release.

It’s made the term “fanboy” truly versatile. Unfortunately, it’s also made it so versatile as to have broken it. Now it’s as weak an insult as calling someone an “idiot.” It’s so relative as to be useless as a universal measure.

When people insulted me for liking The Phantom Menace, the term “fanboy” was something mean and dismissive. When vicious assaults were launched from places like Ain’t It Cool News the term was the signal flare of sneering distaste from the self-appointed tastemakers of nerd culture.

What a weird time to live through a term’s most vicious cycle and the moment during which it lost meaning. It’s got to be some sort of record.

And to think it all seems to have happened within the same franchise lifespan!

 

 

#AvengersEndgame’s Mixed-Up Messages on Loss & Death

This is the one obligatory “Spoiler Warning” you get. Disney®©™’s Marvel©®™’s trailer for their mildly-interesting Spider-Man™ sequel felt free to dive into Avengers®: Endgame© spoilers™ barely two weeks beyond the release of their latest Avengers® box office behemoth, so I feel free to do the same.

If you want to enjoy these thoughts, know that I’ll be discussing Avengers®: Endgame© and all the other Marvel©®™ properties relevant to the discussion.

If you proceed, it’s not on me. Also, as fair warning, you might hate what I’m about to say.

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man in Avengers Endgame, which is an Avengers movie called Avengers Endgame with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.
“This helmet is recording a ton of spoilers, though its existence isn’t supported by the way my  armor worked in Infinity War.”

Everything About This Franchise Exposes How We’re Unwilling to Let Go

One of the most important lessons that a human being can learn is to “let go.” The past is behind us, the present is fleeting, and the future is upon us.

Popular entertainment used to support this lesson. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is all about letting go of the past and embracing what we still have. Anakin’s fatal downfall in Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is his inability to release his attachments and understand that, however painful it is, we have to accept that we can’t control the change.

Heck, Shmi herself imparts this lesson to Anakin as he prepares to leave Tatooine in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It’s one of the most powerful moments in the saga, truth be told.

(Of course I’m setting aside religious debates about an afterlife. That’s a different conversation. What we’re discussing here has to do with how those of us left behind deal with death as it affects us.)

Have We Regressed?

A mere 20 years later, the lesson of our most popular franchise movie hit is that our ultimate goal is to undo tragedy. This seems to work against the theme at play in the earlier part of the movie. It drives me nuts, actually.

They “undid” Thor’s lost eye in Infinity War, and then they “undid” the loss of Mjolnir in Endgame. They “undid” his maturity and actually regressed him to a point where he abdicated his hard-earned growth into leadership.

They gave Hulk a fascinating inner conflict in Infinity War, and then got rid of it with a (wait for it) snap in Endgame. Captain America is able to undo not just the removal of the Infinity Stones from the timeline(s), but the entire tragic sacrifice that defined his character since Captain America: The First Avenger.

Gamorra gets replaced with an alternate version of Gamorra. This undoes the sacrifice that “couldn’t be” undone, albeit in a unique way.

I’m completely aware that the death of Iron Man and Black Widow are supposedly  irreversible per this story. The twist is that since they’ve introduced time-travel-at-whim, and shown a willingness to bring Gamorra back from the past to use her character again despite her own “irreversible” death, I’m not willing to accept it as permanent.

As Avengers®: Endgame© winds down, it seems the ultimate goal was…stasis.

This captures a seeming cultural obsession with “death denial” that drives people to all sorts of measures to undo the aging process. It’s fascinating to me.

Fans on the one hand seem to be obsessed with progress, but only so far as that’s defined as “story beats.” Avengers®: Endgame© reveals that as a story arc, the most important thing in a modern franchise is to control life to the point where pain and death not just minimized, but surmountable and erasable.

To prove I’m not just picking on Marvel, I’ll also call out the last moment in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Extended Cuts which telegraphs that Superman isn’t staying dead. The heroic sacrifice in that movie is promised to be undone before the end credits even roll. Infinity War at least had the decency to self-contain as a story.

