Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mike's Musings: All About the Fans

Where would we be without our fans?  Cards fans at Busch Stadium on Opening Day (I was there, despite not being a particularly big baseball fan), comics fans at Comic Con.  And so it goes.  I have nothing against fandom itself.  I'm a huge "Halo" nerd and love the universe that the people behind the games have created.  But when does it go too far?

With the rise of the internet, fans have found places to share their love of whatever brings them together.  Be it comics or "Star Wars," what have you.  Studios have found a way to target this and make boatloads of money off it.  Hats off to them for figuring out how to make geekdom cool.  But we have come to a point where pleasing the fans has overtaken everything else.

Easter eggs and references to other works are not new.  In one way or another, they've been around forever in storytelling.  I'm reading "Paradise Lost" in one of my classes, and it's filled to the brim with nods to other stories.  That's all well and good as long as they're not the focus of the film or story.  These days, that's what we get.

It all started proper with "The Avengers," a film directed by hack writer and filmmaker named Joss Whedon.  He's not a very good writer and an even worse filmmaker.  But "The Avengers" worked because he understood the fan mentality.  A huge comic nerd himself, he knew all of the in-jokes and ways to reference the comics (and managed to get the ball rolling on putting a Stan Lee cameo in every subsequent Marvel movie).  But to someone who isn't a die-hard superhero fan steeped in superhero lore (such as myself), I saw it for what it really was: a mediocre film that ripped off of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" almost plot point for plot point.  And as I said then, say what you want about Michael Bay (the man is hard to defend these days), but he knows how to appeal to the eye and is a better storyteller than Whedon.

I get it.  Easter eggs allow us to revisit old memories and raise our endorphins, even if for a moment.  They're a love letter from the filmmakers to those who have followed the franchise for ages.  They make us feel special, as if the director is speaking to them.  I watched "Speed 2: Cruise Control" again last night and had a chuckle when Sandra Bullock made a comment about a bus going too fast at the end of the film.  However, what started as a kind gesture from the filmmakers has become the sole focus of the film.

One of the reasons I didn't like "Deadpool" (I've seen it twice, but I was late the first time and by the time I saw it again it was too late for a review to be relevant) is that the need to appease the fans took precedence over everything else.  There were nods to "X-Men," "Star Wars," and geekdom as a whole.  The filmmakers were targeting the fans, and only the fans.  The plot was trite.  The villain was undeveloped.  And while Ryan Reynolds was fine in the role, it was again all about the in-jokes.  The only thing worthwhile was the lovely performance by Morena Baccarin as the romantic interest.  That said, a far greater problem was T.J. Miller's attempts to mimic Seth Rogen; his "hangry" riff and his multiple descriptions of Wade Wilson's new appearance were enough to make me wish Deadpool would have killed him after the first five minutes (preferably as brutally as possible).

It's gotten to the point where Easter eggs have become walking advertisements for future installments.  "Batman vs. Superman," "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Guardians of the Galaxy."  They're filled with little hooks to not just to appeal to fans, but to make them see the next movie.  It's like an addiction.  Is it wrong to want a see a movie that has a beginning, middle and end?  Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a sequel to "Brotherhood of the Wolf" (considering that it's been a decade and a half since it was released, such a film is unlikely unless it's remade in the U.S.), but it tells a complete story.  It doesn't make me feel like I need the next chapter.

Movies these days are not about telling stories anymore.  They're about satiating a need and raising fan demand for the next installment.  At this point, it feels like the superhero/sequel/remake obsession will never end, and for someone who would give anything to see another big budget movie where no one wears a cape or skintight suit, that means I'm going to cry myself to sleep and find appreciation in lame movies like "Turbulence" for the sole reason that they're not associated with Marvel or DC.

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