AVENGERS-EndCraig
I admit I’d be distraught about losing that face, too, though.

Even The Transformers: The Movie Had the Courage to Wipe Out Old Characters

The Transformers: The Movie (1986) was a virtual bloodbath (oilsport?) that slaughtered so many old characters in the first half of the movie that the remaining cast was almost unrecognizable at the end. Kids were traumatized by the death of Optimus Prime (spoilers!) and disoriented by the transformation of Megatron into Galvatron. Everything was the same, but never the same again.

That is, until the outcry from kids and parents was so great they brought Optimus Prime back from the dead in the television series (spoilers!). Kids couldn’t handle the idea that their heroes were gone forever.

Naturally, terrified of losing their viewer base of children, they felt they had to bring him back. Far be it from them to teach kids that the farewell of death, as painful as it is, is something that we have to accept. Far be it from the parents to teach their kids that, as much as they cried at the death of Optimus Prime, it was a lesson to learn about treasuring life and legacy.

Optimus Prime teaches the same lesson that our elders always have. That we die is not the important part of this material world; it’s what we leave behind. Hot Rod became Rodimus Prime when he realized it wasn’t anyone’s duty but his own to accept these things and move forward.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it appears that when comparing Disney®©™’s Marvel©®™’s Avengers®: Endgame©, it seems that Transformers: The Movie had a healthier approach to the themes of death and farewell.

I remind you that I liked Disney®©™’s Marvel©®™’s Avengers®: Endgame©. I’m just pointing something out.

If you think I’m wrong, feel free to leave a comment.

‘Til all are one!

Optimus Prime dying in The Transformers The Movie a Transformers movie with Optimus Prime in 1986 that's a Transformers movie called The Transformers The Movie which was released in 1986 with Optimus Prime.
Spoilers.

In Honor of #AvengersEndgame Crossing $2 Billion in Worldwide Box Office Here’s My Art for the Home Release Cover

In honor of #AvengersEndgame crossing $2 Billion in worldwide box office, I decided that it was time to share another new image here on the blog showcasing what you can do with a funny face.

I think that if Marvel®™© really wants to give me a reason to buy #AvengersEndgame on home release, they need to work this shot into it. They could also give us a steelbook version with this on the cover.

C’mon, Russo Brothers. Your movie’s made $2 Billion and counting. Use this art on the home release packaging. It’s better than anything else you’re considering.

AVENGERS ENDGAME is a movie with the AVENGERS that needs CRAIGULA
May this silly expression haunt you as it does me.

Fine! Here’s My #AvengersEndgame Review

Everyone else is posting their reviews everywhere they can, so I’m going to go ahead and repost the one I wrote for my Letterboxd account. I also can be heard on a show chatting about it in a little more detail, but unlike this review it’s unrestrictedly spoiler-filled. You may want to stick with this first.

Avengers Endgame poster for Avengers Endgame which is an Avengers movie called Avengers Endgame featuring the Avengers in Avengers Endgame.
Why’s Thor the only Avenger with his eyes open who’s looking to the right? What are the other people missing? Okoye looks downright bummed about it.

The Official kesseljunkie Review of #AvengersEndgame That You Always Wanted

Please note: This is spoiler-free, but it does address some structural things that someone might not care to read before seeing the movie.

There’s a lot to like in Avengers: Endgame. There are some terrific character moments blended with epic action. Each character who’s been with the franchise since the beginning is given a story beat to emphasize them.

If you’re a fan of long-standing, it makes sure to thank you as explicitly as possible by including as much as it can to let you know they paid attention to what you liked. They even go out of their way to have a wink and a nod to the things you didn’t.

The cynical way to put this is that we all knew that it was going to be Fan Service: The Movie. It’s how it was essentially billed.

Unfortunately, it has couple of strikes against it. It uses a significant cheat in the storytelling that undercuts some of the terrific development it has at other points. It “starts” multiple times, which gets a touch tedious in the first thirty minutes.

Could these issues have have been avoided? That’s a fair question. It may simply be that something on this scale can’t escape them. You just have to live with what can’t be overcome.

The Russos are masters of getting a large cast to work well, and iron out the flow once the plot gets going. And they do that here, for the most part. This is a terribly complex movie with a lot of external demands, so these flaws seem somewhat inescapable.

Some of the effects are terrific…and some of the effects are bafflingly inadequate. I seem to be on a shrinking island of caring about that, though. And to be clear, it’s not that I’m critiquing anything that pushes an envelope. When you push an envelope, I’m willing to go along with the challenges inherent in innovation. I’m talking about things that were surmountable with a little more finesse.

The largest flaw that can’t escape criticism is the final battle scene. For all the terrific moments it has – including one that got applause from me in the theater – there is a muddiness to the action that makes it clear that those moments are all that is important. I would’ve liked to see it flow much more organically, instead of using the same cheat that Infinity War did, which is that every person is exactly where they need to be at any given moment.

I could go on about other things that didn’t work so well, but they speak again to that idea of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. It’s fine, and I can look the other way on some things. They might not work terribly well, but they’re only pieces of a very large puzzle.

But the ending is satisfying, and the Russos are careful to have the necessary denoument to let fans feel emotionally complete. These aren’t movies anymore, so much as coordinated events.

On that mark, this is a great success.

Coda

Again, this review is a bit restricted for the sake of avoiding spoiler talk. There are some very specific things about the movie that would explain why my “final rating” might even seem a bit lower than that review implies. But I’m trying to keep it as vague as possible at this point. I don’t want to spoil something the way some people did for Game of Thrones fans.

I’m happy to expand these thoughts, if you want, or if you have any questions that you want to leave in the comments section.

On the Matter of Spoilers

Not a long one today.

As I prepare to see Disney®©™’s Marvel®™©’s #AvengersEndgame for the first time, I’m struck by the seemingly difficult task of staying “spoiler free.” I’ve discussed that matter with a number of friends, as I’m sure everyone else has.

To be clear, I’m somewhat “militant” about my desire to be “spoiler free.” I don’t even want to know what someone thinks of an event movie before I go to see it. It’s why I’ve even removed the Letterboxd app from my phone temporarily; I can’t prevent the feed from showing me star ratings from the occasional friend for these event movies.

I want my experience to be my own.

Giving up social media for Lent prepared me, fortunately, for missing all the talk there, too. My friends know how I want to be for these things.

And yet, I’ve still been challenged to stay spoiler free. Someone at work read something on line and started recounting it, to share with everyone what was spoiled for them. A friend blurted out a question about “do you remember [not spoiling it for you by naming the movie here]?” So now I know something from that has something to do with this. I don’t know what, but I will be waiting through the whole movie for the thing that reminds me of it.

It doesn’t even serve any purpose to share that information. Even if I don’t remember it, if the movie is done well…it doesn’t matter. I should be able to enjoy it even if I didn’t see [not spoiling it for you by naming the movie here]. All that’s happened is that I’ve noodled through something that I’m pretty sure I’m right about, and the movie has to work harder to  keep me distracted from “waiting” for that thing to be a thing.

Avengers Endgame is spoiled meat with Avengers Endgame.
Spoiled meat is still meat. But I’m not looking forward to it as much.

But Why Do You Care, kesseljunkie?

I think a lot of it has to do with “peer pressure” affecting reviews. I know that everyone likes to think themselves immune to it, but one has only to look at the tidal wave of opinion on popular movies to wonder how much we are. The vociferous response to the admittedly-underwhelming Batman v Superman: Dawn of as Many Words as Marketing Can Fit in Here fed on itself, to the point where DC movie fans were able to wear a victim shield online.

I think the thunderous applause for Thor Ragnarok was also something where momentum carried the day; I’ve even spoken with friends who raved about it at first, only to see them “come down” on their second viewing. (For the record, I like Thor Ragnarok just fine. I just didn’t get the fervor behind a lot of the positive reactions. I also got dragged for not being effusively positive about it.)

And that’s fine! But it’s why I don’t even want to know if people liked/loved an event movie until I’ve seen it. Because if you find yourself standing athwart that tsunami of opinion, you can spend more time during the movie wondering why you don’t love/hate it, as you do watching the film.

To emphasize again, I think this is unique to event movies. Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t fill me with the urge to silence people. I didn’t mind being one of the souls who loved Bad Times at the El Royale. I have a Ph.D. in GFY thanks to years of getting hammered for loving the Star Wars prequels.

Event movies are crafted like culinary experiences. They’re best enjoyed with a clean palate and readiness for the experience.

I just wish everyone falls all over themselves to be the first ones to tell you what they think, or what they heard. Let everyone have a shot at the clean experience.

A Question About How It Was Determined Who Lived and Died in #InfinityWar as I Prepare to Watch #AvengersEndgame

This post is timed to launch on the first day that normal people can see #AvengersEndgame, because I figure why not try to do something like that to ride the #Marvel wave of #Disney marketing that commands we pay attention.

As a warning, I’m attempting to hashtag everything that might be worthy of a hashtag on #Twitter in the coming days, as regards #AvengersEndgame. If you’re wondering why, it’s because I do this to entertain myself. It entertains me. Everyone else leans into hashtag culture, so I will, too.

My own growing apathy about the #Marvel franchise as a whole is well-documented. It’s been a long time, I’m tired, and I’m ready to get off this ride. It’s not them, it’s me. They’re who they’ve always been, I think that I’m just in a different place. It happens.

Yes, I admit that I’ll likely change my tune for #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy Vol. 3, but those have always been outliers in my opinion. However, I have to admit that by the time it’s released, I won’t even care about that.

movie theater screen in a movie theater which has a screen which is what movie theaters have, which is movie theater screens.
They could release an #Avengers movie that was just this blank screen for three hours, and at least 48% of #Marvel fans would tear apart the first critics.

Why Were Specifically Half the #Avengers Wiped Out at the End of #InfinityWar?

When #Thanos snapped his fingers, an event “cleverly” referred to by #Marvel fans as the #Snappening, why were specifically half of the #Avengers wiped out? Couldn’t the mathematical probabilities have impacted them disproportionately in some fashion?

To be clear, I’m not fuzzy on the storytelling decision-making that spared them. I understand the marketing reasons that certain #Avengers had to survive as well. I mean, heck, they couldn’t even fit all of them into one movie last time. They had to be expected to thin the ranks after hitting critical mass.

It just seems that #Thanos constructed a very specific mathematical formula in his brain to wipe out half of each population down to each subset affected. This is opposed to a flat half, which would have left open the potential for the #Avengers to be reduced by any variable from zero to one hundred percent.

I understand #Thanos had all six #InfinityStones at his command, and was able to see myriad possibilities. I guess above all else I’m impressed with #Thanos’ presence of mind to “tell” the stones, specifically, to wipe out the half the #Avengers, then half the remaining population of the each country on each planet on the universe.

Maybe it’s the lazy side of me, which is an admittedly dominant side, that just would have told the stones to wipe out half and leave it at that. I wouldn’t care if all the #Avengers survived, or if all of them were destroyed completely. If I’m #Thanos, “my goal” is simply a gross reduction of 50%. If one planet survives and another remains untouched…it shouldn’t really matter.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s too precise. I’m also saying that these are the sorts of reasons I’d be even more dangerous if I were #Thanos. I’m just kidding, of course. I’d be less dangerous, because I’d use the #InfinityGauntlet to ensure endless resources and mitigate damage…instead of seeing mass murder as a viable option.

Crazy me!

It’s a Reasonable Question Leading into #AvengersEndgame

This is a reasonable question about #AvengersInfinityWar. I don’t think it’s even that nerdy. It’s a little bit nerdy, but not as bad as some of the other things I’ve written.

I’m graciously setting aside the entire idea that #CaptainMarvel would be guaranteed to survive, too. I’m completely ignoring the fact that somehow #NickFury knew in his core being that there was a zero percent chance that #CaptainMarvel was going to be turned into toxic ash.

For that matter, I’m ignoring the fact that #Thanos the “environmentalist” turned half of everyone into nothing in an instant. From an environmental standpoint, this would almost guarantee cataclysmic results on industrialized planets! People working nuclear power plants would disappear, guaranteeing at least one Fukushima-style catastrophe. Airplanes would plummet from the sky, unless he further delineated that only one of any set of pilots disappear from an aircraft unless there was only one pilot, in which case an extra passenger would disappear, unless there was…

…and so forth. I mean, I’m just sayin’.

#Thanos in #InfinityWar which is a #marvel movie with the #avengers in the #mcu which is a prelude to #AvengersEndgame and filled with enough #hashtags to make the sanest man #mad.
Turns out, he’s not as good a planner as people thought.

I’m Already Tired of #AvengersEndgame

I’m sure that headline is going to get as much attention as it can, given that I don’t put much effort into pimping this blog. It’s not as evocative and troubling as Naked Yoda, and not as potentially problem-causing as the republishing of my letterboxd review of Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

Despite my self-imposed absence on social media right now, there’s still something that’s made it through the veil of silence. Advertising and hype for Avengers: Endgame. Or, as seems mandatory to type it now, #AvengersEndgame.

That spins me off in a different tangent, but I’ll save that for another time. I’m still trying to maintain my streak and make it to 30 unbroken days of blogging, and I have to squirrel away as many topics as I can.

Don’t Worry, I Still Want to See #AvengersEndgame

Let’s be perfectly clear here. I am looking forward to seeing it, but largely because I think I’m ready to close the Marvel®™© franchise chapter of my life.

I am a fan of Marvel®™© movies. I’ve seen the majority of them in theaters. I have seen all but three of them, even Iron Man 2, which…was Iron Man 2. I’m a fan of certain movies more than others, and downright dislike a few, but I’ve been a casual fan.

I know I am openly critical of the way people approach their “reviews” of Marvel®™© movies. It’s with good reason: people who are fans of the franchise view the movies through distorted lenses. Their perceptions are colored by each entry’s place in the larger narrative. Excuses are made.

Being off social media for the time being, I’m largely unaware of how hard the push is for #AvengersEndgame. I know that it was quieter than expected because of various speculated reasons, as they gamed their SEO strategies to funnel all the curious questions into site traffic.

Yet I’m tired of all the hype already. It’s partly residual burnout from the run up to Avengers: Infinity War. But this marketing behemoth is so unstoppable, it reached me during my social media sabbatical. I saw each poster, got links about when tickets were going on sale, got updates until I didn’t want any more.

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark who is Iron Man in Iron Man 3 where Tony Stark is talking about Iron Man in Iron Man 3.
“To be fair, most of my dialogue is simply a bunch of one-liners like an Arnold Schwarzenegger role.”

The End of a Marathon

What complicates it all is that I’ve been with the Marvel®™© machine as long as everyone else. I got hyped for early releases. As boring as it is to recite now, I still think Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a magnificent work with important things to say.

I also think that the intended audience doesn’t care half as much about what the movies have to say as the simple segment of the larger arc they represent. That’s one thing that really jumped out about Black Panther; it had something interesting to say.

To its credit, Avengers: Infinity War also had something interesting to say, but everyone was so caught up in sharing their emotional turmoil from the end of the movie that it seems lost by the wayside. That’s not the movie’s fault, though, so no points deducted there.

#AvengersEndgame is known to be the closing chapter to an enormously well-managed larger story arc. Each piece has been hand-crafted with the sole purpose of coming together like a big puzzle. This is the final piece in that puzzle.

This is the reward for sticking with it. Then new movies will come along. But for at least one set of these characters, this is the end of a long, long race.

It’s the end of a marathon for those of us who’ve watched since the beginning.

man running at marathon event
“Loser has to buy everyone’s tickets!” Photo by Lukasz Dziegel on Pexels.com

The Sun Also Sets

It’s just that I’m ready to stop caring. Whatever happens will happen, and this “era” in Marvel®™© movies will end. The next “phase” will begin and I’ve given over so much attention and money that I’m coming to realize how much other quality film gets lost in the wayside.

I’m legitimately curious to see how things play out in #AvengersEndgame. I want to see them work their way out of the corner, and if my guesses – or anyone’s – are right about what the solution is.

Then, once I’ve seen it, I’ll gladly ride off into the sunset as a fan. I’m sure I’ll catch the ones that intrigue me more than others, whether in the theater or on home video.

There’s been some real entertainment along the way. But as far as hype machines, advanced ticket sales, and other things…I’m out.

brown and green grass field during sunset
Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

P.S. This is not an invitation to try to have me transfer excitement to the DC movie universe. That’s not how this works.

Is Art Dying?

I know that someone read the title of this and internally shouted, “No!” Possibly they shouted it for all the world to hear. Perhaps they’re having a bad day. I don’t know.

This particular musing from me is spurred by a posting on NVIDIA’s site touting GauGAN, a program which “turns doodles into stunning, realistic landscapes.”

The Bias Worsens

Being able to turn doodles into “realistic landscapes” will further dilute people’s appreciation for actual art by strengthening the bias that things must be rigidly photorealistic to be valid.

Color balance, composition, style, and meaning fall by the wayside far too easily for people entranced by “photographically accurate depictions of reality.” Art already suffers enough with this bias, which only gets reinforced with tools like this.

The Photoshop Effect

I complain at times about the damage caused by Photoshop.

To be clear, I love Photoshop. I adore it. I do things with it for fun and profit.

The problem is that as soon as someone figures out how to use that tool, they fancy themselves a designer. They may produce things that are cluttered monstrosities, but the fact they created it “with Photoshop” lends it additional credence in their minds. It has a transitive authority because it’s done “with Photoshop.”

I think a similar thing will happen here. I’m not lumping early adopters in with this, as they usually self-select and adopt this tool to use with their pre-existing experiences. Nor am I saying everyone who uses the tool will be a charlatan or philistine. I’m saying that as this tool becomes more widespread, the waters get murky.

Color balance, composition, style, and meaning fall by the wayside far too easily. Now that we’re offering a tool this powerful, people with no artistic sense will have one more arrow in their quiver to argue that they are as knowledgeable as professionals and artists.

You may think it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. It’s as annoying as the person who watches football on weekends and thinks they’d be able to manage and coach the team.

George Steinbrenner New York Yankees SEO tagging I'm aware of what I'm doing.
While Steinbrenner wasn’t a pleasant owner, unlike the guy whose picture I didn’t use, his team won championships. I didn’t use that other guy’s image by choice. Also this was an easy way to troll fans of the New York Yankees.

The Marvel®™© Effect

You see this decay for the appreciation of art, and craft, in the world’s most popular film franchise right now. The appreciation of craft arguably suffers even more than art.

I say this because while these movies may generate more revenue than the GDP of some small nations, people simply consume. They don’t discern.

Sure, there are people who make comments about how the special effects are inconsistent in these blockbuster films. They don’t care, though.

Audiences have been browbeaten just to expect what they get. Content is consumed, plot points advance over the arc of dozens of movies, and art takes another blow. The baseline changes.

Once some people start spitting out these sorts of “realistic landscapes” at home with GauGAN, I shudder to think how discussions between artists and clients will shift.

There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m allowed to mourn it, though.

It’s one of the reasons I reacted so joyously to Solo: A Star Wars Story. I saw a real sense of both craft and art with that film, and it was like a breath of fresh air to encounter it. I’m not talking just about its visual effects, either. The film is the work of a team of artists invested in their craft.

It makes a difference.

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in Hulkbuster Armor from Iron Man in Avengers Infinity War a Marvel movie.
I mean…

A Possible Core Truth About My Rant

Every generation bemoans at least some of the advances made in its time. When it comes to art, and craft, I tend to take it more personally than other things.

Perhaps I’m just a snob. It’s possible I’m overreacting. I’m willing to entertain that as a possibility.

But I think I have a point.

Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino being grumpy.
I swear I’m not just being a grumpy old fart. At least, I don’t think I am.

Grading on a Curve

I’m going to speak honestly with you for a moment about the Marvel©™® movie franchise. I won’t take too much of your time. I value you, and who you are, but I think we need to have this talk.

I’m a fan, generally speaking, of the Marvel©™® movies. I know it’s stale at this point to heap praise on the franchise. It’s also stale to point out which ones you rank in what positions. It’s tiresome, really, and goes down the rabbit hole I pondered recently about what motivates us to rate, as opposed to discuss.

Back to the point at hand, Marvel©™® gets graded on curve. People at large, at least the ones who are devoted enough to record and write their opinions to share, are viewing Marvel movies largely through the prism of other Marvel©™® movies.

This Is the Issue

To be clear, Marvel©™® has earned its positive brand reputation. They’ve produced a large amount of entertainment over a long period of time, with an eye for quality control. Like a restaurant, I know from their brand that I can rely on them to produce something that I won’t hate.

A lot of the non-professional reactions I see, and even some of the professional ones, and the ones that straddle the line just because they’re amateurs who’ve managed to make a living through clickbait, seem to be tempered through the lens of “brand endorsement” instead of critical review.

I think this is because Marvel©™® movies themselves are treated as important cultural moments, regardless of whether the movie is good or bad. It’s no longer a discussion about entertainment, it’s entertainment as avatar for things people want to discuss.

This is why people have started weaponizing their opinions to the granular level where our franchises are no longer just entertainments. This is why you can’t have an honest discussion about Marvel©™® movies anymore.

If the movie is middling, people pivot to talking about its place in the larger Marvel©™® firmament, or its societal import, or any of a number of other things. If the movie is good, then everything is fine and we can talk about its goodness…and what that means to the issues of the day.

It’s driving me nuts.

Splinter of the Fan’s Eye

I love Star Wars. If you seek evidence of my authenticity there, I offer unto you my online name (kesseljunkie) and the name of this blog, as well the fact that I’m on a weekly Star Wars-focused podcast called Aggressive Negotiations.

But regardless of anything else, I recognize that it’s only a series of movies. If I love it, or if I don’t, it only has to do with the movie itself.

For all the years I’ve been accused of having a “blind spot” with Star Wars, I marvel at…Marvel©™® fans. To address my own supposed Star Wars “fanboy” status, it should  be disproved with my reactions to The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi, my previous disavowal of the Expanded Universe “canon,” and plenty of other examples, I’ve proudly been able to remain a fan while speaking to what doesn’t work.

(Yes, yes: What doesn’t work “for me.” Obviously I’m talking about what doesn’t work “for me” when I say that, but it seems you have to throw that qualifier out there at every chance.)

splinter from teenage mutant ninja turtles tmnt
Not this splinter.

I just don’t get why Marvel©™® movies get to wear this shield of protection about them, simply because they’re so important to their fans. It’s as if Marvel©™® has replaced religion for them.

Try to get the same sort of absolution for a movie in the DC movie universe. Try to get the same leeway, or understanding, for any other franchise…or its fans.

I Get It

I understand the reflexive defensiveness. I understand the desire to protect that which you value emotionally.

A lot of people have grown up with Marvel©™® movies being a constant stream of entertainment for them from adolescence through young adulthood. Disney®©™ has successfully turned Marvel©™® into an unassailable brand. It’s brilliant what they’ve managed to do, in many regards.

Additionally, since it’s structurally become TV you pay for by the episode, I understand viewing your favorite show and then rating the episodes only as they exist within that fictional arc. It makes sense.

Eventually people will get bored with the Marvel©™® franchise. It’s inevitable. McDonald’s once was dominant, only to be toppled by others. Sears & Roebuck once wandered the Earth, exacting terrible vengeance on bad consumers.

But it’s still bothersome to me that we’re grading on a curve. It’s irksome to be talking about the Marvel©™® movies without the proper context.

For me.

Dolph Lundgren as The Punisher.
Does this count as a “pilot episode”? Because The Punisher’s had a LOT of them, then. And where’s my 4K edition of this already???

Rediscovering Lost Influences

I had the joyous moment recently of discovering a lost influence, an old Disney®™© film, The Black Cauldron. I hadn’t seen it in decades. I had fond memories of it, but I guess all the talk of Disney®™©’s new streaming service put me of a mind to track it down and see it.

I remembered seeing it in the theater with my dad. I remember he really enjoyed it; he spoke to me about the art and skill necessary to animate figures. He was a true fan of film, its art and its science, and it had a great deal to do with why I love it, too.

A Bygone Era

It was also a hoot to find an imperfect gem from the Disney®™© era that was defined by real artistic risk-taking. The Black Hole, Tron, and The Black Cauldron come from an era overseen by Ron W. Miller, who may not have filled their pockets with cash but stayed true to the artistic spirit of Disney®™©.

Ron W. Miller former CEO of Disney
Ron W. Miller deserves more respect and recognition.

This was all well before Bob Iger’s reign, the maestro who brought us the Marvel©®™ Juggernaut and snagged Lucasfilm™©®, and who I’m mentioning for SEO and just to link to an article to remind everyone that he’s got a million-dollar smile and a stiletto in his hip pocket.

Plenty of Disney®™© fans didn’t respond well to The Black Cauldron. Fair enough. There are unquestionably issues with the movie, which is partly due to the shakeup that ran Ron Miller out of the top spot at Disney®™©.

But it is definitely worth seeing. I’ve seen other movies from different franchises I’ve liked a lot less. There is a real art, a baseline beauty, to everything in this film that I can’t help but enjoy it.

Disorienting Truth

Rediscovering what an influence this was on my young mind was at points disorienting. I’ve always been open about the strong artistic influences of which I’m aware. The Doors remain the North Star on my musical voyages. George Lucas shaped the way I think of film, and unquestionably story structure itself, in inimitable ways.

Make no mistake, The Black Cauldron is imperfect. It’s powered largely by its unabashed vision and terrific art direction. In short, while the execution misses in some respects, there’s a lot to enjoy.

I can also say that my kids enjoyed seeing it with their dad – yes, that’s me – so maybe I’ve just repeated the cycle from my dad, and imbued in them a love for the stronger elements in the film.

It’s a Long Journey

There were countless other influences on me over the years, of course. All of us pick them up along the way. (Social media influencers are still soulless hacks, but that’s another discussion entirely.)

What great fun to rediscover them then. To rediscover one which so richly impacted my tastes, that I had only vague memories of, was a wonderful moment. That it put me in touch again with a memory of my dad is so much the better.

I also think, since Disney®™© has such a taste now for remaking animated features from the past, like Aladdin (which looks…like it’s going to be released soon), they should take a crack at this again and make it super cool.

The Lord of the Rings series proved people have a taste for this type of thing. Stop buying other properties, and dig deeper into your catalog, Disney®™©! You have some items of magnificent potential, and even some endearing missteps, that are laying right there for the taking.

Of course, I don’t expect them to take this advice hurled into the void.

But then, I didn’t expect them to drop Will Smith into the Uncanny Valley, either, so it’s not like I’m an Oracle.

Will Smith as the Genie in the live action Aladdin
I’m sure it’ll look better when it’s released. But you’ll have to let me know.